Managing people in Higher Ed

Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission. ~ Colin Powell

I encountered a piece recently entitled 103 pieces of advice I wish I’d known, it was really quite wonderful and the advice is great. Embedded in this list was some excellent advice for managing people and so I decided to talk about them in terms of managing people in higher education.

You can be whatever you want, so be the person who ends meetings early – This might be my favorite piece of advice and honestly one as a manager I have very much taken to heart. Here’s the real concept behind this, value peoples’ time. If there is a reason to have a meeting, have a meeting. Make good use of the time in the meeting and if you finish the work you need to do early, then end the meeting early. I think we have all been in meetings that have basically wrapped up fifteen minutes or thirty minutes early, yet the person running the meeting just keeps rolling along, bringing up new things to discuss or chatting in order to eat up the time. Don’t be that person! And if you have a regularly scheduled meeting, but you don’t have much of an agenda, cancel the meeting.

Your group can achieve great things way beyond your means simply by showing people that they are appreciated. – It’s been one of my goals as a manager over the last twenty years to lay out some very simple things for the groups I manage. The primary goal is always to help students achieve their goals. What we do, whatever we do, has to support that primary goal of helping students. And finally I always endeaver show the greatest amount of appreciation possible to the people who work successfully toward that goal.

You cannot get smart people to work extremely hard just for money – I think this is really incredibly important information for managers in higher education. Particularly in higher education because we rarely have the opportunity to give performance based raises. The question becomes how do you help reward and motivate your excellent employees without the ability to provide monetary incentives?

In higher education we have to be creative about reward and motivation. The easiest tool that we have at our disposal is the ability to provide praise and recognition. In our division or department meetings, newsletters about our area we can publicly praise the good work of our high performers. But at every institutions for most employee groups there are outstanding employee awards. Taking the initiative and do the work to nominate your high performers for these awards. At best they win and there’s a monetary award, but even if not at least they know you took the time to nominate them. I know this may not seem like much, but it means a lot to folks to know that you appreciate their work and were willing to take the time to make that nomination. And share with them that you’ve nominated them.

Finally, from time to time, things do arise that you have pure discretion over. This may be the ability to attend a conference, office space, equipment, etc… in my time as a manager I’ve always made a point of awarding these benefits to those who are doing the best work and not to the squeaky wheels who make the most noise. You get more accomplished by rewarding good behavior than you do by criticizing bad behavior.

Criticize in private, praise in public – This goes along with the item above, whenever possible and it will almost always be possible. Criticize, discipline and dress people down in private. This can be hard particularly in the heat of the moment, but you’ll be more favorably viewed by your staff if you criticize in private and praise in public. Additionally, the impact of public praise raises the value of the praise for the person who is being recognized.

A wise man said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind? – This is good advice in both directions, not only in what you say, but maybe more importantly in what you hear. Asking for proof of validity when you’re told things will keep you from reacting or acting on bad information. Asking if it is necessary or important will help you focus where your time is best used. All managers are incredibly busy and so it’s important, even if what you are being told is true, not to act on things that really don’t have an impact on what you’re trying to accomplish as part of your position. Finally, asking if it’s kind is important, but sometimes not relevant. It’s often not kind to have to criticize or discipline an employee, but it can be necessary. One more reason to criticize in private, but also be kind whenever possible.

When you are stuck, explain your problem to others. Often simply laying out a problem will present a solution. Make “explaining the problem” part of your troubleshooting process. – This is wonderful advice for managers and is the reason it’s important to develop a circle of trusted managers to confer with on a regular basis. First, you need people to vent with, people who understand your frustrations. Second, it’s always good to get a secondary perspective on whatever is going on. Finally, utilizing this method with other managers will often get you to talk yourself through an issue and find a solution. You will then also have people who you can check your solution with and point out any weaknesses in your solution.

You see only 2% of another person, and they see only 2% of you. Attune yourselves to the hidden 98%. – As a manager in higher education, even though you may be the chief academic officer, or the head of counseling, whatever your area, your primary job is almost always to manage people. As such, one of the most important skills you have to develop in order to be successful, is to learn to read people. On the surface, you will know very little about people and their motivations. Learn that people will always tell you who they really are, you just have to listen and pay attention. And once they tell you who they are, believe them. Pay deep attention to their behavior more than the values they claim publicly and verbally.

Hopefully these little bits of wisdom will help you be a more effective manager. Good luck, managing people is about the hardest thing you can do in the service of students. And of course I’d love to have any tips you can add in the comments.

Published by Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.

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