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This is a paid piece sponsored by Dakota State University
What exactly does my job entail? How do the various departments within my organization fit together? And what’s my employer really all about?
They’re common questions any new employee might have entering a new job. And for those coming to work at Dakota State University, answers won’t take long to arrive.
Along with its new visual identity released in May, DSU recommitted to developing every individual in its campus community – including its newest employees. This school year, it rolled out a new onboarding process known as “The DSU Experience” that could serve as an outstanding example for other employers.
“The DSU Experience kicks off with a two-day process that fully immerses new employees and allows them to gain a better understanding of DSU, their role within, and how they fit into the overall picture,” said Angi Kappenman, vice president for human resources.
The first day includes department presentations from each major area on campus, including the Foundation, Athletics, Academic Affairs, and more. Employees are also given an overview on position descriptions, so they can see exactly what their position entails. The second day consists of a four-hour training with Information Technology Services (ITS), to go over security training as well as the general “do’s and don’ts” of machine operation. The second day also includes final paperwork and a department tour. Remote employees will utilize Zoom Video Conferencing, so they too can be part of the process.
Once the first two days of on-boarding are over, new employees will dive into their departments and get accustomed to their co-workers, position, and campus. At this point, the supervisor plays an important piece in developing the training needed for their employee.
“We wanted to give our new faculty and staff a comprehensive, yet digestible look at the university as whole – everything from our four colleges to research, the foundation and alumni, to athletics,” said Shannon Steffke, marketing and branding coordinator at DSU.
“When people have a broad knowledge of where they work, they’re more effective at their jobs.”
To aide in the success of employees, the HR department has and will continue to provide many opportunities for employees to get to know each other, attend trainings, and partake in fun events. One of these events includes a “Building Breakfast,” which was initiated by DSU President Dr. José-Marie Griffiths and Kappenman.
“President Griffiths and I meet with each building at least once throughout the academic year for a building breakfast. We’ve found it as a way to answer questions and receive feedback from our employees in a smaller setting,” Kappenman said, “It’s been a phenomenal opportunity for us to listen, engage, and gather ideas that we can implement for the betterment of our university.”
Employees also can attend training sessions throughout the year. Trainings are determined by the feedback or suggestions HR gathers from previous trainings. They’re geared toward areas where growth is needed or encouraged. Communication, health and wellness, as well as active shooter awareness trainings are a few topics that have been covered in recent years.
“We’re open to the ideas and suggestions our employees have or what they’re wanting to see us offer, then we build our training schedule around their feedback and our resources. We constantly try to come up with new ideas or programs to keep it fresh, exciting, and promote participation,” Kappenman said.
DSU also is keeping things fresh and exciting by incorporating a True Trojan recognition program. The program has two aspects, formal and informal, but both areas reward employees that have gone above and beyond, while not forgetting everyday tasks that are accomplished.
The informal aspect ties into DSU’s “Campus of Kindness” program, which gives campus employees, students, and guests the opportunity to take note of someone carrying out a kind deed or supporting each other. Comment boxes can be seen around campus and come equipped with cards for anyone to fill out and submit.
“It’s on each of us to thank and appreciate one another, to tell each other that the job we’re doing is worthwhile, and that we’re doing great, ” Kappenman said.
To further encourage compliments and acknowledgements campus-wide, supervisors have been given what DSU calls a “True Trojan Toolkit.” The toolkit includes multiple cards, from celebration to sympathy, and fun trinkets, like a highlighter, a stress ball, a coaster, and a window cling.
“It’s designed to recognize employees for the work they do, in a way that is meaningful to them,” Steffke said. “It’s meant to give supervisors the encouragement and tools they need to get to know their staff and recognize them for the smaller things. It can go a long way in making someone feel important and appreciated.”
The formal aspect includes a “Thank You” breakfast at the end of the academic year. At this breakfast, DSU honors the Doug Knowlton Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) award, four faculty awards, and will now include six hexagon awards that are related to faculty and staff achievements.
Two of the six hexagon awards are nominated by students, one for faculty and one for staff. The other four hexagon awards are for employees who have contributed throughout the year and met the specific criteria for that specific award category.
“It’s another way for us to honor some of our employees that are going above and beyond, who are making a difference in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff,” Kappenman said.
Aside from meaningful awards and enjoyable breakfasts, DSU always includes fun in the work experience. Employees have celebrated national “holidays” throughout the year, including National Hot Dog Day, National School Color day, National Jelly Bean Day, and more. They’ve also held employee appreciation weeks, family picnics, and “DownTown in MadTown,” – a yearly summer community event full of games, food, and music.
For businesses and organizations around the world, hosting similar events or onboarding programs can have a positive effect on employees and work culture. Programs have been shown to increase business growth, retention rates, employee engagement and success, and communication.
“Upper management should be aware of what they want their office and corporate culture to be like, then make sure they’re actually creating that culture. When employees feel valued, they’re willing to do much more than what’s written in their job description,” Steffke said.
With The DSU Experience, True Trojan Toolkit, and other events and celebrations throughout the year, DSU hopes to create a culture that builds pride in employees and students.
“Each employee is an essential attribute to the complete DSU picture. We’re all Trojans. We all work together to make DSU successful,” Kappenman said.
“When people have a broad knowledge of where they work, they’re more effective at their jobs.” Congrats to DSU for creating a program for new employees that could serve as a model for others.