Zach’s Blog

Two reasons your staff is disengaged…

Have you ever had trouble getting your  staff members to volunteer for something? Are your staff members “timesheet-ers”? Do you find yourself sitting in your office saying, “What is wrong with my team?” or “Why don’t they just pay attention?” or “Why don’t they know this is important?”

If so, you are not alone. Most times, in a variety of fields, it is easier as supervisors and managers to focus on what “the staff” lacks. I posit that we change our perspective and put a mirror to ourselves and ask: “What have I done (or not done) to create this culture among my team?”

From my experience, a team culture of disengagement, underachievement, and low commitment level among staffs is created by two main principles:

        1. Supervisors are training positions, not people.


       2. Supervisors are training the “what” before the “how” and both before the “why.”

In my field of higher education, first, I always tell my staff, “If you don’t know who you are, then you don’t know what you are doing.” Too often, for the sake of efficiency we expect our student staff members to deliver intentional, empathetic, and values-driven orientation programs almost instantly. When we make the mistake of focusing on “what needs to be done” we can too easily forget “who is doing it.”

Therefore, students will inevitably see this as “just a job” because they have been treated as “just a position.”

Before we even begin training on any one task, we need to spend equal time training on who we are training to perform the task. Facilitating an awareness of identity development, communication awareness, personality styles, and personal purpose (for limited examples) at their university and in the world before we ask them to deliver a purpose and mission is the key.

For example, look at your training schedule. If you spend more time training people on “what” to say over “how” to say it, and more importantly both above “why” they would say it, you may be training positions over people.

This can lead to student staff treating the experience that way as well.

The second principle is that we have to train the WHY before the HOW and the WHAT only after both.

I use a simple formula to help me remember how to structure training in this way:


The first training session I ever facilitate with new student staff members is called “common purpose.” In this session, students deeply explore why they feel they exist in the world and connect that existence to why orientation programs exist at a university and then connect that to why universities exist in the world. We have shifted to spending 19.5 hours of training to focusing on the “why” and “how” before a task is ever given.

We make sure each staff member deeply knows that they are creating the first experience for people who make up less than 1% of the world’s population (earning a bachelor’s degree), and that they have direct influence over the purpose and passion of thousands of people who are going to go out in the world and impact thousands more people before they ever once perform a job “duty”.

This deep sense of personal global purpose makes stuffing an orientation folder a monumentally life-changing task.

Since initiating this change in training philosophy, the “When do I get paid for this?” questions have turned into the “I can’t believe I get paid for this” statements.

We have to train people, and not positions and we have to train the why before the how and the what only after both.

The results can be inspiring to both the staff and us as supervisors.

– Zach

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