Employee engagement transforms technical college

The president and CEO of Calgary’s SAIT Polytechnic threw out the old, “staid” ways when she came on in 1998. In the past few years, registration has grown by 20,000.

When Irene Lewis took over as president and CEO of SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, Alberta, in 1998, she knew communications would play a major part in turning the institute around.

“When I arrived, I think most people considered SAIT to be stable, but staid,” she told the audience at Monday’s opening session at the annual International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Chicago, just after winning the association’s 2012 Excellence in Communication Leadership (EXCEL) award.

Buildings were old. The institute was turning away qualified students, because there just wasn’t room for them. Employees weren’t engaged. Lots of staff members came to work without really getting involved in life at the technological institute. Employees thought of management as a big “they.”

Employees “didn’t see it as their organization,” Lewis said.

Over the past 14-plus years, Lewis has worked to reinvigorate the school, with $1 billion in renovation and construction and a new approach to communications. Annual registrations have grown by 20,000 over the past few years, she said, while revenue and course offerings have doubled.

She described a few ways she and her staff helped make all that happen:

1. Soliciting employee input

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