Building a Bench

Training program at University of Richmond prepares hourly workers for management.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Jerry Clemmer, director of residential dining at the University of Richmond, has developed an 11-month program to generate more in-house candidates for filling leadership positions. FSD spoke to Clemmer after his presentation at NACUFS to learn more about the Leadership in Development program, which is an 11-month endeavor that includes four books, monthly lesson plans consisting of several projects, an online journal and discussion board and a dinner planned by the program’s participants.

Program basics: Clemmer says he first got the idea when he realized that every time his department was looking for a manager there was no one ready for promotion. Clemmer took inspiration from his background in hotels, where his former company had a management training program that was self-directed.

The application process includes manager recommendations, an essay and a pre-assessment test to gauge where the employee stands in regards to what is going to be taught in the class. Any employee in dining services is welcome to apply. There is a maximum of five candidates per year for the program. Clemmer created the program based on what he believed were the basic tenets of management—communication, planning, resources and, most important to Clemmer, leadership.

“I knew I had to all of the basics but as I also felt like there was not a course out there that had the complete package, which to me was leadership philosophy,” Clemmer says. “What does it means to be a leader? Tim Dietzler [director of dining services at Villanova] gave me this book, the ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ by John C. Maxwell, and after I’d read that I decided I needed to put that book and books like it in the program. I think Tim just buys boxes of those books because he is always talking about leadership. He was a big inspiration for me.”

The program as it now is organized includes three other books on leadership— “The One Minute Manager” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, “Jack: Straight from the Gut” by Jack Welch, and “The Instant Survivor” by Jim Moorhead. The program also includes monthly lesson plans, which include several projects, YouTube videos and other e-learning. There is also what Clemmer calls contracts, which require the participants to go out on campus and in the community to different departments such as the police department or accounting and ask questions. An International Dinner that the participants plan together as a team held at the end of the term, and monthly online journal entries show Clemmer what participants have learned at the end of each lesson plan.

“Those journals are really my evidence for when hiring managers on campus are looking for someone to fill a position,” Clemmer says. “For example, we recently had a woman from this program hired into a management position and when her potential boss told me he was looking at her he asked what she’d learned in the program. I was able to show the boss her journal that detailed everything she’d learned. That was huge for her.”

As for what is actually covered during the program Clemmer says he feels communication, planning and trends are some of the most vital lessons in the program.

“[In terms of communication] it’s not always just sending out an email,” Clemmer says. “They need to plan their meetings every week. They need to put some thought into it. Planning is another big one. Anybody in operations, and we’re really guilty of this in foodservice, knows we come in, fix all the problems and go home. You get so focused on your day-to-day operations that you’re not looking past six months or a year from now. If you aren’t thinking at least six months ahead and putting it down on paper, you’re really not being a good leader.”

In terms of trends Clemmer says teaching the participants about things like sustainability has been really important.

“If you’re going to be a manager in the C&U world and you don’t have the first clue about what LEED means or how the point system works in the real world and what it costs, etc., then you’re not going to be equipped,” Clemmer says. “I really customize toward that C&U leader in foodservice. The problem is I can really only skim the service on most of these topics. What I can do is give them the resources to know where they can go to get these answers.”

Blackboard: Clemmer says one of the best evolutions of the program is the use of the online learning component called Blackboard. This tool allows Clemmer to interact with his students through discussion boards and keep up with how they are doing with the coursework. All lesson plans and assignments are posted on Blackboard, as well as videos and websites the students can use as resources.

“The biggest game changer with Blackboard was the discussion boards, because as we are reading these books it is a challenge to get [participants] to think critically,” Clemmer says. “Challenging them on the boards as we are reading has created a whole new world. It also gives me an idea of their paradigm and how they see things.”

Another interesting component of using Blackboard has been Clemmer’s ability to give participants grades throughout the course.

“These participants don’t get college credit for this program,” Clemmer says. “It’s all done on the clock. However, I found that they really want a score or a grade so they can see how they are doing. On Blackboard, I can give them grades and then tell them why I think they deserved that grade. Blackboard allows me to guide them and make sure they are on pace and headed in the right direction.”

Challenges & Advice: The biggest challenge, according to Clemmer, has been to make sure the participants are working as a team. That’s where the International Dinner comes in. The team works together to conceive and execute an event in the dining hall for the students. The event forces them to work together for a whole year, and it helps to teach them about compromise, says Clemmer. The other big challenge is getting them out of an “hourly” mindset.

“Getting them to understand the concept that you are not being paid by the hour,” Clemmer says. “What you are being paid for is how much you are responsible for. The different levels can sometimes work less than you but they are responsible for everything that goes on whether they are there or not. My best advice is to get everyone on your team on board, as well as the larger campus community, especially those who will be contacted by the participants as part of their coursework.

“Plus, really figure out what you want the participants to get from the program,” Clemmer adds. “There is no guarantee of promotion but what should they have learned at the end. I have them create a resume at the beginning of the program and at the end, and that lets me see if I’ve accomplished my goal. If their resume reflects that they felt like their leadership skills got better, they know campus better and they can do projects and presentations now, then I know they’ve accomplished everything I wanted them to achieve.” 

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