Higher Education Marketing

Five realizations of marketing in higher education

(Mike Lefler, Sr. Director of Strategic Communication at Doane College, is a guest blogger this week providing his personal experience with marketing in higher education)

I may be oversimplifying this, but as a marketer, your responsibility is to know your product, know your target audience and create a bridge between the two. But in higher education, that simple notion is compounded by speaking to several different audiences (traditional students, adult learners, parents, teachers, etc.) that are all looking for different things in a school that features many different selling points.

When I came to Doane College to strategically direct marketing and communications, I had backgrounds in athletic media relations and marketing in the non-profit and health care sectors. Fields that I felt had a fairly clear sales pitch and more defined audiences. The complex nature of college recruitment and selling a small college in an extremely competitive environment was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Below are the five things I have realized in the past six months about marketing in higher education:

Recognize that your school is not for everyone – The million-dollar question: What do students want? This is a question we should be asking ourselves each and every day. The trouble is there is no one thing that we can sell that will attract the number of students we’re looking for.  We’ve come to find that some students look for location or campus community, others for college size or academic reputation while many will refer to a parent, guidance counselor or teacher to lend them advice.  This creates a challenge for the college marketer.

Here at Doane, we recognize we are not going to be the exact fit for each person out there. We as marketers can’t change that. We also realize that, if prospects are given the appropriate information in a manner that stands out, we can be a fit for more people than are now enrolled at our school. What we can do is build our identity and tell our story – what we’re the best at, who can succeed here, what people say about their experiences – in as clear a way as possible to make sure that people are hearing it and giving us real consideration for what we have to offer.

Expand your avenues strategically – Gone are the days of purchasing one ad in the local newspaper and everyone in a 20-mile radius seeing it.  You need to consider things like mobile compatibility, search engine optimization, social media, inbound marketing, online advertising and email blasts.  Prospective students gather their information in numerous ways, so you need to be diverse and stand out in your approach.

The trouble is that big oak tree in the middle of campus isn’t a money tree.  You need to be strategic about which avenues you pursue because funds are limited in the world of small-college marketing. You’ve got to find innovative ways to reach your audiences with succinct messages while being as targeted as possible. Build a following through social media, promote your website until you’re blue in the face, utilize email to the fullest extent, capitalize on good PR and publish enough content through blogs and a news feed to get you noticed outside of your campus walls.  Most importantly, tell your strengths right up front and be as colorful as possible so you stand out from that stack of letters from colleges across the country.

It’s OUR brand – When we launched our new brand on Dec. 2, I had people approach me saying, “I love your new brand.”  I immediately correct them and let them know that this is our brand. This is not something that is just going to live through marketing endeavors. If we are to create a recognizable brand, this needs to be something that lives and breathes through each and every student, faculty member, staff person and alum. A brand is only as strong as the people that live it.  When you are a college, that brand needs to become who you are or it’s not perceived as believable by those on the outside looking in. And it’s everyone’s responsibility for marketing, not just the department that has that title outside its door.

Align your goals with other departments –When marketing a college or university, your ultimate goal is not only to have your brand seen by as many targeted people as possible, but also to help other departments accomplish their goals. Let’s take for example our admissions office. Here at Doane, if our admissions office is not hitting its enrollment goals, this will also be a reflection on how effective our marketing is. Yes, this puts our goals partly in the hands of other departments, but it also brings us together with others as one team and gets us all on the same page. We need to step back, take a look at the big picture of what is going to make us successful and align ourselves with others whom we support to gauge our successes or failures.

To academia, marketing is low-hanging fruit for criticism – Anyone who has worked in marketing for any length of time has stories of “Suzy in accounting who thinks that, because she saw a great commercial while watching The Bachelor last night, she is now an expert in advertising.” In academia, where faculty and students are taught to question everything, the notion is magnified. To them, marketing may seem like a gimmick or trivial in nature with no real science behind it. They want to see immediate proof that the billboard up in the middle of town is translating directly into students in our classrooms.

