Beyond the numbers – what makes employee engagement surveys valuable?

By: Steve Winton, Ph.D. – Director of the Leadership & Organizational Development graduate program at Saint Louis University

You have just been handed your team’s results from your company’s annual employee engagement survey.  You quickly note from the executive summary that employees on your team are incredibly engaged – 86% absolutely love their job. Your team isn’t just satisfied with their jobs, but enthusiastic about it – they get up in the morning and are ready to work! This is a big improvement from last year’s 75%, so you’re thrilled, right?

If you’re like many of the leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with – the answer is probably no.  In my experience the very leaders who routinely get the best results are also the ones who believe there is always room for improvement. They are also the first to turn the page, dig into the results, and involve their team to act.  They know that an engagement survey’s real value is in the process – they work with their team to understand what “levers” can be pulled to ultimately improve their team (e.g., communication, teamwork, accountability, recognition). It is no coincidence that their teams are also the most productive – they have employees who routinely speak up in meetings, test new ideas, help others, take initiative, and engage in constructive change.  I should also note that research on the topic supports my anecdotal evidence – a truly engaged workforce is happier AND more productive!

Perhaps you are someone who is interested in better understanding these “levers”. With a strong applied focus, SLU’s M.A. in Leadership and Organizational Development (LOD) Program can help you hone your leadership skills as you consider not only what workplace interventions to leverage (e.g., build the trust and autonomy of your team), but how you might implement them (e.g., organizational development approach to change).

For more information on the Leadership & Organizational Development Master’s program at Saint Louis University, visit the SLU for Busy Adults website. Applications are now being accepted for Fall 2014. Learn about the application and admissions process.

Business Continuity – An Essential Competency in Modern Organizations

By: Matt Grawitch, Ph.D.

For many organizations, a lot of time is spent managing what is going on right now, rather than focusing on any number of “what if” scenarios. Yet, those “what if” scenarios can have an enormously large impact on the long-term viability of an organization or even a community. Consider the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri in 2011, Hurricane Sandy that devastated the Atlantic in 2012, or the Target credit card breach that occurred during the holiday shopping season in 2013. These types of “what if” scenarios occur rather frequently, though not always with such a large-scale impact.

On March 6, members of the St. Louis community will be coming together to discuss the importance of business continuity, which, according to Jeff Larner, one of the panelists for the event and the head of Global Security for Peabody Energy Corporate, is “really about being able to respond to a crisis of any type and sustaining some level of critical business functionality to ensure the business recovers.”

Anthony Lichty, another one of the panelists and the Director of Business Continuity at Edward Jones, likens the issue of business continuity to a statement once uttered by Benjamin Franklin, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Lichty argues that business continuity is really about managing risk in a way that minimizes potential service disruptions.

The panel event will include Larner and Lichty, as well as Kim Battig, Project Leader for Business Continuity at Centene Corporation, and Mike Smiley, the Director of the St. Louis County Police Department’s Office of Emergency Management. The session will be moderated by John Steffen, Senior Program Manager at Charter Communications.

The panelists will touch on a number of issues, ranging from emergency management to incident/crisis management to the actual maintenance of business operations and disaster recovery. According to Kim Battig of Centene Corporation, “the basic premise for business continuity is the same across organizations” but that “different industries have different regulations, requirements, and reasons for having a business continuity program.”

The session will also emphasize the continuum of business continuity management, which includes aspects beyond organization and planning such as training and testing. “It’s one thing to think through the process of responding to and recovering from a crisis. It’s quite another to expose your plan to the stresses of reality.”

Even today, many companies lack any focus on business continuity, often deciding that major service disruptions won’t happen to them or can be managed fairly easily. On the other hand, many companies want to focus on business continuity but don’t know where to start. If that’s the case, John Steffen of Charter Communications would encourage those companies to “understand the ways various types of events can impact the business,” using what is referred to as a Business Impact Analysis (BIA).

The session will be aimed at a broad audience, from those with well-established business continuity processes to those just getting started, and the panelists will use major events that have occurred in the recent past to highlight the importance of the different facets of business continuity.

The event will be held on Thursday, March 6 in Saint Louis University’s Busch Student Center Rooms 170 and 171 (20 North Grand Blvd). Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be available beginning at 5:30 PM, with the formal program itself beginning at 6:00. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information or to register for the event, please visit the SLU website.

The School for Professional Studies at Saint Louis University offers an online Criminal Justice & Security Management program. The annual panel event is made possible by the CJSM Advisory Board at SLU.

