Organizational learning programs have enhanced both the workforce climate and the educational experience at Illinois Central College.
In the October 2008 issue of InterBusiness Issues, Illinois Central College President John Erwin described ICC’s emerging initiatives related to service and learning. Its involvement in a national association for quality improvements in higher education guided a team of college employees to Ritz-Carlton’s Gold Standard, the foundation of the hospitality corporation’s commitment to legendary service. Although the team’s findings could not simply be transplanted into the culture of ICC, the lessons learned from the Ritz-Carlton’s staff and the Ritz model have made their way into orientation, teamwork and organizational learning programs at the college.
The 2008 article, “Customers, Colleges & Service,” mentioned the CougarCARE Principles, ICC’s service expectations prepared with the help of ICC employees who interact with students on a daily basis. The CougarCARE Principles, based on the Ritz-Carlton standard and other organizations known for exemplary service, were introduced in an organizational learning program called The Service Excellence Project in the fall of 2008. In this three-part project, participants used the principles as a framework for understanding and executing the service component of the “Exceptional Educational Experience,” or E3—ICC’s short phrase for its vision and commitment to student-centeredness.
Since its inception, 160 staff, faculty and managers have participated in The Service Excellence Project. The ongoing project, offered every semester, is positioned to orient every new employee to the CougarCARE Principles early in their ICC careers. A statement about the principles will also be integrated into every job description at the college. In turn, the college’s core values and service standards will be used in annual performance reviews of staff.
The Service Excellence Project also incorporated the ICC “Quicck Guide” mentioned in the 2008 article. The Quicck Guide—in wallet card, mouse pad, magnet and desktop sign formats—has made its way across the college campuses. As a result, employees have quick access to information identifying who to call or where to go when he or she cannot provide immediate, direct service to a student. All employees are provided with a Quicck Guide and have ongoing access to an online self-study learning module demonstrating and describing use of the guide.
Following the inaugural use of the CougarCARE Principles in The Service Excellence Project, the principles were bundled with the college’s history, mission and philosophy, and other cultural artifacts into the new ICC BlueBook. The BlueBook is “our guide to who we are and what we seek to do,” states Dr. Erwin in the book’s introduction. “Your responsibility, as a valued member of this community, is to read it, learn from it, respond to it. It will give you the tools you need to understand who we are and where we’re going.”
» Illinois Central College CougarCARE Principles
Connect with students first
Own the situation
Use every opportunity to build relationships
Go the extra mile
Act promptly and professionally
Remember to work as a team
To facilitate the process of employees reading, learning from and responding to the BlueBook, ICC rolled out the “True Blue Attitude” campaign in the spring of 2009. The campaign, offered in online, blended online/face-to-face, small group and one-on-one formats, introduced the BlueBook to veteran college employees and guided discussion through open-ended questions asking employees to reflect critically on the importance of its contents. The True Blue discussions also asked employees to relate how their individual efforts affect the collective work of the college. The campaign for veteran employees continued in two waves through 2009, and the introduction of the ICC BlueBook has been incorporated into the new employee orientation experience. New personnel are given the opportunity to participate in True Blue Attitude discussions in online, blended and face-to-face experiences each semester.
While ICC employees place an acute focus on service to students and student-centeredness, the Exceptional Educational Experience could not be accomplished without reliable lateral service, or the service provided employee-to-employee within the college’s organizational structure. A convention borrowed from the Ritz—“all hands on deck”—has been structured into the college’s CougarCARE teams. At busy times, such as the first few days of a new academic year or semester, a call is made to all college employees who can pitch in and greet students as they approach their first days of school, assist them at self-service computer kiosks, or print student schedules before attempting to locate required texts in the college’s bookstore. With minimal training, teams of employees maximize the use of the college’s workforce by positioning more staff to interact directly with students and lessen some of the prime-time strain on experts in key service areas.
Aside from the time spent facilitating and participating in The Service Excellence Project, True Blue Attitude and CougarCARE teams, the expense for these organizational learning programs are minimal. Evidence, as collected in the forms of anecdotes and participant feedback surveys, indicate that employees have positive experiences in these programs. And improvements in the area of teamwork, as measured by the college’s annual workforce climate survey, suggest that focusing on improvements in lateral service may be a worthwhile effort in making students feel welcome and staff feel good about what they do. iBi
Patrice Hess is director of organizational learning at Illinois Central College. She oversees the Teaching and Learning Center, a professional development center for ICC faculty and staff.