The answer to this is to justify everything. Make them feel like they are part of the process (which they are to some extent). Let them know what you’re doing every step of the way and why. You’ll get your share of resistance, but by trusting in your marketing experience, training and sticking to your strategy, you’ll get where you need to be.

(Thank you Mike for your guest post!  Joel)

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Higher Education Marketing

Branding Inside-Out

In higher education, I believe the most important audience to influence when launching a brand is the internal audience; more specifically faculty and staff.  I liken it to a popular saying (although slightly modified), “Keep your friends close and your critics closer.”   I believe the culture of an academic institution requires even greater attention to branding strategies internally prior to any external launch.  In academia, it is encouraged to challenge theory, practice, and concepts.  It’s a kind of safe place where voicing personal opinions are encouraged much more beyond what I believe you would find in any commercial industry.  I just don’t see a factory line manager emailing the company CEO criticizing the company branding campaign.  Please share with me if I’m wrong here.  But, this happens in higher education.

Successful adoption of a brand internally requires dedicated attention by the marketing and leadership team.  Let’s be fair, with almost any new idea or concept, we have those that are on-board.  We have those in the middle who seek rationale and edcuation for them to buy-in.  And finally, we have those who will always find fault regardless of fail-safe rationale.  They cannot be wooed.  Nevertheless, we can’t assume that the middle group will become any level of brand ambassador without appropriate attention.  Moreover, effective buy-in may take time and therefore cannot be obtained with a single-moment experience. It must be a campaign.  It must be an important strategic initiative to a brand launch in higher education, equally if not more critical than the external launch.

Last November, Doane College launched our new brand, the “College of” Campaign.  We began with an event to introduce the brand concept and educate the internal community on how it came to be.  We made our case and asked the campus community to partner with us to help build the brand.  This event was just the beginning.  As we launched the external campaign, we continued to build the brand internally with social media, email signatures for the new brand, t-shirts, approved slogans, and also campus signage.  Although I’m not satisfied that we’ve gone far enough to this point, I do acknowledge that we are making progress.  Having said that, some of our critics will share concern for higher education becoming too commercialized.   My response; Absolutely!

A singular example (albeit relatively small in scale) epitomizing the culture change that we are trying to encourage at our historically conservative Midwest college is the addition of a large brand slogan on a bright orange wall in our renovated cafeteria.  This replaced a very nice mural that had been there for some time.  I have no doubt that this created consternation with some campus community members.  But, it also caught their attention and it will catch other’s attention.  Our approach to this brand is not guided by conservatism or being safe.  Rather, we are interested in taking more of a bold approach in order to capture the attention of those that currently are not seeing us or hearing our message.  We cannot expect to reap the rewards of a strong brand that is sheltered and saved only for billboards and radio advertising.  A brand provides an opportunity for personal reflection and ownership.  A brand, particularly in colleges and universities, evokes a very strong sense of pride.

Doane Cafe Photo

High Point University:  An example of a strong internal brand.

I had a great opportunity this last spring to visit High Point University (HPU) in High Point, North Carolina.  HPU is a perfect example of a university that embraced a brand and leverages that brand to the fullest extent.  HPU has undergone an incredible transformation in the last 5-10 years.  The purpose of our visit was to engage Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU President, in a conversation about growth and their incredible success transforming a struggling college to a thriving university in a short period of time.  A little research will tell you quite a bit about their transformation.  It required and continues to require substantial financial investments in their core business to be better and better.  And, while I was interested in learning much on my half-day campus visit, I did not expect to leave with such an incredible first impression that was the incredible result of their brand.

HPU embraced a branding campaign on steroids which included significant investment in on-campus branding.  Everywhere you were on campus, it was clear that you were a HPU community member.  The feeling of belonging was tough to ignore as a result of signage and other unique attributes.  This got me thinking.  I believe HPU did a tremendous job creating an internal culture of excitement and pride.  And, it wasn’t about athletic pride!  Instead, they took their mission and created an opportunity to brand themselves internally…basically selling a dream to their students, faculty, and staff.  They inspire the campus to “Be Extraordinary”.  On just about every door on campus you will find ‘Be Extraordinary”.  Walk into the cafeteria, you will find large banners, “Be Extraordinary”.  The campus is branded with their colors of purple, black, and white.  It is impossible to leave the campus without easily understanding what they stand for.  They’ve made it simple.

