When Jackie Treadway retired from UC Santa Barbara on May 9, she left a legacy that reaches beyond her role as director of physical facilities, a position she held for the past seven years.

Jackie Treadway, UC Santa BarbaraUsing her positive outlook, genuine care for others and exceptional communications skills, she changed the culture and reputation of a large, dysfunctional department and made a difference in the lives of the 250 custodians, grounds crew and maintenance workers at UCSB. The transformation she engineered was so successful that her methods have been adopted by other departments at UCSB and at UC Merced.

It wasn’t easy.

“When I came over here, the department was facing a $625,000 deficit and budget cuts on top of that,” she recalled. The work environment was less than ideal. “There were lots of stories about people in this department who wouldn’t work with other people because of some slight or bad history between them,” she said. 

It was a huge change for Treadway who had spent the first 20 years of her career — two at UC Davis, the rest at UCSB — working in housing where there are bigger budgets and lots of training opportunities to help staff learn their jobs and manage their careers. She quickly realized that in her new position she was going to tackle the department’s problems without the big budgets.

“I was looking for a way to provide a common language to talk about differences,” she said. “I can’t change how much money people can make, but I can help people feel respected.”

She found what she wanted in a program called Crucial Conversations, a two-day training program to teach communication skills that foster open dialogue around difficult issues.

“It helps you approach conflict differently and make it easier for others to get in a difficult conversation with you,” Treadway said.

There was only one problem — it was expensive and she had no training budget. 

Not to be deterred, Treadway persuaded Vital Starts, the creator of the Crucial Conversations program, to certify her and two of her staff as program trainers.  By doing the training themselves, they could provide it for about 20 percent of the cost of sending staff to the program.

She started small, asking for volunteers to take the training, which uses small-group interaction and role-playing to teach participants how to have difficult conversations.  “I go to every class so my staff knows I’m in this with them,” Treadway said.

Word of the Crucial Conversations program spread, and over a three-year period all 250 staff members took the training course.

“It is a valuable tool because it empowers the workforce and sets a foundation of respect and understanding,” said Matthew O’Carroll, refuse, recycling and water efficiency manager, who reported to Treadway. “It resembles Jackie herself:  respect and understanding for one another.”

“One thing I noticed not only in the workplace, but also in personal conversations: we get too caught up in emotions and the need to win or be right,” O’Carroll said.  “The program taught me that the more we avoid the need to win, the more success we have working together to achieve our overall goal, which is to serve our campus community.”

Like O’Carroll, other staff found the training helpful in personal conversations, too. Treadway told an anecdote about a staff member who wrote her a note, saying  “’Thank you for Crucial Conversations. It help me save my relationship with my son.’”

Treadway didn’t limit the training to her own staff.  She began inviting campus partners to sit in on the training program. “I wanted them to know that physical facilities staff wanted to change the way we interact with others on campus,” she said.

Her partners liked what they saw, and asked to send members of their staff to the training.  Today the program is offered to all campus staff through Gaucho U, UCSB’s staff training program.  About 450 UCSB staff have now taken the course, and it’s now being offered at UC Merced as well.  When De Acker left UC Santa Barbara to take the role of ombudsman at UC Merced, she began offering it there.

Though Treadway has retired, she’s not done making a difference.  She plans to train to be an advocate for children of the court. She’d also like to be an advocate for elders in nursing homes.  “I want to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice,” she said.