What makes for a fulfilling workplace? It all starts with feeling as though you’re having an impact, that you’re making a difference at your institution. But is it really possible to create a space where everyone—regardless of their experience, seniority, or skill set—feels like they’re making a difference?
Yes, and it begins with trust.
If there’s no trust between colleagues or between senior and junior staff in a workplace, then only a handful of people will ever have a chance to feel like they’re truly making a difference. These will be the most senior officials, who will simply give orders and expect them to be followed. No justification given, no input needed.
Thankfully, most PSE institutions don’t work this way. The sector is filled with leaders prepared to give trust where it’s earned, and with professionals ready to make the most of this trust.
So what builds trust? We could run through the most common factors, like respect, professionalism, a strong track record, and honesty. But one thing that remains crucial is transparency, and 20 years in the higher ed sector have taught us that a key tool for creating transparency is timely and accurate research.
How so, you may ask?
Evidence gives people a common point of focus. Without it, workplaces are almost destined to defer to opinion and authority. But gathering and sharing evidence gives everyone the opportunity to spot an interesting trend and say, “Hey, look at this. What if we acted on this?” Of course, your team probably isn’t going to slam a major institutional project into reverse on the basis of this kind of suggestion, but the important thing is that the person making the suggestion is given the chance to support it with a common point of reference. Better yet, good research offers senior officials something they can also point to and say why they do or don’t agree with a suggestion. In both cases, the result is more transparency and more trust.
It’s unlikely that many PSE leaders will give their junior colleagues permission to take risks with the institution’s strategy based on gut instinct. But what they might consider is allowing these colleagues to take calculated risks based on reliable information. In these cases, you have a workplace that is well on its way to giving everyone the opportunity to feel like they’re contributing in meaningful ways to the institution’s mission.
A real-world example
Take, for example, the role of the registrar. One of the biggest moments of risk for a registrar happens when it’s time to extend offers of admission to students. The registrar needs to make offers that best support the school’s goals—not only in terms of quantity, but even more importantly, the quality and makeup of those enrolments.
If the registrar makes too many offers, some programs will be over-enrolled and put a strain on the school’s resources. Too few offers, and the school will underperform on its targets. In this case, the registrar needs to predict how many students will accept or decline specific invitations for specific programs. In order to give themselves the best possible chance at hitting their marks, enrolment teams often rely on tools like the University/College Applicant Study (UCAS) to understand why students choose to enroll—not only at their school, but in specific programs.
Different programs or faculties at the same school might have completely different decline rates, and students might have completely different reasons for enrolling in one versus another. There’s always some risk involved in making offers of admission, but the size of this risk decreases as the available research becomes more accurate and more specific.
This is only one instance of the kind of calculated risk that is constantly being considered in PSE. But where there’s risk, there needs to be accountability, and accountability is always improved when a decision-maker can point to research and say, “I was acting on the basis of this.”
That said, evidence isn’t just about covering yourself in the event of a risk not panning out. It’s about strengthening the human relationships that are most important in the quality of your day-today workplace experience. And that’s something that will benefit everyone.
If you are interested in learning more about how the University/College Applicant Study can help your enrolment team build trust and have an impact, please don’t hesitate to contact Academica Group. Or if you’d prefer to chat over the phone, you can reach us toll-free at 1-866-922-8636 ext. 228.