Group of participants

Learning to Lead: New HR Program Helps Prepare Staff for Success

November 29, 2022

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Enrico Leone and some colleagues got an assignment. The task—design a program to enhance the new employee experience—was typical for a new staff supervisor. But the timeline wasn’t: They had just five minutes. So quickly, they spitballed elements of the would-be program. What about something to promote alignment with mission and vision?, Leone suggested, riffing on ideas raised by the group, including welcome components, trainings, key personnel introductions, and more.  

As Leone and colleagues brainstormed at breakneck speed during this Staff Supervisor Professional Development Program (SSPDP) breakout session, they were also creating connections between departments across the campus. “That exercise was very helpful to me, because I’d come into a newly built team: there was no template for what I needed to do, just ‘Get going now,’” said Leone, who began at CU Denver as a Business School dean’s assistant 12 years ago and now leads a three-person enrollment management team. “I want to be able to do an effective onboarding, give new staff all they need to be successful before throwing them into the fire.” 

Enrico Leone

Preparing CU Denver’s next generation of staff leaders for success is a central goal of the new SSPDP program, of which Leone is one of 21 inaugural cohort members. The program aims to better equip staff to lead in their units and across the university. Nine monthly sessions throughout the 2022–23 academic year cover change management, working through conflict, social responsibility, resilience and combating burnout, and other topics. 

The SSPDP was created in response to 2030 Strategic Plan development dialogue, to align with the notion that high-performing organizations value employees as people, create cultures of empowerment and belonging, and provide clear opportunities for success. “We heard we had room for growth in terms of providing staff with professional development, said Jennifer Sobanet, executive vice chancellor of administration and strategy. “We also work during a time when our world and higher education are moving at a faster clip, requiring a nimble, flexible style of management.” 

In SSPDP’s curriculum, the Human Resources’ Learning & Development team brings CU Denver-centric content together with diverse perspectives and ideas related to leadership. The program is infused with the CU Denver campus and cultural experience, and features rotating host sites for each monthly session. It also places an emphasis on making DEI part of the university’s DNA.  

AVC of Human Resources teri engelke leads a session on change management.

Program participation is oriented toward front-line staff supervisors that represent a broad cross-section of campus units and experience levels, to maximize spread of skills and principles to other staff. Members of the 2022–23 cohort were nominated by their supervisors. Nominations for 2023–24 will open this spring.  

Leone is impressed by how SSPDP goes beyond a “typical” training program to help him develop as an effective and empathic leader—not merely to fill a supervisory role. “A lot of the participants are names I’ve known from around campus, but this has been a great opportunity to bond with them, and share stories and similar experiences,” he said. “We’ll always have that network of people to be able to go back to.”  

Chancellor Michelle Marks said, “To achieve CU Denver’s goal of being a Best Place to Work, we need to work together to help ensure tomorrow’s staff leaders have the skills and mindset they need to inspire success in others across and beyond the university. The Staff Supervisor Professional Development Program fills this need in a uniquely CU Denver way, and I’m proud of the innovation and hard work of our Human Resources team and their partners in bringing it to fruition.”