Case Studies

Richland College: Trust, Grow, and Thrive

Richland College was heading into low student retention rates and obscurity until it implemented the most robust Accountability Training available.

“There was no accountability being taken because each action done was a direct order from a supervisor. A lot of the staff and faculty were blaming each other for our declining numbers.”

Cristobal Valdez, President of Richland College


An institution losing 22+% of student enrollment over 6 years; student retention rate even lower at 46.24% for Next Term. Richland College was heading into obscurity when it implemented the most robust Accountability Training available. Today, RCC is surpassing its 3 key results: improving enrollment, employee engagement, and economic sustainability.

Richland College was facing several challenges that was hindering their capability of operating to their full potential. Cristobal Valdez, President of Richland College, saw the suffering of economic sustainability, student retention and enrollment, and low levels of trust and communication. These were impacting their organizational results. The institution lost over 22% of student enrollment over 6 years. The student retention rate was even lower at 46.24% for Next Term and 8.46% for Fall to Fall.

Departments were functioning in silos with minimal cross-functional collaboration. There was a lack of alignment created and an absence of good, productive conversation. Employees were unclear on what the institution’s goals were and developed lack of engagement in their jobs. A clear division between the faculty and staff was apparent, and most of the workforce only communicated directly with those in their department. Employees were only allowed to take action if it was given directly by their supervisor. Communication only went through their supervisor. This process created a lack in ownership on all projects. The supervisors needed accountable people immediately to meet revenue, enrollment, and retention goals.

“There was no accountability being taken because each action done was a direct order from a supervisor,” said Valdez. “A lot of the staff and faculty were blaming each other for our declining numbers.”

“Student satisfaction was low and our role in the community was becoming irrelevant,” said Valdez. “K-12 schools were no longer referring us to their graduating students.”

The workforce completed a pulse survey that measured the current state of their workforce through trust, engagement, communication, enjoyment of their job, and alignment. Each result was shown in the low to negative percentile.


We created a learning strategy that would develop a workforce based on accountability and employee engagement. This strategy aimed to solve their challenges involving lack of economic sustainability, student enrollment and retention, and trust among the institution. This included collective hours of Coaching & Training across the entire institution.

The first step was developing the three Key Results they would strive to achieve from 2017 to 2020.

These Key Results are:

  • Trust: Develop a mutually respectful and empowering work environment based on trust, individual and shared accountability.
  • Grow: Grow institutional enrollments by 7% in 3 years
  • Thrive: Establish and maintain a fiscal viability and sustainability

They launched in 2017 the initiative on Personal Accountability utilizing the Accountability Builder program. The workshops and assessments were designed to help break down silos, encourage collaboration, and get employees personally invested in the specific goals of the organization. RCC saw that Personal Accountability would increase employee buy-in and engagement.

The faculty and staff attended the first Accountability Builder®​ workshop in October of 2017 and implemented the wisdom of taking self-accountability for results, offering and asking for feedback, and owning the solutions to any issues that arise. By instilling accountability into the institution, employees take ownership for the results they strive to achieve.

A group of 4 volunteered champions (2 faculty and 2 staff) named the “Above and Beyond” group, was formed to spread the Partners In Leadership models and methodologies on a daily basis to retain and sustain the training. Their goal is to build a culture of trust, communication, and accountability among their coworkers as to not repeat any past failures and move forward with innovation. They create a different culture activity each month to reinforce the Accountability Builder training. These include employee potlucks to improve communication and collaboration, facilitated events that help build trust, creating a gallery where employees can write about coworkers they are appreciative of, and the “Smart Cookie” initiative.

“Smart Cookie” is a monthly internal nomination of fellow employees they feel made an extra effort to own not just their jobs but taking self-accountability for solving other issues and actions that benefited the institution. The winner receives a coupon for a free cookie at the on-campus bistro. This idea allows employees to explore their leadership and start initiatives without having to wait for permission from up the line of leadership like they did before.

Learning strategies included utilizing key models, including the Steps to Accountability and The Results Pyramid as examples. The approach also included learning practices such as spaced practice through storytelling, retrieval practice through feedback loops created in the models, connected learning through focused recognition and interweaving by asking for story telling at the start of every team meeting.

“Those are two components that are always on the forefront of what we do,” said Evyonne Hawkins, member of the “Above and Beyond” group. “We understand it’s not going to be a fast process, but we have already started seeing major results.”


Richland College is on target or have already met all of their three goals 18 months into the three-year plan.

Trust: Develop a mutually respectful and empowering work environment based on trust, individual and shared account ability.

The goal was to improve RCC’s monthly pulse survey, sent out to all employees, by 10% in the first year and 25% in three years. From February 2018 to November 2018, most of the results have met or exceeded their 10% goal. Their result of “I Know the Key Results” has exceeded their three-year mark in less than a year at 25.3%.

Grow: Grow institutional enrollments by seven percent in three years.

RCC’s student retention rate has greatly improved along with the accountability shown on campus. Next Term student retention has increased 41% from 46.24% in 2017 to 65.29% in 2018. Fall to Fall student retention has increased 370% from 8.46% in 2017 to 39.81% in 2018. There has been a 5.8% increase in students registered Fall 2018 compared to Fall 2017. There has been a 7.13% increase in FTE registered Fall 2018 compared to Fall 2017.

Thrive: Establish and maintain fiscal viability and sustainability.

In the first two years, RCC has achieved their Key Result they established to reach by 2020. Their Key Result was to develop and maintain a 25% reserve ratio and 2% annual operating margin. They are currently at a 43% reserve ratio and 2.1% annual operating margin.

RCC’s results have gone beyond measurable data. The staff and faculty notice a tremendous difference in employee morale, employee engagement, and overall well-being of the institution. Each employee is now empowered to take ownership of tasks and gain leadership skills by providing feedback with fellow employees. 10 employees have been promoted to greater leadership roles since the start of the initiative.

“The experiences, beliefs, actions, and results of our work here at the college affect each other and our students. I have become re-engaged in my work and commitment to the college as a result of the PIL training. I am an advocate for working the Key Results in my position here at RCC. I believe everyone that works for RCC has to learn the process so that we can work together better and more effectively. Taking ownership of the responsibilities for the work we do here should be part of our drive and determination to help others to achieve their dreams, whether fellow employee, student, or community partners,” said a Longtime Program Director.


Richland College’s cultural efforts have brought national attention, including Chief Learning Officer’s Learning in Practice 2019 Awards for Excellence in Academic Partnership.

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