I’m on a mission with our Strategic Communications Team to brand Doane’s campus with aggressive vitality over the course of the next two years.  I want this to be a place where it’s impossible to not feel the incredible pride and confidence in our mission and purpose.  I want our campus to be the place where prospective students step onto campus and get goose bumps.  I want faculty and staff to walk across campus and read and see visual symbols of what makes this a special place.  Wherever you are on campus, I want it to be obvious you are on Doane’s campus.  You are a Doane Tiger, or you wish you were.

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Enrollment Management

Merit aid and the impact on tuition price

Eric Hoover wrote an article on January 17th, “Want to Define Merit?  Good luck.”  He accounted for a discussion among higher education enrollment officials at a conference focused on merit aid, specifically how colleges assess and reward merit aid to shape the socioeconomic and racial diversity of students at selective colleges.  I enjoyed the article but it got me thinking.  Shape socioeconomic and racial diversity?  I wish!

The term “merit aid” has grown in relevance exponentially over the last ten years for private, independent colleges.  But, merit aid is an enrollment tool used for very different reasons depending on the college.   Hoover’s article is focused on the discussion of officials from more selective colleges.  He discussed need-blind admissions, the influence of social class on students’ test scores, and the important debate surrounding the way in which colleges leverage aid to solidify diversity in enrollment.

Now, allow me the opportunity to share the world that many enrollment managers and college administrators live in related to this merit aid.  Our institutions are not considered highly selective.  We would love to shape our classes with more diversity and better test scores which typically translate into higher retention rates and ultimately stronger ratings in US News & World Report.  We thoroughly enjoy those conversations and get excited whenever the opportunity arises to participate in that discussion.  Unfortunately, our real-world, day-to-day challenges often push the discussion of shaping a class to the periphery.  Focus on that and we don’t have the enrollment to shape!  Fair to say, our issues with merit aid are different.

When colleges began offering merit, they opened Pandora’s Box.  On one hand, it was genius because it made private college attractive to many students who may have seen it as out of reach due to cost; college only for the wealthy.  On the other hand, it started a financial war which continues today.  Schools are pitted against each other fighting for the same student often not based on value of the education, but instead based on the value of a scholarship.  And, make no mistake; as the pressure to offer more merit has increased, schools have had to recoup their financial investment (net tuition revenue) in the form of tuition increases.

Because colleges offer merit with slightly different criteria, comparisons can be challenging.  There are different qualifications for different scholarship amounts.  Some scholarships are competitive whereas others are given based solely on arbitrary criteria.  Moreover, the arbitrary criteria are different at each school as is the amount attributed to the criteria.  Easy example is Doane College and Hastings College.  Very similar schools but different academic qualifications for different scholarship amounts.

As tuition-driven colleges increase merit to attract more students, it puts other similar colleges in a position to increase merit as well to be competitive in very price/cost-sensitive markets.  One college can significantly increase merit aid forcing other similar schools to do the same to stay competitive or lose enrollment.  In the private college environment, I believe this tactic erodes the value of the product we sell.  And not only that, but as I mentioned before, tuition will increase in order to recoup some of the net revenue lost by increasing aid.  I don’t expect students/parents to appreciate this or feel any remorse for colleges.  Nevertheless, merit aid war games are significantly effecting decisions made with respect to tuition and other costs at colleges today.

I’m not suggesting that merit aid is bad.  I don’t think I can make that argument.  But, it complicates an already challenging college decision.  If instead of merit, a college chose to provide financial aid based solely on need, it’s not likely that the college would meet enrollment targets, nor would it likely meet net tuition revenue targets for operational budgets.  But, some would argue that’s the “right thing to do.”  I don’t see an easy answer here but I do anticipate a change coming in higher education.  The path of more aid and increased tuition is a very rocky road at best.

