Action Drives Positive Employee Engagement at the University of Minnesota

Results from the first series of Employee Engagement surveys found meaningful improvements in employee engagement in six colleges that shared results and took action, although it took time and patience. Despite the efforts of leaders, faculty, and staff, some scores from these colleges actually dropped below the University average after the second survey. However, these efforts paid off and by the third survey scores significantly increased in several areas. When asked how faculty would rate their trust and confidence in leaders, these six colleges saw combined results that were 11 percentage points higher than the system-wide results among faculty, for example.

"Employee engagement is about providing employees with the opportunity to have a voice."

Brandon Sullivan, Ph.D.

Brandon Sullivan, Ph.D., senior director of Leadership and Talent Development, said a temporary downturn in results is common as leaders, faculty, and staff begin to talk about priorities and experiences in new ways. The focus of employee engagement is really about taking action and survey results provide a snapshot in time to show areas of opportunity and strength.

“Employee engagement is about providing employees with the opportunity to have a voice and employees using that opportunity to provide thoughtful input. This input must be shared locally and discussed within the context of important goals and priorities,” Sullivan noted. “Finally, these discussions must lead to actions that make a difference.”

Sullivan said the colleges that took action had three common characteristics:

  • Leaders and their teams took ownership for engagement and saw employee engagement as a core part of their roles as leaders.
  • Results were shared and discussed in serious and meaningful ways including discussing how the data informed advancing goals and strategic priorities. This sometimes required additional input sessions, focus groups, or more informal discussions to better understand faculty and staff feedback.
  • These colleges identified a few focused areas for action, usually between one and three, and these were aligned with important goals and priorities.

About Brandon Sullivan, Ph.D., Senior Director of Leadership and Talent Development
Brandon directs Leadership and Talent Development in the Office of Human Resources at the University of Minnesota. He leads a team of expert consultants dedicated to providing strategic consulting services, tailored leadership development programs, and research-supported survey and assessment tools to help campuses, colleges, and units to advance important goals and priorities.

In addition to directing LTD, Brandon teaches graduate courses on leadership, organizational behavior, and wellbeing in the workplace. He is a senior lecturer in the Carlson School of Management and is on the graduate faculty at the Center for Spirituality and Healing. Brandon is also an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Prior to joining the University, Brandon led a global talent assessment and employee engagement team at Target Corporation and was a partner in a talent management consultancy specializing in executive leadership assessment and selection. Brandon earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota.