More than 300 people learned about the concept of democratic workplaces at “Sharing the Journey,” the staff professional development conference, coordinated by MetroLeads and held over the past two Fridays on campus.
Participants in the MetroLeads program conceived the idea of offering a staff development conference similar to faculty development conferences coordinated by the Center for Faculty Development.
The first session, on Friday, Jan. 28, featured a keynote presentation by Traci Fenton, founder and CEO of WorldBlu, Inc., whose mission is championing the growth of democratic companies worldwide. The planning committee designed the conference based on feedback from classified staff and last year’s participants, as well as the findings of the 2010 Campus Climate Survey.
WorldBlu publishes the annual WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™, a list of “the most transparent, collaborative and decentralized companies in the world,” ranging from small to Fortune 500 public and private organizations. The company touts 10 principles of democratic design, including transparency, integrity and fairness/dignity.
Fenton’s presentation, which reviewed the principles, was followed by breakout sessions to address some of the issues coming out of the climate survey, including fear. Once in the breakout sessions, a handful of participants answered questions such as “What might be possible at Metro State if everyone worked in freedom?”
More than anything, the breakout sessions brought people together from various departments on campus, according to Director of the Center for Individualized Learning Elizabeth Parmelee and Assistant Director of the Office of Institutional Research Stefanie Sutrina, who served as the conference committee co-chairs and are both members of this year’s cohort of MetroLeads.
“We wanted (to give attendees) the opportunity to meet people they didn’t know and have a conversation,” said Parmelee. “I know there will be mixed reactions, but a lot of commentary has been positive.”
She said one person in the discussion group the first week said s/he didn’t think the College could become a democratic workplace based on Fenton’s principals. But by the second week s/he was saying “maybe it can happen.”
During the second session, on Feb. 4, Parmelee held a question-and-answer session with President Stephen Jordan in response to questions participants had submitted in the first session a week prior. Jordan also entertained questions from the audience. He openly answered questions about employees’ fear of being terminated, and talked about the possibilities of employees and the institution if employees operate in the spirit of freedom.
The MetroLeads program is a “great example of an individual who had a great idea,” said Jordan, referring to assistant director of admission Paul Cesare who initiated the program. “At first it was turned away. I looked at it and said it could be fleshed out.”
Six years and 120 graduates later, “a whole bunch of employees are benefitting because one employee took a risk.”
Some questioned how Jordan would explain a “democratic workplace” to someone in the Republican Party. He clarified, “It’s not big D-Democrat.”
Sutrina said she was appreciative of the opportunity to be a MetroLeader and organize the conference. “The relationships that come out of the cohort of MetroLeaders are amazing. (And) the discussion groups (at the conference) were like a mini-MetroLeads retreat for 50 minutes.”Attendance at last year’s staff professional development conference was closer to 400, but it was mandatory. This year it was not, according to Sutrina, which she believes speaks to the democratic workplace theory.
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