I’m not minimizing the importance of the merit conversation related to Mr. Hoover’s article.  However, I think it’s important to understand that there is another merit issue unrelated to and (to me) equally important for many colleges today.  We can’t begin to shape our enrollment if we don’t have enrollment to shape.

What do you believe the role of merit aid should be in college enrollment?   

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Enrollment Management

College Tuition – the Price and the Cost

This is the time of the year in higher education recruitment when rubber hits the road.  Students begin to make the often tough college choice.  An important factor in that choice for most is the cost of education.  And, the cost of education depends greatly on the *price.

The price of tuition at private, independent colleges has received a great deal of criticism as of late.  There are those that feel that tuition prices have escalated far too high as a result of college greed or unwillingness to take into consideration the impact of that cost on families.

First, price does matter.  Let’s say you are considering two pair of shoes.  A brand name shoe has a price tag of $70 while a no-name brand has a price tag of $35.  Quick, which shoe in your opinion represents higher quality?  What if the $70 shoe is 50% off?  Now, both shoes will cost you the same amount out of your pocket.  Does that change your opinion of the quality of the higher priced shoe?

Although I acknowledge that this is a bit of an oversimplification, price is often perceived as representative of a specific product’s quality in the market.  While I recognize that there are other impacts on price such as demand, price can be very important in the context of competition in a specific demographic and geographic market.  Consider the private, independent colleges in the state of Nebraska.  List each college and their respective tuition. Tuition amounts are typically within $2,000-$3,000, and sometimes within less than $1,000.  The fact that these colleges have tuition prices so close is not by chance.  But this still doesn’t answer the question as to why tuition prices continue to escalate.

Price does matter but the increasing price is not necessarily attributed to a college’s incessant desire to fill their coffers with your money.  What is easily misunderstood is a college’s ability to maintain appropriate net revenue to operate (with modest program investments) without increasing the price.  In order for a college to operate annually with net revenue from tuition, it must not only consider the price of tuition but also the amount of discounting required in order to meet overall enrollment targets.  Essentially, to what extent must a college put tuition on-sale in order to meet or exceed enrollment targets?

Consider the shoe example above.  Let’s try to keep this relatively simple.  Both shoes will cost the consumer the same out-of-pocket cost.  In turn, each company receives the same net revenue.  Private, independent colleges can be considered similar to the name brand shoe while a public university is the no-brand shoe.  While tuition is high, often the cost is discounted with significant merit aid and grants.  This discount is equivalent to a sale.  Each year enrollment managers assess the amount of aid required to yield the previous class.  Consumers are expecting more and more aid each year.  To be clear, this discussion is not addressing state and federal aid such as Pell Grants and loans.  I’m simply speaking to the funds provided independently by the institution which are not loans.  The amount of average institutional aid (merit or grant aid) for each student divided by the tuition translates into a college’s average tuition discount.

PRICE

Tuition = $20,000

———–

 Average Merit/Scholarship/Grants (provided by institution) = $7,000

Tuition Discount = 35%

———-

COST

$13,000

Many colleges are discounting tuition at historically high rates in order to meet enrollment goals.  If tuition does not increase and the rate of discount increases, a college will lose net revenue and be forced to operate with fewer resources than the previous year.  Think about this in the context of a family budget.  Fewer resources lead to decisions that ultimately can affect quality of life.  At a college, this can affect the quality of the educational program.  In order to account for a significant sale (discount) on tuition, the price must increase to protect net revenue and maintain operations with the same consume value expectations.

It’s important to understand that when a college provides a discount on tuition with institutional aid, rarely is that aid actually funded by actual paper money.  That’s not to say it never is, but most colleges simply don’t raise enough money annually to off-set the financial aid that they fund.  Do some quick math.

(Enrollment)  x  (Tuition Price) x (Sale/Discount) = Financial Aid Funding Required Annually

1,200$20,000  .35  = $8,400,000 (that is 8 million!)

There are not too many colleges that fundraise $8 million annually to support financial aid.  Nor are endowment returns (even on substantial endowments like Doane College’s) enough to support the scholarships/grants provided to students.  And, this example uses a tuition discount of 35% rather than upwards of 40% which is becoming more typical for some schools.

