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Behind the Scenes: Organizational and Professional Development Team

By ANDREA THOERMER

CaptureBehindthescenesHello from the newest department at Step Up For Students: The Organizational and Professional Development Department.

Our job is to strengthen the culture of the organization by enhancing employees’ decision-making through professional, emotional, cognitive and social learning opportunities, and by improving organizational processes and structure. I know, that’s a mouthful. Basically, we support and invest in our employees’ professional development so they experience greater success, joy and satisfaction at work. We believe that by keeping our employees happy, we can better serve our families and schools.

That’s why our team of four employees really push at promoting our company’s two core values: Every employee is an asset. Every event is an improvement opportunity. We know that our organization can best serve our community if we hold true to these two values.

An OPD meeting with the book "Joy Inc.: How We Build a Workplace People Love," clockwise from lower left: Doug Tuthill, Kevin Law, Mickey Strope, Anne White, Gina Caicedo, Jill LaR and Andrea Thoermer.

An OPD meeting with the book “Joy Inc.: How We Build a Workplace People Love,” clockwise from lower left: Doug Tuthill, Kevin Law, Mickey Strope, Anne White, Gina Caicedo, Jill LaRose and Andrea Thoermer.

One aspect of professional development we give a lot of attention to is focused on improving employee’s cognitive and emotional management skills. These skills include self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relationship management. When employees are aware of how they are “being” in a certain situation, then they can better manage those thoughts and emotions so their behavior benefits everyone in that situation. We also know it’s important to be empathetic toward others, which helps us better manage our work relationships. We have done a lot research in this area and have found that these traits are essential and contribute to a happy and productive workplace.

Over the past 11 months, our employees have received feedback from their peers and are now creating Personal Development Plans so each employee can grow professionally. For example, if you are a Service Center representative and you aspire to be a manager, then you would take manager and leadership courses preparing you for a manager role. Or, if you process Gardiner Scholarships, but have a lot of interest in improving the processes in the organization, then you would take courses focused on process improvement.

Our department works as a team to create internal classes to address these plans. We also reach out to our colleagues who have certain skills and knowledge to help us provide even more courses to meet the diverse and unique needs of our colleagues. We are so thankful for the amount of talent we have in the organization. Some of the classes we provide include: Microsoft Outlook training, Project Management tips, a Step-In Program focused on improving cognitive and emotional management skills, Mentoring and Shadowing opportunities, Toastmasters (to improve presentation skills) and a variety of other communication and leadership classes.

Some of the OPD department’s other initiatives include Genius Hour, Interdepartmental Working Lunches and President Office and Asset Hours. Genius Hour allows our employees to innovate and collaborate with others to come up with ideas or projects that could benefit the organization. Out of these genius ideas, we now have a walking treadmill desk to allow employees opportunities to stretch their legs and get some exercise while working. We also have implemented a chat service in the Service Center to field more questions from our families. Interdepartmental Working Lunches happen once a month and provide us with a platform to share information company-wide and work together on a variety of projects.

For the President’s Office and Asset Hours, Doug Tuthill, our leader, either allots time for employees to speak with him about any issues or ideas, or he goes to their work place location (cubicle, office, etc.) and inquires into what they do on a daily basis in order to more fully understand the inner workings of the organization and further carry out our two core values: Everyone is an asset. Every event is an improvement opportunity.

We consider it a privilege to support our employees professionally as we strive to increase workplace satisfaction and productivity so we can ultimately better serve you.

Hear what Step Up team members are saying about OPD’s courses: 

“In pursuit of achieving some of my PDP objectives, I participated in various OPD offerings including the Step-In Program and communicating from a place of nothingness.

Both of these offerings were time well spent. I believe that I have acquired certain skills that allow me to be more aware and in control of my emotions, and I have recently, really enjoyed the art of communicating. It always feels great when you can grow and learn, and I am looking forward to future offerings.”

–Mickey Strope, Director of Information and Knowledge Management

“I was very appreciative of the Microsoft Outlook class.  It has been very helpful – now I have Meeting Rooms in my Outlook calendar.”

–Ella Beaver, Site Administrator

“As part of my professional development plan, I decided I needed to beef up my public speaking skills, so in March I became a member of a local Toastmasters speech club. It’s too soon to proclaim any miracles, but I’ve been having fun. My fellow Toastmasters, including Lauren Barlis and Meredith McKay from Step Up, are the best! They’re warm, encouraging, non-judgmental. In that kind of atmosphere, it’s impossible not to overcome hang-ups and get better.

Ultimately, I hope, it’s the scholarship students and parents who benefit, because if I can become a better communicator, then I will be a better advocate. Frankly, it’s the students and parents who inspired me to give it a shot. At Step Up, we are always hearing stories about parents and students who scale mountains to reach their dreams. The least I can do, for them, is go attack a little hill.”

–Ron Matus, Director of Policy and Public Affairs

“I had the opportunity to take a class to learn about SCRUM, it’s a methodology for managing projects. Since taking the course, I have been using it with my team so we can work together more efficiently as possible to better serve our parents. Below is a description of SCRUM:

Safe: A way to express your ideas, generate insight, share concern in an environment that is judgment free and without blame.

Collaboration: Teams are self-organizing. The team holds each other accountable for achieving daily commitments and are allowed to go beyond boundaries to showcase their talents.

Retrospective: Allows time for reflection. We identify what went well and what could be improved. Everything is measured and decisions are based on data and variations, and not opinions.

Uniformity:  We own the plan! We determine our capacity and focus on one improvement at a time. If we succeed, we succeed together. If we fail, we fail together.

Mentality: The idea is not to look for solutions to solve all your problems or to look for reasons why something is impossible. Failure and learning from failure is encouraged because experimenting and failing is the fuel for innovation.”

–Martina Ady, Assistant Operations Manager, Contact Center

Andrea Thoermer is director of Professional Development, Organizational & Professional Development. She has been with Step Up For Students for three years after teaching for seven years in the public school system and graduating from the University of Florida with her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. What she likes most about working for Step Up is that she is given the opportunity to help employees grow professionally and personally by creating meaningful learning opportunities focused on their specific needs. She enjoys the challenge of helping others see in themselves what she sees in them.  When Andrea is coming up with ways to support Step Up staff, she dotes on her 9–month-old daughter and husband of six years. She also enjoys spending time with her close friends and other family members, cooking, trying new restaurants, indulging in decadent desserts and exercising to burn off all the calories she consumes.