Embracing a Fresh Start

By: Katie Devany, Program Coordinator for the Hospitality Management program at Saint Louis University

As the end of the calendar year draws near, I find myself engaging in moments of reflection; recounting accomplishments, failures, surprises, and hope for new beginnings in the year to come.  However, reflection soon transforms into a self-evaluation.  Did I execute the goals I so exuberantly declared at the beginning of the year?  Have I grown professionally, personally, and spiritually?  The response to each question may not always result in a resounding “yes”.

Despite the rather dispiriting results of my self-assessment, the possibilities of starting anew, of having another chance, stir a sense of excitement and renewed aspiration.  I am eager to set fresh goals for 2014 knowing I can do better than the year before, and ready for the challenge I bestow upon myself.  As you peer over the edge of what is soon to be a new year what does your self-evaluation reveal?  What areas of your life are in need of repair, challenge, or change?   And more importantly, what can be done to resolve and complete these areas; creating a sense of fulfillment, success, and pride?

In the spirit of reflection, I invite you to view this video featuring hospitality management student, Deneva Eivins.  Her testimony provides a beautiful example of accomplishing a goal, albeit set several “new year’s” ago, and the many opportunities that have come as a result.

Best wishes for a happy and bright holiday season!

If you are interested in learning more about hospitality education please visit for more information or contact Katie Devany (

Celebrating the Heroes Among Us

By: Katie Devany, M.S. 

The hospitality industry is seemingly synonymous with grandeur and excitement. After all, what other industry provides the opportunity to work in gorgeous hotels, chic restaurants, plan extravagant weddings, and even travel the world? It sounds simply divine, doesn’t it? To those who adore this unique niche of work, it is divine. It offers a remarkable combination of pride, compassion, empathy, and humbleness known to only those who embark on the daily journey of serving strangers. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that feelings of defeat, frustration, exasperation, and disappointment are also common. The truth is the hospitality industry is hard. Long hours, odd shifts, holidays, nights, weekends and a business that never closes presents challenges that are infinite and tests the patience of the most composed individual. Guests of our establishments are not always cordial, maintenance issues arise at the most inconvenient moments, and yet our smile stays on.

It takes a special person to join the ranks of the hospitality industry, and an even more extraordinary individual to become a hospitality hero. I was recently asked to be a judge for the annual St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (CVC) Hospitality Heroes program. Managers of hospitality organizations in the metro area are encouraged to nominate an employee who went above and beyond to create a “WOW” moment for the guest. Nominations poured in, and I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor nearly moved to tears reading over 100 inspiring stories. Those employees who truly made a difference are distinguished as super heroes and recognized during the CVC’s Annual Meeting in late September. The judging committee selects only 9 employees from over 100 nominations to receive the distinguished designation of Hospitality Super Hero. Each story is recounted through a short video describing the events leading up to the “WOW” moment. The experience leaves you feeling exhilarated, extraordinarily happy, and completely humbled.

I encourage all of us, regardless of industry, to take a moment and reflect on our team members’ accomplishments. Celebrate those moments that create a “WOW” factor; they are few and far between. Heroes are among us and deserved to be recognized. I am grateful to be part of such a positive and rewarding experience where our industry leaders, regardless of position, are treated just as they have treated countless others – like rock stars.

If you are interested in learning more about hospitality education please visit for more information or contact Katie Devany (

For more information on nominating a deserving employee for the Hospitality Heroes program, or to view the 2013 Super Heroes visit:

SPS Faculty Highlights

By: Jenny Agnew, Ph.D.

With nearly 40 adjunct faculty members, the Core Curriculum and General Studies Program is one of the largest at SPS.  Disciplines include English, History, Theology, Philosophy, Art, Music, Theater, Biology, Anatomy, and Physiology.  We also have PST 100—“Learning Strategies, Processes, and Resources”—in the program, which is a course designed to help incoming students prepare for college.   In addition to offering a major in General Studies, the program provides the foundation of writing and critical thinking and analysis students need regardless of their majors.

Some of our faculty teach only for SPS, while several teach at other universities and share their classroom knowledge and online instruction with SPS students.  Still other faculty members hold full-time jobs outside of academia while teaching for SPS.  In sum, the faculty members in the program are like their students: busy working adults.

