by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
During a conversation with one of my neighbors at the bus stop this morning she asked if I was ready for the change to colder weather. I reminded her that we had lived in northern Minnesota for four years, a place that by the way received their first snowfall of the season nearly two weeks ago. A 25-degree sunrise in central Indiana is a walk in the park.
Most of you reading this article are also undergoing a seasonal change. The college admissions cycle is transitioning from the “travel season” to the “reading season.” Gone are the days of driving from state-to-state executing college fairs, high school visits and other events on behalf of your school. Over the next few months staffs will review enormous piles of applications looking for those students who best fit their institutional profile. Any free moments during the selection process are likely to be spent sending emails, making phone calls and trying to meet the additional never-ending requests of what is commonly described as a grueling profession. It’s a demanding lifestyle where the pressure to achieve specific enrollment numbers increases stress and causes frequent frustration amongst the young professionals who are the face of most admissions teams.
Before we discuss different ways to motivate your team, it’s important to review the portrait of the admissions field. A July 2014 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling titled, “Career Paths for Admission Officers: A Survey Report,” offered valuable insight about the profession. Findings were based on a survey of nearly 1,500 admissions officials. Nearly 44% had less than 3 years experience in their current position and more than half (55 percent) of respondents said they planned to seek a new career opportunity within two or three years. In short, experienced help is hard to find and even harder to keep around.
Some of the most important concerns voiced by this generation’s admissions and enrollment leaders related to lack of information about a career path and work-life balance. Their list of responsibilities on campus keeps increasing despite less funding and compensation. The growing pressure to enroll students is also leading to a more sales-based approach to recruitment. Combine all of this and you have a workforce that is stressed out, tired, and ultimately searching for daily motivation.
Motivation can be the determining factor for the amount of success a team achieves. In most instances, a successful group will have been motivated from start to finish. That doesn’t mean there won’t be days when it’s harder to drum up some enthusiasm and stay focused on the institutional mission. When those days occur I encourage you to remind your colleagues that the objective they’re working towards is greater than any individual.
Here are some suggestions on how to create and keep a motivated and confident admissions team:
Be a leader that others want to follow. There are a wide variety of leadership styles. However you choose to lead, I cannot stress enough the importance of being consistent. Your team will model your actions. Being unpredictable will lead to an unstable work environment. Keep your word if you say you’re going to do something. This cultivates an environment of trust. No matter what they think of you, it’s vital that your staff has faith that in the end you will make the right decisions. According to a study by Interaction Associates, 82% of employees say being able to trust their managers is crucial to their work performance. Successful leaders also set realistic goals. Having an achievable goal that can be measured gives people something to shoot for and allows you to rate their performance at the end of the day. Lastly we have your mood. Regardless of how crazy your daily schedule may be or what personal issues you might be dealing with, your staff shouldn’t have to walk around on eggshells because they have a moody boss. It will negatively affect productivity and staff morale.
Remember that everyone is different. The worst mistake that good managers make, in my opinion, is treating each member of their staff the same way. As a leader it’s your responsibility to understand how to effectively manage the different members of your team. Getting to know your staff on an individual basis allows you to understand how they communicate and what motivates them. It will also help you to recognize strengths and provide high potential people with more freedom and decision-making opportunities. As a young college coach I learned this valuable life lesson rather quickly. Some of my players responded well to direct criticism, while others felt they were being attacked and as a result began to lose focus. Realizing this I created a personalized management style to address my players’ varying personalities. You can do the same thing with your counselors. Developing different strategies will result in your entire staff working smarter and more confidently.
Communicate clearly. Communication is essential to any relationship. If your staff is receiving mixed messages when it comes to expectations and performance, it will result in confusion and undesirable results. You can gauge whether or not your messages are being received clearly by asking specific questions during both staff and individual meetings. The responses will let you know if your directions or messages need to be conveyed thru a different approach, or even redesigned.
Create a career path. As I previously mentioned, many admissions counselors enter the field and quickly discover there’s a lack of information about possible career paths. As a manager it’s beneficial to designate time during the year to discuss professional goals, both short and long term. Talk to them about the admissions career pyramid. Staff members who have a path set before them that may lead to promotion will create internal motivation. Plus, when an employee knows their boss has a genuine interest in them and their professional development, they’re more likely to perform well.
Mentoring. Setting up a mentoring program for your staff members who are new to the admissions field, or those recently promoted to a leadership position, is a great way to show you care about their well being. Mentors can transfer knowledge and help their mentees set and achieve career goals, while also introducing them to different networks of people in the admissions field. Additionally you will be giving the mentors ownership of something, which demonstrates confidence in them.
Ask for input and listen to new ideas. One of the easiest ways to develop trust with your staff is to ask for their input when it comes to making decisions that will affect them. Your team is the boots on the ground for your office and their insight is invaluable. Even if you choose not to implement their suggestions, simply listening will make your team happy and is a sign of mutual respect. Remember that when a staff member comes to you with an idea or a solution to a problem, it’s a sign that they care.
Ownership. Motivation comes through ownership, and ownership comes from engagement. The most effective workers are those who take ownership of their work. If they feel that an assignment or task is theirs they are more likely to demonstrate responsibility. Make sure that you delegate effectively. Clearly communicate who is the decision maker on a project. Giving your team ownership will create a more positive working environment.
Recognize professional achievements. Your team wants to feel that you as their boss value and appreciate their efforts. Talk is great, but public recognition is better. Numerous studies show that employees who don’t feel valued are unhappy and less productive. Having a reward program in place or acknowledging them at a group setting is an easy way to show your gratitude. It doesn’t have to be a major achievement. Focus on even the small victories. We all enjoy receiving compliments.
Team building activities. Organizing a team outing particularly after a hard week is a great way for everyone to relax and let off some steam. It helps with work-life balance, which is something your staff wants and needs. You will be amazed at how something as simple as a nice dinner will recharge their batteries and build team camaraderie.
Reflection Time. Each member of your admissions team has impacted the lives of young people. It’s useful every once in a while to take some time to reflect on both the successes and the failures, because each can teach you about what works and what does not. It also allows people to see the fruits of their labor, and may even result in some great ideas for the future.
The admissions profession is full of challenges and frustrations. Finding ways to keep your staff motivated and engaged is an ongoing battle. If you follow these suggestions you could have a team that will be more self-driven and motivated to continually make every effort to achieve the enrollment goals of your institution.
Our Admissions Recruiting Advantage program focuses on what other admissions consulting groups often fail to address: Training your admissions representatives how to be effective, consistent sales professionals who can effectively communicate with your prospective students and help guide them towards a commitment to your college. We identify your staff’s strengths and weaknesses and then develop training to specifically meet their needs in conjunction with your admission department goals. Are you ready to let us help you? Email Jeremy Tiers directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation about how we would do that for you and your office.