Emerging Leaders Institute Responds to Business Need for Leadership Development and Employee Engagement Training 

By Jon Wollenhaupt

You can’t come away from a presentation on employee engagement by Jonae Pistoresi, a Merced College business school instructor, without being inspired. Her enthusiasm is infectious, her demeanor is delightful, and her knowledge of and insights into current leadership and management topics are profound. You’ll be further impressed when you learn she’s been teaching for 28 years. 

But Pistoresi does not keep herself cloistered away in academia. When she’s not teaching, she’s out meeting with leaders of business and industry, delivering professional development training, and researching the hottest topics and most pressing issues that are on the minds of frontline managers and executives. She uses all of the business and industry feedback she gathers to develop programs such as the awarding-winning Customer Service Academy, which has been delivering professional development training to large corporations and small businesses statewide for 18 years. Organizations that have engaged with the Customer Service Academy for employee training include Beringer Wine Group, Dignity Health, Francis Ford Coppola Presents, Hilton Hotels, NFL franchise the San Diego Chargers, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, Westfield Malls, and Win-River Casino. 

UpSkill California recently spoke with Pistoresi to learn more about the evolution of her latest training program focused on employee engagement and leadership development, the Emerging Leaders Institute. 

UpSkill California: Tell us how the Emerging Leaders Institute came into being. 

Pistoresi: I’ve been a business professor for 28 years. I consider it an essential part of my job to understand the most pressing issues in our business community. I am always attending industry and advisory board meetings to hear what executives are saying, to understand their concerns. The topic on the minds of many executives over the last few years has been employee engagement. Because the topic of employee engagement is multifaceted and the problems related to disengaged employees so pervasive, I decided to take a sabbatical in the fall of 2012 to do research on this. 

UpSkill California: Why is employee engagement so important? 

Pistoresi: First, let’s define employee engagement by stating what it is not. It is not about employee happiness or satisfaction. It is about employees who demonstrate an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. It is about the customer service representative who actually cares about her work and her company. It is about managers who don’t work just for a paycheck or the next perk. It is about all levels of employees who work on behalf of the organization’s goals and vision. 

Furthermore, employee engagement is important because of the costs that occur when people are not engaged in the workplace. For example, in the United States, we lose over $400 billion a year because of disengaged employees. At companies where there is a high level of employee disengagement, there is typically higher turnover, more accidents, more absenteeism, and poor customer service. Additionally, when employees are disengaged, they do not embrace the organization’s mission and values. Businesses are finally taking employee engagement seriously because of the extensive research that shows how much money it is costing them when employees are not emotionally engaged. Doug Conant, former Campbell’s Soup CEO, once said, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” To win in the workplace, you must have engaged employees. Developing a company culture that cultivates engaged employees has an impact on important business measures. Research by Towers Perrin shows that companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins. 

UpSkill California: How did you proceed with your research? 

Pistoresi: I went to study companies that had highly engaged employees. Disney was one of them. I also became steeped in the work of the Gallup organization, which conducts some of the most comprehensive and in-depth research on employee engagement. Upon return from my sabbatical, I began to create the program modules that make up the Emerging Leaders Institute. My sister-in-law, Patty Pistoresi, who is also a business instructor, was a co-creator of the program. 

UpSkill California: What are those modules? 

Pistoresi: The Emerging Leaders Institute is based on the following eight modules that are taught in workshops: 

  1. Employee Engagement: Improve Performance, Productivity, and Retention 
  2. Leadership Essentials: What Emerging Leaders Need to Know 
  3. Leading with Strengths: Maximize Your Talents and Develop Your Strengths 
  4. Values and Ethics: Cultivate an Ethical Working Environment 
  5. Generational Diversity 
  6. Challenges of Leadership: Difficult People, Tough Conversations, and Discipline 
  7. Emotional Intelligence: Improve Relationships and Increase Productivity 
  8. Authentic Leadership: Know Yourself and Lead Your People 

The success and impact of this program comes from the fact that all of these modules have a purposefully integrated employee engagement theme that is reinforced across all topics. 

UpSkill California: How are other community colleges in California incorporating the Emerging Leaders Institute into their program offerings? 

Employee EngagementPistoresi: The Emerging Leaders Institute is modeled on our highly successful Customer Service Academy program, which we taught in our business community here in Merced for several years until I was asked to deliver it statewide via train-the-trainer workshops. 

Initially, we are offering a two-day train-the-trainer workshop that teaches how to present the curriculum of four of the eight modules—Employee Engagement, Leadership Essentials, Emotional Intelligence, and Generational Diversity. We also provide an overview of how we started the program, how we marketed it, and to whom we’re selling it. Most importantly, we discuss what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Workshop attendees get 32 hours of curriculum, which acts as a blueprint for what they can do. 

The community colleges like the fact that they can customize the modules to best meet the needs of their college, their community, and, most importantly, the businesses that they’re serving. For example, the Generational Diversity module, which has been in high demand, can be delivered as a stand-alone course. This flexibility makes it an easy and quick addition to a college’s contract training program offerings. Our hope is that it continues to spread statewide as did the Customer Service Academy program. To date, we have delivered the train-the-trainer workshop to hundreds of people representing over 75 community colleges.”

UpSkill California: Do you have an example of a client that has adopted the Emerging Leaders Institute program? 

Employee EngagementPistoresi: We have a long-term relationship with Dignity Health in Merced, which is making a commitment and investment in its team. For example, once a quarter, all 70 of its leaders take an Emerging Leaders Institute workshop. Prior to the workshop, each leader is given one of the course books to read. It’s also sending all its employees through our Customer Service Academy. So, while one group of employees are enhancing their skills on how to how to serve customers better, how to improve their communication skills, and how to be a good team player, you have leaders being trained on employee engagement, leadership essentials, and emotional intelligence. The impact is the organization is getting extensive soft skills enhancement training from the bottom up and from the top down. That’s how you make a culture shift within an organization. This is why we designed the programs to tie closely together and to have an integrated theme running through them. 

The approach taken by Dignity Health is optimal because it has the greatest impact on behavior and organizational culture. And that impact can contribute in a measurable way to business and organizational goals. Additionally, providing this type of training tells employees at any organization that they matter, that the company is supporting them to be able to do their best and gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. I’d like to point out that those are three things measured by the Gallup Q12 Index—a survey composed of 12 questions that indicates employee engagement and best predicts employee and workgroup performance. 

Employee EngagementDeveloped by Merced College Instructors Jonae Pistoresi and Patti Pistoresi, The Emerging Leaders Institute provides essential training targeted to high-potential employees and new managers who are ready to develop core leadership skills that improve employee engagement and productivity. Additionally, seasoned managers can enhance their knowledge and workplace performance by immersing themselves in modules such as Emotional Intelligence and Leading Cross- Generational Teams.

Learn more about how the California Community College’s contract education units are meeting the training needs of business and industry. 


For more information on the delivery of the Emerging Leaders Institute program training in your area, please contact:
Margaret Schmidt 
Project Manager, Contract Education, Technical Assistance Provider
Email: [email protected] 

About the Author
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes about topics related to contract education, employee training, and corporate learning for the California Community Colleges. His work is funded by the Technical Assistant Provider (TAP) grant that is hosted at Mt. San Antonio College. He can be reached via email at: [email protected]