Consultant Neal Raisman publishes a periodic study on why students leave college. Here’s his findings after interviewing 618 students who left a college or university in 2016.
I was quite surprised by the results. 23% of the students cited poor service as a reason to leave their college or university, and 25% cited a belief that the college didn’t care. That means ALMOST HALF of the students left because they hadn’t built a strong relationship with the institution. Finances, scheduling, and grades all scored much lower.
Academic Impressions recently published an interview with three academic leaders – What does customer service in higher ed actually look like? They pointed out that the Raisman article means that higher education needs to look at the issue in new ways. Here are some take-aways:
- It’s important to set standards and hold people accountable. If you don’t measure your service, you can’t make it better.
- Make customer service work in our context. While the customer is not always right, we need to ask ourselves how we can make the situation right.
- Make sure everyone knows your history and traditions; building institutional pride is a great way to generate positive interactions.
- Make time to put yourself in a position to observe or experience what your students and other customers experience. It will enhance your credibility and help you identify needed changes.
When I worked at the University of Minnesota, I had a colleague who frequently said, “we might not call them customers, but whoever they are, Stanford is stealing them!” His point was that we have to address needs and expectations of our stakeholder groups or they will take their tuition dollars and grant money somewhere else. What has worked for you to keep students engaged and moving forward at your institution?
Dee Anne Bonebright
The church where I worship runs a neighborhood-based nonprofit. We recently hired a consultant to help with some strategic planning. The first thing she asked us to do is spend the summer talking to community members. We’re asking business owners, local residents, other service agencies, and the guys who spend time in the vacant lot down the street what they actually need.
The consultant said that very often, agencies assume they know what their clients need. When they actually talk to people and get them involved in decision-making, very different results can happen. For example, one organization wanted to set up a food shelf. After talking to potential clients, it turned out that there were already enough pantries in the neighborhood. What was missing was a source for perishable items, especially milk. Turning the project from creating another food pantry into a reliable source where families could get milk made a huge difference.
We in higher education are prone to the same mistake. We can assume we know what our “customers” need – whether it’s students, coworkers, peer institutions, or the whole system. By taking time to talk to each other and build real relationships we’re in a better position to create strategies and processes that address the real needs.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Last week the Harvard Business Review blog included a case study that is a good summary to our discussion on building trust. It focused on the tech company Nokia and how it dealt with major industry changes and the resulting need to completely overhaul their business strategy.
The article described three important practices the company’s newly-appointed board followed to address the emotional side of strategic change. In order to move ahead, they focused on building trusting relationships among the leadership team and across the company.
#1 Increase trust by defining new conversational norms. The previous leadership made it uncomfortable for people to express their opinions and voice concerns. In contrast, the new board identified “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to each other and assuming that people are speaking with good intentions. Following these rules created a culture where people felt free to express alternative viewpoints and generate more options.
#2 Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options, not just one alternative. People are more willing to express concerns and identify weaknesses in organizational strategy when alternatives are available. As the board created a culture in which multiple options are considered, they were able to make more thoughtful decisions.
#3 Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful thinking. Paying attention to data helped the leadership to make better decisions and deal with their current reality.
Similar to the tech industry, higher education is in the midst of disruptive changes. I found these actions applicable to the work I do as a leader. What do you think?
Dee Anne Bonebright
One of your employees made a major mistake. It cost time, money, and stakeholder goodwill. You made a major effort and repaired the damage. So what happens next?
Many of us like to think that we would expect the person to learn from the mistake and continue to be a high-performing part of the team. But it can be hard to trust that person with similar projects in the future.
Several years ago I read a book called The Set Up to Fail Syndrome. The authors made the argument that an employee’s poor performance is often directly related to the behavior of his or her boss.
As they explained in this blog post, the pattern is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect. Rather than helping an individual live up to great expectations, the set-up-to-fail syndrome encourages people to live down to low expectations.
- An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
- The manager decides to take a more hands-on approach in managing performance by providing extra feedback, adding approval steps, and watching the employee more closely.
- Even though the manager is well meaning, the employee interprets this behavior as lack of confidence and trust. This leads to second-guessing themselves, withdrawing, and making fewer autonomous decisions.
- The boss perceives this behavior as further demonstration that the person is not a strong contributor, and the cycle continues.
This can become a self-reinforcing cycle in which even high-performing employees are no longer able to bring their best to the work. And it’s not unusual. What stuck with me about the book was this quote:
Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.
