Jennifer Cohen gets results. In just three years, the University of Washington (UW) athletic director hired six coaches – and three of them were named Coach of the Year for their conference in their first season.
In her first year alone, Washington’s football team reached the College Football Playoff, the women’s rowing team took home the title at the NCAA Rowing Championships, the softball team advanced to the semi-finals of the Women’s College World Series and the men’s rowing team finished runner-up at the IRA National Championships.
How does she find such high performers to coach and staff her teams to victory? Turns out it’s not because of a flashy resume.
“I don’t fall in love with you on paper,” she says.
Here are Cohen’s tips to hiring and retaining those top recruits who embody your values:
1. Define your team values
Cohen asked herself, “What are the behaviors we need to take a program that’s pretty good and make it really great?”
She and the UW executive team created a list of people within the university who embodied what it meant to be a University of Washington student, athlete, fan, alumni or employee. The names included a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, so Cohen looked for the commonalities.
Through this exercise, they learned “what’s really special about this place” – and discovered the four core values that the UW athletic department now lives by: commitment to serving others, growth mindset, humility and grit.
2. Find recruits who share your values
To find out if prospective candidates share those values, Cohen recommends you learn what matters to them outside the office.
“I like to ask people what they’re reading,” she says. “I’m interested in what motivates people, what inspires them.
3. Connect to create team players
Once hired, team members are onboarded primarily by peers.
“What better way to introduce new hires to our culture than with people who already understand it and believe in it?” asks Cohen.
Cohen also encourages open dialogue to make sure many voices are heard. “If you want to rally people to be part of something bigger than themselves, then you need transparency, honesty and connection,” she says. “All those things need to start from the beginning.”
By reinforcing their values throughout the employee experience, Cohen and her team are better prepared to support their students for life after college, “which is the whole reason why universities and athletic departments exist,” as Cohen puts it.
“This is very much a people development business that we’re in,” Cohen says.
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