So, if the example above holds true, why not decrease tuition by $10,000 and stop discounting?  First, let me bring you back to the shoe comparison.  There is a strong theory that if a college cut tuition by 50%, it would impact their perception of quality.  There are schools that have done this but not without a great deal of research, consternation, and some risk.  Pricing may seem elementary on the surface.  Unfortunately, it is a significant issue and one that colleges wrestle with each year.  The price of tuition is one number while the cost of tuition to a family can be something quite different.

*For the purpose of this post, price is reflective of tuition only.

P.S.  Doane College approached tuition pricing a bit differently in 2013.

This academic year Doane College approached setting tuition slightly different than in the past.  First, internally administration discussed tuition considering the ongoing debate of increasing prices.  Doane considered holding tuition also known as “freezing tuition” for a year.  Doane considered lowering tuition, albeit for only a short conversation.  Ultimately, Doane decided on a 4% tuition increase but rather than make this decision in February – the customary time – the college’s board approved the tuition in October.  This move was an acknowledgement of the importance of financial planning and providing families with definitive costs for which to plan early in the year rather than in late February.  In addition, Doane College also modified academic scholarships and increased allocations of merit aid to historic high levels for new students enrolling in fall 2014.

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Higher Education

A hybrid proposal to the gap year.

Have you heard of the “gap year” concept?  Basically, the concept suggests that a student should consider taking a year between high school and college to work, explore, and mature.  It’s the notion that a seamless and immediate transition from high school to college may not be the best approach to career preparation. While there may be some truth to that, I don’t believe too many colleges outwardly support this idea out of fear that a much greater number of students would ultimately choose not to attend college especially with today’s already frustrating college-going rates. Frankly, I’m not interested in arguing the value of a college degree in this post.  Instead, I’m interested in exploring the idea of the gap year under a different structure – a way to leverage the perceived value of that “real world” experience within the confines of a college experience and curriculum structure.

What I like about the gap year concept is two-fold.  First, I think it provides an individual time to get out of high school mode and really think about what they want to do in order to make the best college decision for him or her.  Rather than make a “safe” choice (or even too radical a choice), a little time in the real world might just ignite something within the student’s soul.  Second, I think students should try to find a job and work full-time for a period of time if for no other reason than to realize that minimum wage or even slightly better may not pay for that car they want or that trip they want to take; let alone paying for cable and utilities.

Now, consider a college that takes this gap year concept and makes employment a component of the general curriculum.  Here is my vision (albeit potentially oversimplified). A college requires second-year students to enroll in “Real World 200”.  Consider the following course requirements:

  • Students must seek and ultimately secure full-time employment.
  • Students must maintain a daily journal.  Content is focused on what they learn each day from experiences interacting with others, following orders, meeting expectations, etc.
  • Students must participate in a 2-hour course during each semester focused on discussion of the job, what they learn, what they like, don’t like and ultimately what it’s helping them to learn – finances, getting to work, etc.
  • Students must complete a course paper related to what they learned and how they will use what they learned to improve their college experience and opportunities in their final two years.

My vision is a full-year program providing 16 credits per semester (14 credits for employment and 2 credits for the course discussion).  Ultimately, the student’s grade is based on participation in the 2-hour course, securing a job, the daily journal entries, and a final paper.

I completely recognize that this concept has not been vetted to satisfy many reading this post.  While many may seek to identify reasons that this won’t work, I wanted to share my idea for bigger purpose – I’d like to encourage college faculty and administrators to consider looking at general curriculum differently.

There are colleges that approach learning one course at a time. There are colleges that don’t issue grades.  There are colleges that don’t have a general curriculum program.  Colleges are being challenged at local, state, and the national level to produce greater results to substantiate the cost.   Rating and ranking systems are being introduced to suggest that we can arbitrarily determine the quality of a college in comparison to all others.  I don’t see this pressure going away soon and while I don’t endorse government-created rating systems, I do appreciate the notion that education must evolve at a greater pace than it has.  And, this isn’t the responsibility of government.  This is our responsibility in higher education.  We should challenge the traditional approach to college education.  Is four years the right amount of time in college?  Does time really matter?  Are 16 credits the right amount of credits per semester?  Is a 2-semester system still the right approach?

