In my hometown, Wards Road is a major thoroughfare that runs through the principal retail district of the city. On each side of the road is an institution of higher learning. One is a community college of modest size, and the other is a major, international university of enormous proportions. The two are seemingly incomparable, with the latter presumably the superior school. However, in a recent news release by a respected academic journal known as The Chronicle of Higher Education, it was the small community college, not the major university, that made the journal's annual list of "Great Colleges to Work For." As surprising as this might be for many people--especially given the university's claim of being a leader in Christian higher education--I am in the unique position of having worked for both institutions. Consequently, I was not surprised at all. So, "What's going on?" you ask...
Compared to the community college, the university offers much larger pay checks to its full-time and, in most cases, its adjunct faculty. From a monetary standpoint, then, it would make sense that the university is the better place to work. Again, the university offers much more prestige to its faculty than does the community college. When one mentions the university's name, there is immediate recognition by most people in higher-education circles. This is not the case for the community college. From a status and reputation standpoint, the university is again the winner. There is also more potential for promotion at the university. The community college has a very limited number of administrative and leadership positions, while the university has more of these than the community college has total faculty positions. The university would seem to be the victor once more. And the students at the university are of good stock, often coming from Christian homes and having, on the whole, good work ethics and ample time and attention to spend on scholastic achievement. The community college student is typically a "work-a-day" person, often returning to school after many years and having extra-curricular responsibilities that preclude the ability to concentrate solely on academic pursuits. What faculty member, therefore, would not prefer the university?
Apparently, many! And the principal reason for this inconsistency is what I call "The Wards Factor." Cross from the community-college side of Wards Road to the university side and something of a "culture warp" is breached. On the community-college side, faculty are valued, regularly asked their opinions, treated with dignity and respect, and genuinely seen as peers by their colleagues and leaders. As a faculty member for over 8 years at the community college, I have been supported, encouraged, rewarded, challenged, nurtured, and listened to, even if my opinions countered those of the leadership. On the university side, faculty experience something quite different. Indeed, as many of my university colleagues would attest, faculty are rarely asked their opinions, punished if they offer opinions that counter the status quo, overworked (in the name of ministry) on a regular basis, treated as if they are mere cogs in a very large wheel, and discarded when they are no longer valuable to the machine. So, what is "The Wards Factor"? Quite simply, it is the crucial matter of relationship-building!
The community college is a great place to work because its leadership creates and fosters genuine and positive relations with its people. The university, on the other hand--even though it has all of the superficial markings of a great place to work--fails because it gives little place to the value of relationship-building. Now, I'm not writing this article because I want to bash the university. Far from it. The university has the challenge of being a very large organization/corporation, whereas the community college is more like a small business. It is obviously easier to create relationships in small businesses. And there are many great people at the university who are a credit to their professions. However, as leaders in our workplaces, churches, and other organizations, I believe we can learn something from this particular street-crossing scenario, namely, we must consider "The Wards Factor"--the idea that in order to foster a positive work environment for employees, volunteers, church workers, or whomever, we must give attention to the matter of relationship-building. We must care more about people than we do process, and we cannot think that merely throwing more money, rank, or prestige at someone is enough. It's not. The only way to make people want to be a part of our teams is to work on making people matter. We must choose the right side of the road.