by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
I want to start this week’s article by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! It sounds like those of us in the central and eastern states may experience record-breaking warm temperatures. Crazy, I know!
Over the next few months, admissions staffs everywhere will review mountains of applications looking for those students who best fit their institutional profile. Counselors will also be tasked with staying on top of their emails, making phone calls to inquiries, prospects and admits and meeting the additional, never-ending requests of what is commonly described as a grueling profession.
Working in college admissions is a demanding lifestyle where the pressure to achieve specific enrollment numbers increases stress and causes frequent frustration, specifically among the young professionals who are the face of most admissions teams. Their list of responsibilities on campus keeps increasing despite less funding and compensation. At the end of the day, 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. When those days occur I encourage you to remind yourself, and your colleagues, that the objective they’re working towards is greater than any individual.
Here are twelve suggestions (in honor of the 12 days of Christmas) 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. If you’re unpredictable it’s going to 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. Let me also touch on 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.
Communicate clearly. Many problems and failures are a direct result of a breakdown in communication. 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 through a different approach or even redesigned. Focusing on communication can be even more important when communication isn’t the problem. If a staff member makes an honest mistake, discussing the problem in terms of communication makes it nobody’s fault yet still addresses the fact that a problem occurred.
Productive meetings. Use that time wisely. Too often people have meetings just so they can say they had a meeting. These interactions need to be productive. For example, if there’s a push in your office to convert more inquiries into applications, open the floor up for feedback so as a group you can come up with a strategic solution that benefits each staff member and the overall team.
Remember that everyone is different. The worst mistake that I constantly see good managers make 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. For example, some of your staff members will respond well to direct criticism while others will view it as an attack on them and lose focus. Developing different strategies will result in your entire staff working smarter and more confidently.
Goal setting with follow up. “Lack of clear direction” is among the most common complaints in a dissatisfied workforce. The team members don’t understand the framework or value of what they’re doing, so they can’t get excited about it. Successful leaders set realistic goals and clearly define them, both team and individual. This not only gives people something to shoot for, but it also allows you to rate their performance. Also, don’t forget to follow up periodically to see how each staff member is progressing.
Create a career path. We all know that 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 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 in 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 unity.
Take time to reflect. 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.
If you’ve got a few extra minutes now or over the holiday break and want to learn how we can give your college or university enrollment team an INCREDIBLE EDGE with recruits, click the links below!