Tips to Retain Your Higher Ed Staff

Posted By Sirley Carballo on Mar 6, 2024 8:00:00 AM

Read Time: 6 Minutes

In the latest episode of the Mission: Admissions podcast, host Jeremy Tears invites Sacha Thieme, a seasoned leader from Indiana University, to discuss the nuanced challenges of staff retention and the significant impact of mindset in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of higher education.

With over two decades of experience, Sacha offers a treasure trove of insights into the struggles admission offices face, particularly in keeping staff motivated and engaged amidst relentless change.

Sacha provides a profound insight into the complexities facing higher education institutions today. Through her dialogue with host Jeremy Tiers, Sacha dissects the multifaceted nature of staff retention issues, attributing a significant portion of the challenge to the inherent human resistance to change. Here, we delve deeper into the critical aspects of this discussion, shedding light on the underpinnings of these retention challenges and offering strategies for overcoming them.

Understanding Staff Retention Challenges

The Human Resistance to Change

Change is a constant in the professional landscape, yet it often meets with resistance due to the uncertainty and discomfort it brings. Sacha notes that the past few years have been particularly tumultuous, with changes not only in the global environment but also within the operational dynamics of higher education. This period has demanded an abrupt departure from established practices, making adaptation a survival skill rather than a choice. The resistance to change can stem from fear, lack of understanding, or even the comfort of familiarity, making it a critical barrier to staff engagement and retention.

The Impact of Unwelcomed Changes

The changes encountered recently were largely unwelcomed, necessitating a complete and immediate overhaul in procedures and practices. For admissions offices, this meant reimagining recruitment strategies, adopting new technologies at an unprecedented pace, and finding innovative ways to connect with prospective students. Such a drastic shift not only strains resources but also challenges the psychological resilience of staff, leading to feelings of burnout and disengagement.

Navigating the "Yes, And" Situation

The "yes, and" situation Sacha describes highlights the dilemma of balancing the integration of new practices with the preservation of valuable traditional methods. This additive approach to workload can overwhelm staff, particularly when resources are constrained, and support systems are under strain. The challenge lies in managing this balance effectively, ensuring that staff feel supported, valued, and part of a meaningful endeavor, rather than just coping with an increased burden.

Strategies for Addressing Retention Challenges

  1. Promote a Culture of Adaptability: Encourage and support staff in developing adaptability skills, emphasizing the importance of flexibility and resilience in the face of change.

  2. Transparent Communication: Foster an environment of open and honest communication, where changes and their rationales are clearly communicated, and staff feedback is actively sought and valued.

  3. Professional Development Opportunities: Offer targeted professional development that not only addresses the skills needed for new practices but also supports staff in navigating change more effectively.

  4. Acknowledgment and Support for Burnout: Recognize the signs of burnout and provide resources and support to help staff manage stress and recover their engagement and motivation.

  5. Reinforce Value and Purpose: Help staff connect their daily tasks to the broader mission and impact of the institution, reinforcing the value and purpose of their work.

  6. Foster Community and Connection: Create opportunities for staff to build relationships and support networks within the organization, combating the isolation that can accompany periods of intense change.

The Power of Mindset

The conversation pivots to the critical role of mindset in managing change. Sacha emphasizes the importance of owning the narrative of change, shifting from being passive recipients to active participants in the transformation process.

She discusses strategies for fostering a culture of learning and growth, encouraging staff to view every challenge as an opportunity for professional development:

Flipping the Script on Change

Sacha emphasizes the importance of shifting from a passive reception of change to actively owning the narrative. This involves viewing change not as an external force to be endured but as an opportunity for growth, innovation, and improvement. By encouraging this mindset, leaders can help staff transition from feeling overwhelmed by change to being excited about the possibilities it presents for personal and professional development.

Treating Everything as Learning

Central to Sacha's strategy is the idea of treating every experience—whether a success, a failure, or a challenge—as a learning opportunity. This approach demystifies change and reduces the fear associated with it. It encourages staff to experiment, take calculated risks, and embrace failure as a step towards growth. This mindset fosters a culture where continuous improvement is valued and sought after.

Professional Growth and Learning

Sacha highlights the significance of professional growth and learning as a cornerstone of this cultural shift. She suggests integrating learning opportunities into the fabric of everyday work, thereby making professional development an ongoing process rather than an occasional event. This could involve formal training sessions, peer learning groups, or encouraging staff to pursue interests that align with their professional goals and the institution's mission.

Creating a Supportive Environment

For a culture of learning and growth to thrive, it must be supported by an environment that encourages open dialogue, feedback, and collaboration. Sacha advocates for creating spaces where staff feel safe to share their ideas, challenges, and successes. Recognition of achievements and constructive feedback on failures are both critical in reinforcing the value of continuous learning and growth.

Encouraging Ownership and Agency

Empowering staff to take ownership of their professional development is another key aspect of Sacha's approach. This involves giving staff the tools and resources they need to pursue their growth goals but also encouraging them to identify their learning opportunities. By fostering a sense of agency, staff are more likely to engage deeply with their work and the broader mission of the institution.

Celebrating Learning and Innovation

Finally, Sacha underscores the importance of celebrating both the process and outcomes of learning and innovation. Acknowledging and sharing successes—big and small—reinforces the value of continuous learning and encourages a culture where everyone is motivated to contribute their best. Celebrations can also serve as inspiration, sparking new ideas and fostering a sense of community and shared purpose.

Strategies for Leading Through Change

Sacha shares actionable strategies for leaders to support their teams through change, including the significance of fostering an environment that celebrates learning and actively seeks solutions. She stresses the importance of leaders being change agents themselves, maintaining a focus on professional development, and understanding the nuanced needs of their team members.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Adapting to Change: Embrace change as an opportunity for growth and development, both personally and professionally.
  2. Cultivating a Growth Mindset: Encourage a culture of learning and curiosity, where staff are empowered to take ownership of their professional development.
  3. Effective Leadership: Leaders play a crucial role in navigating change, requiring them to be adaptable, empathetic, and proactive in fostering a supportive environment.
  4. Professional Development: Continuous learning and development are essential in staying relevant and effective in the face of evolving challenges.

Dive deeper into the enriching discussion on "Developing And Retaining Your Staff, Plus The Power Of Mindset" by listening to the full episode of the Mission: Admissions podcast. Discover more about how leaders like Sacha Thieme are shaping the future of higher education through innovative approaches to staff retention and the cultivation of empowering mindsets.

Join us in exploring actionable insights and strategies that can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and success.

By engaging with this episode, listeners are invited to reflect on their own practices and consider new perspectives on leadership, change management, and professional development within the dynamic field of higher education.

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