The busy working adult students at SPS benefit greatly from the fact that many of the faculty members in the Core Curriculum and General Studies Program practice the very subjects that they teach.   Amy Reidel, MFA, for example, one of the program’s Art instructors, is a working artist who has exhibited her work in a variety of venues.  This fall, her exhibit “Relic-Quarry” opens at St. Louis Community College’s The Meramec Contemporary Art Gallery, with an opening reception on Thursday, October 3.  Amy also worked most recently at the St. Louis Art Museum, as the Collections Database Assistant in the Registrations Department.  One way Amy’s experiences translate into her classes is through her regular field trips with students to SLAM.

Another faculty member whose life outside of the classroom informs his teaching is Joe Dreyer, JD.  An attorney by day, Joe teaches Music and Theater classes at SPS.  If that connection seems incongruous, it’s important to note that he also performs regularly around St. Louis in different music venues.  Joe is currently starring in Upstream Theater’s production of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman as the “third wheel,” as he called it, where he joins the actors on stage as musical accompaniment.   The performance runs from October 4 through October 20, at the Kranzberg Arts Center.  Upcoming events Joe will perform in include the 25th Anniversary of the Gatesworth at One McKnight Place and The Science Center’s Annual Donor Gala.  For his Music and Theater classes, Joe requires the students to attend a live concert or performance so they can fully appreciate what they’re studying.

Becky Caron-Wood, Ph.D. not only teaches English classes but she also writes herself, illustrating to her students that one has to practice writing regularly in order to become successful at it.  In April of this year, she won third prize for poetry in the St. Louis Writers Guild Chapter Contest at the Missouri Writers Guild Conference.  She also recently received a screenwriting film credit for her short script about the life of prominent Kentucky educator Lelia Leidinger, written for the 2011 Voices of Elmwood Program sponsored by the Owensboro (Kentucky) Museum of Science and History.  The program, which brings the residents of the historic cemetery back to life through talented local actors, was filmed by Firelight Entertainment Group, and the documentary full-length feature has just been released on Blu-Ray disc.

A blog entry about the program’s faculty wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Geoff Morrison, Ph.D., who recently retired.  SPS’s first ever recipient of the Distinguished Affiliate Faculty in Residence Award, Geoff taught for 50 years, with time spent in the Mehlville and Clayton School Districts as well as the St. Louis Public School system, as both an educator and administrator.   SPS was fortunate to have Geoff spend the last 17 years of his career here.  As a mark of his generous nature, Geoff recently donated valuable teaching materials, including several DVD’s, to the program for others to use.  He also offered this sage advice for his fellow educators: “Be intellectually engaged in the academic community” and, first and foremost, “stay focused on the students.”

Boulders + Pebbles: Building Effective Workplace Communication Habits

By: Dr. Kasi Williamson

When I worked as a communications practitioner, I helped to create communication strategies and structures that facilitated collaboration and innovation across departments within a large organization. This structural work is where the “heavy lifting” happens—and that metaphor has the weight of something very real. Sometimes, it can actually feel like you’re trying to clear paths by moving boulders out of the way.

A recent conversation with a former colleague had me thinking about smaller matters—the individual and interpersonal communication patterns that are like rocks and pebbles, collecting over time to form the organizational ground we walk on (and often trip over). In particular, I began to think about my own workplace communication habits.

Maybe you have experienced something similar: You know that infinitesimally small, fleeting, split second of a moment when you hear something that you don’t agree with, or think you might not agree with, or you don’t want to hear, or you know is going to be inconvenient or impossible or at the very least pretty difficult and time consuming?

As that first second is on its way to ticking by, I often take one of the following paths:

  1. I talk.
  2. I think about what I’m going to say when I begin talking.
  3. I correct the speaker’s perceptions or interpretations or proposed solutions.
  4. In one of a thousand small ways, I say “no”: No, you’re mistaken. No, we don’t do that. No, I tried that already. No, my idea is better.

To be clear, I believe that saying “no” at the appropriate times is an essential part of organizational effectiveness. Individuals and organizations alike must prioritize in order to meet their goals. What I questioned in myself was that quick and immediate, instinctive “no” that closed the door before I even looked through it.

What if, as that first fraction of a second screams by: I just listen?

What if my first reaction could be: How does this perspective deepen my perception of organizational reality?

What if that led me to consider: How might this insight make something better than I imagined it?

