Serving one another, serving lasting purpose
by Guy Riekeman, President, Life University
A core principle on which Life University was founded is the concept of Lasting Purpose -- to give, to do, to love, to serve out of a sense of abundance. It might sound like a slogan, but to us it’s a way of life.
Still, even though we teach our students about the rewards of service, we started wondering recently how well the University was walking the walk. Were we giving our all to serving students, alumni, the profession and one another? The more deeply we questioned, the more opportunity we saw for improvement.
Creating a service culture
Surveys from students told us they didn’t always feel well served by campus departments. Like many organizations, we were sometimes getting caught up in our own polices and procedures without always thinking about how to use them to the greatest benefit, service and convenience of our key stakeholders, or for the greatest support of one another.
We weren’t looking for a quick fix: we decided to build in real culture change from bottom-up, top-down, and all throughout the organization. We decided to live up to more of our potential as an organization. We started by investigating several organizations that excel at service within their industries, like the Ritz Carlton Hotels. But, we knew our processes and approaches to service would have to be crafted by us, for us, building on our foundation of Lasting Purpose and the good work already underway on our campus.
We consulted Management Solutions Group out of Nashville to help us put our service ethic into action. They helped us launch our culture change process with a series of cross-functional workshops for campus departments to explore together where service to each other, to students and to the profession was falling short. Things got interesting pretty quickly and I think we were all surprised at just how interconnected our lives are on campus.
For example, a member of the grounds keeping crew raised a concern about being called last minute at the start of every quarter to bring more desks into classrooms to meet larger than expected class sizes. Why, he reasonably wondered, didn’t we know how many students were coming before the quarter started? That one nitty gritty issue led us to explore a larger concern about whether we were truly providing our best service to students by allowing them to enroll in classes at the last minute. Now, we were positioned to address the real crux of the issue and its impact on true student service.
These meetings were a first step. They involved 80% of our employees and set the stage for developing an ongoing Service Advisory Council, incorporating service goals within the University’s Strategic Plan and for future development of department-specific plans. Based on these conversations and others, we developed Four Standards of Serving Lasting Purpose that guide our service culture. They are:
- An attitude of helpfulness. Committing to helping all the way through to the right answer, a connection with the right person, or even just listening long enough so the person across from us is truly heard is where our service commitment starts.
- A personal commitment to building relationships. Our goal is to be intentional collaborators and active listeners willing to reach out to others across campus and in the profession to learn more about what they do and need, and to make ourselves accessible.
- Manage to the best solution. We are committed to approaching every issue with the idea of finding a way to get to "yes." This means owning the problem, getting opinions and possible solutions from others, and proactively searching for ways to satisfy our stakeholders. Throughout the process we’ll be both compassionate and realistic in searching for attainable solutions.
- User friendly always. We understand it is our responsibility to learn more so we can help more. This way, we can develop and refine policies and procedures that are both effective and really work for people.
In addition to training our current workforce, our Serving Lasting Purpose priorities are being embedded in our human resources practices so we recruit employees who share our commitment to service. Service criteria are also being incorporated into performance reviews so every employee is rated on the four standards and then coached to find ways to improve. Interestingly, the Ritz Carlton so stresses their service orientation during the hiring process they find some prospective employees who don’t share that commitment simply select out of the job search.
We know change won’t happen overnight, but we do expect strong improvements and we’re committed to doing what’s needed to make them happen and make them last. We expect to see stronger retention among those students for whom Life is the right fit. We expect to see faculty and staff reaching out to one another to educate peers about what they do and learn more about what their colleagues do. We expect field doctors to feel more satisfied interacting with us. We understand service begets service and that our growing service culture will generate additional energy, support and creativity for positive change.
We are already receiving outstanding feedback from students pleased with the training we’re providing to employees and the changes they already see. Of course, we want to hear when things aren’t going well too. But, interestingly, research shows organizations that develop service plans around problems tend not to be as successful as those who simply make outstanding service a fundamental part of who they are.
That’s who we are. An organization committed to outstanding service and to Lasting Purpose -- to give, to do, to love, to serve out of a sense of abundance.
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