Colleges and universities are in a dogfight with each other for students, particularly in the Midwest.  What if we embrace being different not just to be different but because different may produce better results?  Change is hard.  Change takes time.  Admission offices recruit students differently today compared to five years ago.  Recruiting offices are adapting because they must to secure enrollment objectives.  I believe there are many people like me in higher education (faculty and staff) who have day-dreamed about doing things differently, but unfortunately our lives get in the way and we quickly fall back into doing most the same way we’ve done it in the past.

For you dreamers out there, what do you think of my idea for a “Real World 200”, or better yet, do you have your own idea(s) that you believe would challenge the traditional methods of education and ultimately improve our students’ experience? Don’t focus on being realistic and conservative.  Some of the best ideas stem from being unrealistic and radical. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.  What is your idea?

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Middle Management

Effective Management in Enrollment – 9 Things I’ve Learned – Part 2

Why are these 9 things important?  Here are quick reasons why these lessons are important to me.

Why obey the Golden Rule?

First, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s easy.  Our mom’s teach us at a very young age to treat others as you expect to be treated. The impact of this rule is incredible.  However, it seems easy to lose sight of this rule when we are in the minutia of our daily job. Fortunately, it is also an easy rule to follow.

Why build your team?

Success is predicated on your ability to influence people whether you work in higher education recruitment, enrollment management or admissions, college marketing, information services, social services etc…  People are either on your team, meaning they respect you and have confidence in you, or they are not on your team.  People will respond more positively when they are on your team.  It is your job – no one else’s – to get as many people as you can on your team.  Regardless of the role they serve in your organization, every person has the potential to positively or negatively influence your ability to get your job done.  Most people will agree that subordinates will do as you say because you have direct responsibility over them.  However, people who do not report to you still influence your job.  Know who they are and make sure they know you.

Why think institution first?

Have you ever seen the movie “For love or money”?  If not, rent it.  The acting and the plot didn’t win any awards, but I like one of the characters in the movie.  The concierge, played by actor Michael J. Fox, goes out of his way to take care of the customer (perceived to be a nobody who is actually a successful business man) which is a great reflection on the hotel at which he works.  The hotel is well-known, but he makes it that much better.  As a result, his career takes off.  Bottom line, take care of the institution and the right opportunities will come your way.

Why history is important?

I don’t condone doing it the same just because that is the way it was done in the past.  However, I also don’t believe in discounting the value of historical information when making strategic decisions.  History can provide valuable information so a person doesn’t make the same mistake twice.  Nevertheless, similar to my comments regarding numbers, it is important to look beyond the surface of the history to examine the influences on history.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is not a strategy.

Why define success?

Success means something different for everyone.  Success isn’t always synonymous with winning, nor is winning always a potential outcome.  However, everyone wants to feel successful.  Because different people have different roles within a team, their success may need to be defined for them.  Managers play a vital role in this activity.

Why value every job?

I’ve heard about CEO’s of companies who give credit to their executive assistants for all their successes.  They say, “I couldn’t have done it without them.”  It’s probably true.  Do we really respect what support staff positions bring to the table?  How about all positions within the company?  Think about the different positions in your organization and recognize the challenges that each person in your office deals with daily.  Sure, their challenges are different than yours, and they might not directly affect the bottom line.  I contend that I do my job better because I’ve done most of the jobs in my department.  I understand the pitfalls of their positions, and I can empathize with them when things aren’t going well.  We need to live in their world to understand what challenges they have.  We must respect their positions.  These positions greatly influence our ability to get the job done right.

Why beware of precedents

Be careful with the precedents that you set, they may come back to haunt you.  For example, you have a good year and choose to reward your staff with a party because you have some extra budget dollars.  The next year is also a good year, yet you don’t have the budget dollars to throw the party.  Some staffers will expect the party because that is what happened the first year.  You want to limit the idea of entitlement in your office.  Bottom line, you want to have the flexibility to make decisions that are not predicated solely on previous year activity.

