Not long ago I was interviewed by a graduate student in Higher Education. One of the questions he asked was, “What do you do best?” Now, that could have been a very loaded question, but the answer came easily. Years ago I might have opined about strategic planning, but in the last few years, I have come to understand that talent identification and development are the most impactful skills that I possess. As leaders, our reputations are enhanced or diminished by the teams that we build. Developing the following skills will allow you to add these essential capabilities to your professional arsenal.
Know What You Want
When starting the recruitment process, it is critical to identify specific needs. Recruitment is the “who, what, when, why” of talent identification. Be crystal clear on skill sets but do not overlook the often, overused descriptor, “fit.” Everyone’s resume typically looks good, but not everyone is a good fit—temperament and style/pace of work matter!
I want to be around diverse, smart, creative, high-energy (which doesn’t necessarily mean extroverted or “woo” prone) folks. I am attracted to candidates with a pioneer spirit, who possess a passionate confidence in their work and a keen commitment to excellence.
Know What You Do Not Want
Hiring misfires are costly not only with time and finances, but poor performers leave an “emotional wake” which wreaks havoc on a team both during and after their tenure. Misfires have to do with misreading a candidate’s skill-set and/or institutional “fit.” Most hiring misfires happen because we often believe the replacement needs to happen right away, and unfortunately, the process gets truncated. Be patient and remember that there is plenty of time to make sure that the person you bring to the team is the right hire. Take time to sift more information off the resume, including trusted colleagues and off-list references.
Know How To Attract A Strong Candidate Pool
The talent advantage is being authentic during the search process. Take several staff members from different areas to placement, and at the conference, have them perform as the first round interview team. Just because you are hiring for Residential Life doesn’t mean that the Co-Curricular folks can’t or shouldn’t be involved. Having part of the recruitment process actually take place during the placement/conference saves a great deal of time. Once the list is narrowed down on site to 10-12, host a small gathering to see how candidates interact; good manners do count. Every meeting I have with a potential candidate starts the same way: “Let’s treat this as a conversation and not an interview.” I want to know about the things that make candidates greet the morning and what makes them feel content as their head hits the pillow. Inevitably, I learn about favorite work assignments; their “slash” job, perhaps playing gigs on the weekend; whether they are morning or evening people; and how they like to receive feedback. Treating candidates well in the process ensures that they will speak well of the institution even if not offered a position.
Know How To Onboard New Staff
Assisting new employees in starting their new job is not an afterthought. It’s good to have a schedule of activities that almost mirrors Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. First, make sure the move is successful and that staff assist with where to shop, docs, and important things too, like good restaurants! Make sure HR has done a thorough job providing necessary information and dates on the essentials for health and wealth care, as well as the holiday schedule. Next, it’s key to make sure there is grand welcome from the team, and that there is a round of visits to key offices. As part of on-boarding, make sure the supervisor follows up regularly, and too, clarifies the culture of the institution. Learning the environment, including all of the spoken and unspoken rules of the game, are very important for success.
Sylvia A. Hewlett wrote a piece in the April 13, 2013 New York Times entitled “Mentors are Good. Sponsors Are Better.” I agree with Ms. Hewlett, and offer a slight suggestion from a quote so often used with student leaders that I am certain they think I made it up; I have not.
“Good, Better, Best never let it rest until your Good is Better and your Better, Best.”
This sums up the relationships among coaching, mentoring and sponsorship. As the next stage of “onboarding” and deepening an employee’s relationship with the institution, opportunities for coaching, mentoring and sponsorship should be available. Although I am writing about employer/employee relationships, some of the best coaching, mentoring and sponsorship do not include a work relationship. Some of the best I’ve seen come from collegial relationships and great friends in our field.
Coaching is Good
It is important to assist employees adjusting to new roles and responsibilities and coaching is an empowering approach for successful transitions. Employers coaching employees are concerned with skill development, possessing a keen understanding of university culture and the abilities for team collaboration. One of the most important coaching opportunities for employers is providing clarity for job expectations and performance. To be effective, coaching should be constructive and consistent, and there should be a measure of employee accountability. All in all, good coaching provides employees opportunities for growth and “course correction” when necessary.
Mentoring is Better
Mentoring takes coaching to the next level, as the relationship between employer and employee deepens. Mentees often see mentors as the “go-to” person, the person with political acumen, and important institutional knowledge. Mentors often teach mentees the “ropes": how and where decisions are made and often impart leadership lessons learned. Mentors are interested in the mentee’s success at the university and often serve as rolemodels.
Sponsorship is Best
Sponsorship takes mentoring from being interested in another’s success to being engaged in creating opportunities for their success. This relationship is one in which both parties have a deep and abiding trust, respect and similar belief structures around success—what it is and what it looks like. Sponsors have capacity to propel a protégé’s career path. This investment requires a willingness on the part of the protégé to deliver results—both reputations are now at stake!
To create and sustain a phenomenal Student Affairs team takes engagement from all of its members: trust building, recognition of individual and team strengths, diverse points of view, having fun outside of work, remembering everyone has a family life, and keeping the passion alive for the important work that we do each and every day…changing student lives!