When our everyday work involves pushing boulders up mountains, it can be easy to forget: Though structural issues are critical, organizations are not only structures. They are also an accumulation of countless individuals’ minute communication habits and interactions. As Cheney, Christensen, Zorn, and Ganesh (2011) point out in their book on organizational communication:

Organizations do culture—or communicate culture—at several levels. … [O]rganizations are constantly in the process of constituting cultures through rituals and ceremonies. Advertising and marketing analyses are part of official strategies through which organizations relate to their surroundings. Other rituals and ceremonies take place more or less unnoticed as part of daily routines and standard operating procedures (unwritten procedures for managing meetings, recurrent discussion themes at lunch hour, or ways of joking during breaks). (p. 93)

Working to build “official” communication strategies and large-scale structures that fostered innovation helped me to observe my own individual tendencies—to talk before listening, to assert myself as most knowledgeable and most right—and to begin to shift those practices. My colleagues will likely tell you that these communication habits haven’t been entirely erased from my repertoire. But I’m learning.

And I like to consider: What if everyone’s split-second reaction to unexpected news was “listen first”? How might this small shift in a single communication habit, repeated across individuals and over time, help to build organizational innovation from the ground up? In addition to moving boulders, how might we collect enough pebbles to pave brand new roads?

Cheney, G., Christensen L., Zorn, T., and Ganesh, S. (2010). Organizational Communication in an Age of Globalization. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Conversations with Ingrid Nuttall also contributed to this post.

SLU offers an online Strategic Communications certificate and minor. To learn more about this accelerated degree program designed for busy adults, visit

The Organizational Health Initiative is also housed in the School for Professional Studies at Saint Louis University. Visit the SLU website for more information about how to create a healthy workplace.

Why is your education so important?

By: Tanya Griffin, Director of Enrollment Services at SLU’s School for Professional Studies

When I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Political Science, one of my favorite professors said something I will never forget.  He pulled me aside on my graduation day and said, “Congratulations.  Your education is something that can never be taken away from you.”  I didn’t realize the depth of his statement until I reflected on it later.

“Something that can never be taken away from you.”  Think about that for a moment.  Not only do I have the physical symbols of my completed degree – a diploma, a cap and gown, a copy of my transcripts.  More importantly, I have the knowledge I learned throughout those four years.  I learned theories and application.  I learned social skills and critical thinking.  I learned how to work as a team and how to manage my time.

As my students progress through their education at SPS, I know that they are learning more than they could ever realize.  They are receiving a quality Saint Louis University education in the classroom.  They are learning about themselves as individuals, as leaders, as members of a team and as employees. The skills and knowledge gained at SLU will be with them for the rest of their lives – often in ways they can’t identify.

If you are thinking about taking that next step to pursue your educational goals, just remember that your education can never be taken away from you.  You will carry it with you always and it will change you in a positive way.


Understanding Organizational Informatics

By: Srikanth Mudigonda, Ph.D.
Current trends in computing indicate that the costs per computation cycle is going down, while the amount of computational power available is going up. So, other aspects of their operations being equal, organizations that collect the “right” kind of data for making informed decisions are more likely to understand the market needs and business processes.

For this to happen, organizations need individuals who can understand the specific types of data that need to be collected, the right way to analyze the data, and the right way to interpret and present the results to aid decision-making. Such individuals also need to understand the human-side of their organizations’ operations for initiating and implementing data-collection, analysis, and reporting projects, and ensuring that organizational processes and policies exist to complement the technical side of these projects.

The M.S. in Applied Analytics program at Saint Louis University provides the knowledge and skills that will help professional to perform well in each of the above-described business activities. It is aimed at working professionals who would like to move into roles that combine data analysis and organizational leadership skills. It is also aimed at professionals who perform one or more of the above-described activities already in their current job roles but would like a more systematic approach, which emphasizes both theory and applications, for understanding how they can perform better and grow in their roles.

Work Flexibility Practices Can Help OR Hurt Your Career

By: Matthew J. Grawitch, Ph.D.

A lot is made these days of the importance of creating a flexible work environment so that employees can develop a better work-life interface. Flextime, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, and other innovations in work schedules are supposed to assist employees in managing their demands across different life domains – without having to sacrifice productivity.

Unfortunately, a recent article in the Academy of Management Journal suggests that manager assumptions about why employees utilize work flexibility practices can bias a manager’s perceptions of evaluations of those employees.

If managers believe employees utilize flexible work practices for productivity reasons, they are likely to make positive attributions about employees regarding their commitment to the organization. On the other hand, if managers believe employees utilize flexible work practices for personal reasons, they are likely to make significantly less positive attributions about employees regarding their commitment to the organization.

Therefore, two people in an organization can utilize the exact same flexible work benefit and be evaluated – even by the same manager – in a very different light, regardless of actual differences in productivity or work quality. This can have implications for employee career progression within an organization, because manager evaluations and recommendations often carry a fair amount of influence. If the manager believes an employee lacks commitment to the organization s/he may not provide the strong recommendation needed for promotion. Employees may be missing out on promotion opportunities, while organizations may fail to capitalize on the full potential of some employees.

