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How do companies in our sector build staff loyalty?

As the international education business grows rapidly, companies in the industry are increasingly using initiatives to keep their staff engaged, motivated and loyal – from team-building exercises and in-house training, through to staff conferences, motivational speakers and straightforward bonus schemes.

Staff form Hult International Business School's Boston campus on an employee trip. The firm uses regular trips, training exercises and other measures to keep its staff around the world motivated and engaged.

“Staff motivation is a challenge we face no matter what is happening in the economy"

A key driver behind this is the need for staff to deliver ever higher levels of service as companies get larger, more competitive, and more professionalised – something that can be taxing without the right support. In addition, employers are using corporate motivation to incentivise, and thus retain quality staff who can grow their company – a particular challenge in an industry that creates new jobs every day.

“Staff motivation is a challenge we face no matter what is happening in the economy,” explains Michelle Bergland, executive director at Hult International Business School, a global operator which sees enrolment growth of 40% or more year over year.

“Organisations that think their good people will stay with them because of the recession are only fooling themselves – if we don’t take care of our most valuable assets, we will lose them as soon as they find a better opportunity.”

“Organisations that think their good people will stay with them because of the recession are only fooling themselves”

ELS, the global English language chain, is another fast-growing company, climbing from 30 language centres worldwide in 2002 to 60 today. Ward Morrow, director of academic affairs, says motivation is key to keeping staff morale up amid the flurry of change.

“Such rapid and sizable growth has created challenges hiring qualified instructors and administrators. It has also presented challenges in building and maintaining an infrastructure to support these growing numbers of students and employees,” he says. “These are ongoing challenges that ELS is working hard to meet.”

Ward Morrow at ESL says rapid growth presents challenges

So how exactly are companies working to overcome these challenges? Many say that nurturing a positive everyday workplace culture – where employees feel satisfied and able to communicate effectively with their managers – is a vital starting point. Berglund cites the sacred weekly meetings held with all staff at the school. “Everyone attends if they are in the office, no excuses… it serves as the perfect opportunity to communicate directly, in person, the things that we value.”

Creating social opportunities, such as staff parties for employees, is also a way to raise morale and build stronger staff teams. “Over the course of a year we would have at least three management meetings with all the main UK and Ireland staff,” says Michael Quinn, UK director of ELT outfit the Centre of English Studies. “This would always involve a night over in one of the cities or towns where our schools are located. This gives us a great opportunity for us all to go out together.”

• creating social opportunities
• weekly meetings
• positive culture
• training and events

The upscale equivalent of this is the staff conference, a fixture at most large companies, which provides staff with networking opportunities and an opportunity to share best practice – not to mention enjoy lively keynote speakers who are tasked with energising the delegates. Growing company BSC in the UK recently introduced an annual conference for staff, featuring guest speakers. Rod Jones, CEO of Navitas, says that a number Navitas divisions hold annual meetings which offer a great way to “talk about the wider environment for Navitas and where we are headed.”

One such, the English Division’s annual Big Day In, brings staff from across Australia together for training, networking, guest speakers and presentations. It has been running for 18 years and is “a highlight of the year for many staff,” says Jones. Another example is ELS’ biannual meetings, the last of which welcomed 250 centre directors congregate to Princeton, New Jersey, for three days and featured a keynote address from Soichiro Fukutake, the chairman of Benesse Holdings which owns ELS. [more>>]

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