Why Do You Do It?


Tis’ the season… for end of semester evaluations, new hire orientation prep and spring semester goal setting.

One thing I tried to impart upon my students as they left for home over the winter break is often shared in the following line, “When you’re sitting at Grandma’s dining room table and the topic of your campus job comes up, how do you describe what you do?” This often turns into a scenario based activity and when asked to formulate an answer that doesn’t come straight from their position description, I get a room full of confusion…

So, if you cannot tell me what you do in your own words, why do you do it? 

The Power of Knowing Why

I had a student a few years ago introduce me to Simon Sinek via a Ted Talk on inspirational leadership, and this helped put the wheels in motion for our team. Sinek introduces his concept of The Golden Circle, developing a framework for how great leaders and organizations work to inspire those around them by starting with the “why.” Meaning that starting with your organization’s purpose and building your team’s values, culture, and expectations around that central purpose will help to create buy-in for department staff and the work they put in, members and regular users of your recreation facilities, and campus partners. 

Buy-in for collegiate recreation is continually growing and evolving. There is plenty of research out there working to justify recreation on college campuses as an integral part of student retention, holistic wellness, professional development and overall student experience.

So, in order to help promote buy-in, student staff especially need to understand why they are so important to the team. I’m sure it’s the exact same for 99 percent of you out there, but our department is student-run, notably in the evenings, and specifically 1:00 a.m. broom-ball leagues. As often as possible, we make this known to our student staff: without them our department would not stand a chance of achieving any of the goals we have set.

Goal Setting with Your Team

Setting goals is a vital piece in developing and understanding your “why.” At the beginning of fall semester, our area established two goals. We did this during an all-staff meeting where we outlined S.M.A.R.T goals and could gain input from our student staff, helping with buy-in.

From there, my graduate assistant and I made these goals a clear part of every day, and worked with student staff individually to develop two goals they each wanted to achieve during the fall semester, one personal and one specific to their role with us. Having team and individual goals has been a great way to create a sense of ownership and provide clarity on the importance of each student’s individual experience.

No matter the institution size, university master plan or campus demographics, having a strong core purpose and making it part of your everyday only helps to promote what you are trying to achieve, and create an environment of commitment that is rooted within every employee: students in your weight room, lifeguards in your aquatic center, camp counselors and your executive director all need to buy-in.

When everyone has a better understanding of “why” they are here, they can better explain to Grandma and the rest of the dinner table what it is that they do, and more importantly begin to recognize what it is that they are gaining.

Ben Justice
Ben Justice oversees a student staff and promotes recreational sports as the member services coordinator at The Ohio State University. Outside of work, he is about all things Cleveland sports. Feel free to reach Ben at justice.299@osu.edu.

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