To address this situation, employees need to ensure that they know where their manager stands with regard to flexible work practices. Just because an organization has a policy that permits the use of flexible work practices doesn’t mean that utilizing those practices comes without a cost to the employee. Here are some suggestions:

  • Build rapport with your manager. Your manager is less likely to make negative assumptions about you if s/he has respect for you and your performance.
  • Make sure you are not shortchanging the business. Working from home or flextime can lend themselves to abuse fairly easily – even if that abuse is unintended (e.g., too many people drop by knowing you are working from home, which disrupts your concentration and focus). You are accountable for managing your work flexibility appropriately.
  • Ensure you show the business results for your productivity. All too often, employees assume that managers can “see” how much more productive they are when they have increased flexibility. Sometimes, though, it can be good to show managers the evidence to help them reach that conclusion. Don’t rely on your manager to look for it.

And there is something the organization can do as well. Work with managers to understand the benefits of the flexible work practices within the organization. Top-down decisions regarding flexible working are likely to be met with resistance at various levels of the managerial hierarchy. If you fail to get members of that hierarchy on the same page, the benefits of work flexibility for the organization will likely be reduced, and if there is too much resistance, work flexibility may show no benefits at all. Therefore, organizations need to remember to utilize proper change management techniques when trying to create a more flexible work environment.

Accountability is important to work flexibility. Employees need to be held accountable for their performance when they exercise flexibility. Managers need to be held accountable for their behaviors regarding flexible working for their employees. And senior leaders need to be held accountable for ensuring that flexible work practices are implemented in ways that are good for the organization and its employees.

Workplace Violence – Mitigating the Threat

By: Hadley Kombrink

In light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, understanding security within one’s workplace has been on the minds of millions across the country. Every year, more than 572,000 Americans fall victim to Workplace Violence. Defined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) as any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting, Workplace Violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. For the past few years, SPS’s Criminal Justice and Security Management Program has hosted an annual event to bring together a panel of experts in their field to discuss prevalent topics faced by those in the security field and other related industries. This year’s panel of workplace violence and threat management experts will discuss the key elements of Boeing’s innovative Threat Management Program, the true impact of Workplace Violence, and how to prepare yourself and your company to handle it. This year’s panel members include two members of Boeing’s Enterprise Threat Management Team, Christina Holbrook and Dave Bixler, Bill Naughton, Boeing’s Senior Manager of Security and Fire Protection for the Midwest/East Region, and Major Donovan Kenton, Deputy Chief of Operations for the St. Charles Police Department.

The Criminal Justice and Security Management Program (CJSM) at SPS provides a unique Bachelor’s degree in that it devotes time to both the public and private sides of these two areas. No other degree offers this type of combination to its students. Within the program, students can choose one of three areas to specialize in: Criminal Justice, Security Management, or Security Management Technology. The latter combines both investigative security courses and computer science topics. By providing a variety of topics, students within the program are able to cater their course choices to benefiting their career goals. For example, I see a lot of students with retail backgrounds, but they are tired of being assistant managers or salespeople, and want a change. I like to see these people take courses such as CJST 335, which focuses on Risk Management and an instructor who worked with retail stores. Making a change from your current career to one within the Criminal Justice or Security field can be done if you are dedicated to the coursework and are open to making connections with the course instructors. Another excellent asset within the program is the instructors who are currently in the field. By reaching out to an instructor who has made a career in a specific area of the Criminal Justice or Security field, you may be able to begin making the connections you need to further your knowledge about your area of interest. One of the best places to network with many of these industry leaders is at our annual panel discussion event.

Each year the program chooses a topic that is not only relevant to the industry, but also can appeal to those in other fields. Workplace Violence was the most common topic mentioned by last year’s attendees as the topic they would like to see featured at the event. This event will take place on March 7th, 2013 in the Wool Ballrooms of Busch Student Center. A small reception will be held at 5:30 p.m., and the event begins at 6:00, and will feature a presentation from our panelists, a directed Q & A session, and then attendees will have a chance to ask their own questions. If you have ever wondered how a hypothetical situation could be handled in your workplace, or you would like to learn how another company creates a threat management system, than this is a great event to attend. In addition, it is a great opportunity to learn more about how the two areas of Criminal Justice and Security Management can intertwine and work together to achieve goals.

To RSVP, please visit:

To learn more about the online Criminal Justice Bachelor’s program at SLU, visit