Why write a note

Email is overtaking the snailmail world.  Contrary to the popular belief, this has actually positively affected snailmail, specifically the value of a personal note.  Email is easy and efficient whereas taking the time to hand-write a personal note takes valuable time.  A short, personal note of encouragement or thanks makes a lasting impression.  I began writing notes to my staff and others in the community about seven years ago.  I don’t completely know the impact it has had on my career, and yet I can’t imagine that it has hurt.  Similar to “please” and “thank you”, a personal note shows genuine sincerity.

Why measure twice and cut once

A craftsman lives by this rule.  It applies to our world as well, simply in a different context.  Just the other day, I wrote a letter for a church project and neglected to have it proofed.  I was under a time crunch and had to get it in the mail.  It was the first mass communication from me to the entire congregation in my church.  There was a spelling error.  It’s a little thing but you’ll find that there are many people that judge you based on those little things.  Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter.  I had time to get it proofed, but I was too impatient.

I’m sure readers in middle management have advice to share.  Take a moment and post a comment to this blog with a piece of advice you have learned through your experience.  Don’t be shy.  Let’s hear them.

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Middle Management

Effective Management in Enrollment – 9 Things I’ve Learned

A bit of a divergence from previous blog content but after some reading recently, I still think there is relevance to my message below related to our work in higher education enrollment management.  As managers, we are building a team of talented individuals, sometimes relatively early in their professional careers.  We are also building our professional careers and engaging with other professionals outside our departments.  Middle management is more of an art than a science.  Here are nine things I’ve learned in middle management.

1.  Obey the Golden Rule

If your job requires you to interact with even one person every day, you will likely find yourself in a position of either judging another person’s actions or actually dealing with that person’s actions.  Ask yourself how you would expect to be treated under the circumstances.  Try to avoid telling yourself that you wouldn’t put yourself in that situation.  It doesn’t matter.  Live in the moment with the other person.  Put yourself in his/her shoes and obey the Golden Rule!

2.  Build your team

Make it a priority to get to know people in other departments every day.  Take the time to offer a small compliment whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Make sure they know you and respect you!  Be proactive and take control of your own career.

3.  Think institution first

Be selfish, but probably not in the sense that immediately comes to your mind. Realize that making your boss and ultimately your institution look good will come around and benefit you.

4.  History is important

When new to a situation, do your research to see how a particular strategy has been implemented before and work to understand the variables involved in the strategy.  Understand that years of consistent results will not likely change without a significant change in strategic variables that influence the results.  If you don’t like the results, change some of the variables.

5.  Define success

Take team and individual goals seriously.  Use history to define goals that are attainable but still a challenge to reach.  Goals should be easily measured while also having a timeline for achievement.  Goals should be broken up throughout the year and include a variety of components influencing a more substantial individual and ultimately, team goal.

6.  Value every position – live in their world

Work hard to understand other people’s positions, particularly those that work directly with you but also those that work outside your immediate office and influence your office. Take a genuine interest in people’s work and recognize the influence they can have on your job.  Recruit them to work with you so you can better understand each other’s jobs and ultimately do both your jobs better.

7.  Beware of precedents

Two things:  first, consciously think about the precedents you set when you make decisions.  Second, communicate with your office about future expectations rather than unintentionally establishing a new norm.

8.  Write a note

Write personal notes to colleagues every week.  These small gestures, in my opinion, make a very powerful statement; you care!

9.  Measure twice and cut once

When finishing an important email, letter or a project, write it, read it, let it sit for an hour or a day, and then re-read it again.  Make sure it says what you want it to say and that your information is correct.  Try to have everything proofed.  For email, resist the send button until you are confident it sends the correct message.  Ultimately, listen to your gut.  If it doesn’t feel right, hold off for a while.

These lessons are the result of specific experiences.  Later this week I’ll expand on these lessons with my personal experiences.  Stay tuned!

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