Age of enlightenment at McGill

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McGill Reporter
September 22, 2005 - Volume 38 Number 03
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 38: 2005-2006 > September 22, 2005 > Age of enlightenment at McGill

Age of enlightenment at McGill

Better training equips staff with tools to succeed

When staff development specialist Sophie Marcil started working at McGill in the fall of 2002, she noticed something very strange - outside of the regular classroom, there was no culture of learning at the university. "There was hardly any systematic staff development here," she says. Staff members weren't offered opportunities to acquire and improve the skills they needed to achieve greater effectiveness and job satisfaction.

Caption follows
Sophie Marcil says that conversational French is the most popular class among staff.
Owen Egan

But Marcil was hired to rectify that exact situation. Coming from the private sector, in the aeronautics and telecommunications industries, she had worked in human resources for most of her career. "But my passion has always been training and development," she says.

That passion was used to spearhead a staff development program that began in March 2003 with, modestly enough, a single class in Leadership and Coaching. The workshop was designed specifically for managerial staff and attracted a little more than 100 participants in 10 different sections.

Today, only two-and-a-half years later, the program has expanded to more than 25 free workshops that serve more than 2,000 managerial, clerical, technical and library assistance personnel and the trades and services group. The courses teach everything from frontline customer service techniques and interviewing skills to business writing strategies and conflict management.

In general, the courses take between four hours and two-and-a-half days, depending upon the complexity of the subject. Each workshop has an upper limit of 12 to 15 participants in order to facilitate and encourage healthy interaction.

Marcil takes great pride in the fact that each workshop, even the original Leadership and Coaching one, is constantly evolving. "These are not 'off-the-shelf' workshops," she says. "We work very closely with our consultants to make each one as 'McGillian' as possible in terms of the examples, the language, the exercises and the role-playing used in class. The workshops must make a positive impact on people's everyday jobs." Course evaluations and follow-up interviews several months down the road help Marcil and her team red flag areas that need tweaking.

These days, Marcil is even more excited than usual about her job. That's because on November 2, Human Resources will launch a new phase in the staff development program that moves from the one-off workshop format to a more integrated program. Running for 18 months, the new program focuses on newly appointed supervisors, offering them a series of workshops designed to equip them with the tools needed to excel in their new position.

Taking one or two workshops per month, participants will learn the core, or "soft" skills, such as leadership, delegation and conflict management as well as McGill-specific skills like health and safety issues. "In the past, these new supervisors started their job and were expected to learn on the fly," says Marcil. "Our goal is to set them up for success."

While the onus is on individuals to take the initiative to advance their career, the development program is designed to stimulate dialogue between staff and supervisors. "It should be part of the review process," says Marcil, "but not in a negative way. People should be told when they are doing a good job and be made aware of how they can do even better. We're trying to encourage people to sit down with their supervisors and plan their career."

Making plans and setting goals isn't haphazard. This past spring, Jean-Claude Provost, manager in human resources, led the team that developed a competency directory. The directory serves as the guideline for the four managerial levels at McGill, outlining the exact skills needed at various positions. Using the directory as a model, workshops have been further streamlined to ensure participants acquire the necessary competencies for their appropriate managerial level.

To simplify the process, staff members can go to the human resources website where they can go over the workshop outlines, check schedules and register themselves. On top of the workshops offered by Human Resources, the site also includes a variety of other courses designed by specific units. Staff can sign up for everything from Financial Accounting to Radiation Safety. "Whenever departments or units ask us for customized sessions, we collaborate with them and the appropriate consultants to develop something," says Marcil. "Even though we aren't running all of these programs, we wanted to share our online registration system so that people could enjoy one-stop shopping."

See www.mcgill.ca/hr/staffdevelopment for more information.

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