Some years ago I worked with a colleague that had very different personality preferences than our manager. She made several choices that were different from what the manager would have done. The manager interpreted her work style as problematic and quit including her in planning meetings or seeking her feedback about programs she worked on. The employee began to feel like she couldn’t do anything right. She quit trying, thereby making the manager believe that he was correct to doubt her abilities.
Eventually the employee transferred to a different department and immediately began to thrive. She was put in charge of increasingly complex tasks and earned at least one promotion. Her basic work performance and style didn’t change. What did change was her relationship with her manager and her resulting self-confidence.
Re-building trust after a mistake, or even a difference of opinion, can be hard. Not doing it means that some employees are given assignments and flexibility while others are not. The consequences can be costly for the employee, the work unit, and the organization.
What do you do after someone makes a mistake to ensure you are re-building trust instead of setting them up to fail?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Photo: Untitled photograph (Broken red vase) by Sarah Charlesworth
I recently had a chance to attend a Talent Development conference and came away with lots of good ideas. It reminded me that professional development helps people stay engaged and excited about their work.
One session highlighted the importance of trust in the workplace. Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller talked about the difference between a “judging” mindset and a “joining” mindset.
A judging culture includes win/lose and problem-finding behaviors. People hold onto the past, act defensive, and withhold trust. They tend to think small and contribute less. A joining culture is accepting, exploring, and focuses on problem-solving. People can let go of the past and extend trust. They are able to think big and contribute more.
The presenters said that judging is our individual and organizational default, especially in times of stress, fear, and conflict. When we feel uncertain, our cognitive biases are more likely to kick in, which can lead to making judgments about others.
Here are four strategies we can use to generate a joining culture:
- Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
- Listen as an ally.
- State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
- Accept that others’ thoughts and experiences are true for them.
Years ago when I was a new supervisor I learned a good lesson about joining. One of my employees had performance issues, and looking back I think my coaching style made her feel judged. It was going down a bad path until life circumstances caused us to listen to each other as allies around a shared experience we were both going through. Making that personal connection helped the work conversations go more smoothly, and I think it was about building trust.
You can view the presentation slide deck here. What ideas strike you about creating a culture of joining instead of judging?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I recently listened to a TED talk by international consultant Jacqueline Oliveira. She had some very interesting observations about building trust in cross-cultural institutions. As our higher ed workplaces become more diverse, it was a great reminder that trust is shaped and colored by culture.
Oliveira said that trust is a belief in the virtue, ethics, and honesty of another person. But she also pointed out that we don’t see beliefs, we see behaviors. Trust is related to our actions that show:
- Competence – doing our jobs right
- Integrity – sticking to a code of behavior
- Caring – demonstrating that we care for our colleagues
“There are so many behaviors – some different, some similar, some contrary – all driven by these three attributes,” she says. “Imagine your multi-cultural colleagues behaving in ways that they were taught from childhood, and then being marginalized or even disciplined for behaving in this way.”
We rarely think about what we mean when we say someone is behaving in a trustworthy manner. It’s just the way things ought to be. When working with colleagues from different backgrounds we can increase trust by:
- Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you? It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
- Writing it down. Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
- Being flexible and willing to change.
Building trust can be complicated. Building trust across cultures is even more so. But the result is a stronger workplace where everyone feels included.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Trust at work can be defined as the willingness to accept personal risk based on another person’s actions, according to an article on the Business-2-Community website.
That could mean that I’m willing to guarantee a deadline because I’m confident my team members will do their part on time. It could mean making decisions based on someone else’s data, because I’m sure the data is accurate. Or it could mean accepting a stretch assignment because I’m sure my supervisor will help me succeed and back me up when I make mistakes.
Developing that kind of trust between employees and leadership can be difficult. In fact, studies show that fewer than half of employees say they have a high trust in their leaders. But it’s important because:
- It leads to greater productivity and employee retention. Forbes has measured 15-20% difference in profit and productivity when organizations put a priority on trust.
- It leads to better outcomes on the job. One study found that 82% of employees said trust in their supervisors was critical to their performance.
- It enhances engagement. Among highly engaged employees, 90% say they trust their leaders.
How can we build this kind of trust? The article and a related infographic gave the following advice.
- Gather employee input when making organizational decisions.
- Increase transparency by helping employees understand how decisions are made.
- Tell employees what is going on, even when things aren’t going well.
- Ensure consistency between leadership words and actions.
As employees, we want to work in environments where there is high trust. As leaders, trust will help us be more effective in meeting organizational goals. How have you been able to build trust with your work teams?
Dee Anne Bonebright