Monday, February 10, 2014

Training is Key to Culture Change for Retention Growth

A key reality is that a school can’t change its culture until it changes the people in it. I am not suggesting that the people need to be let go or turnover is
needed but that the people need to have their attitudes altered. They need to begin to realize that there is value in retaining students by providing for their needs and expectations. They need to have their attitudes changed from “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students (yes that is still said) to “this is a great place to work because of the students.”

People do what they do habitually. They try to park in the same spots they always do. They walk the same path to the office or building every day. They begin the day with the same routine. They may begin work by getting a cup of coffee and checking for new email first thing each day. Then check for phone calls. Then do the same things the same way every day. That provides them a level of comfort by repeating the same patterns each day.

That also means that they treat students the same way they did the day before and the day before that. If they treated students as an inconvenience yesterday they will do it again today. That also means that classroom behavior and teaching are essentially the same every day. If a professor reads from notes the other day he will do it again. If she runs through a PowerPoint on Monday leaving no time for questions of interaction, odds are very good she will do a Power Point on Wednesday too. If faculty feel students are an inconvenience to their real work of research and see customer service as some corporate concept that is being imposed on their students who aren’t customers after all, they will feel that way every day.

There are good habits too as was that of Dean Bill Schaar at Lansing Community College (MI) who began each day walking the campus and saying good morning to very student he passed. But what we are addressing for the most part of the negative, unproductive and retention-killing habits that will continue day after day.

Unless something changes to make them change.

That is, unless there is a strong enough interruption in their habitual behavior that seems to provide some reward large enough to change their behavior. Something has to make people see a benefit in accepting the values of customer service on campus.  Some new energy has to be put into the system to make people want to give up their habits which we call culture.

That energy may be from a major shift in the institution such as a new president. When a new president comes in the culture adjusts for her initiatives and that can cause a shift in the culture. But that is often just a small adjustment because too many people decide that they can wait her out. After all, the average presidential tenure is about four to five years while a tenured professor is forever, Moreover the president may say we need to embrace this or that initiative but they seldom put enough energy into the system to make them happen.

There will be some people who will get on board because they see some benefit in doing so,. They are often administrators who want to do something known as keeping their jobs by supporting the new president’s ideas.  But faculty and staff need more than that to see the value in changing. They need to feel some more powerful reason to change their habits.

To change staff is easier than changing faculty attitudes because staff feel less empowered and too often feel concerned about keeping their jobs. So if their boss says “we are going to do it this way for now on” that can make staff want to change to gain the reward of not getting a negative review and keeping their jobs. This is not a great way to get people to change their habits but it is a reality.

It would be better if staff were given other motivation to change and a better reward for doing so but unfortunately staff are not fully enough appreciated for al they do to keep a college running o they are too often overlooked. There are better ways to get staff motivated to change as I have discussed before. . A better way we have learned as we work with colleges is to inform the staff a change is coming, teach them the reason for the change and then how to work with the changes. That is, show them respect which becomes a reward in itself.

To get faculty to change is a tougher task. They are less concerned about self-preservation if they are tenured and they do not have time to care if they are adjuncts.  But I have noticed over the years that what can change faculty attitudes and habits are new ideas that are made to be appreciated as valuable. Intellectual growth is an energy source for changing faculty sometimes. For example, faculty who go to conferences often learn of new information in their subject matter, or a new classroom approach and they try it out. They are looking, most of them that is, for ways to make their own area of study more interesting as well as making the classroom more pleasurable.  The reward for them is new knowledge and an easier, more enjoyable way to teach.

Most faculty would like to do a good job of teaching. They just do not know how. They do not know  how to structure a class, plan a curriculum, or how people learn. These are almost never taught in a master’s or PhD program preparing people to become college professors After all, they have never been taught how to teach. They learn teaching techniques by educational osmosis; absorbing teaching by embracing that of professors they had in their area of study. If the teacher they emulate was a good one, they might be. If the teacher was one who reached out to them to meet their needs to learn and grow, they might also do the same. But if the faculty they learned from were indifferent or even arrogant, too many faculty will think this is the way to teach.

So what is really needed to change the habits of a campus community? What is the energy required? What rewards are provided to make people adopt new habits such as treating students well?

At all of the hundreds of colleges and universities we have studied, one interesting request comes up. Training. If you want me to do it, teach me how. People want to have the opportunity to learn to do their jobs better, more effectively and more efficiently. They are willing to consider changing but want the training to be able to do so.

Training is an energy that can start to change a culture. And training to do the job better is almost a reward in itself with being better at a job as the major reward. People want to do their jobs to their fullest ability. After all, they are not at the school for the short hours and high pay after all.

They also are willing to embrace academic customer service knowing that it can lead to higher retention which allows for more money to get more time for training as well as other tangible rewards such as new equipment, chairs, desks, classroom supplies, release time, etc.. They just want to be trained in academic customer service so they know what they are doing and how to do it.

As a faculty member said to me after a workshop on customer service for the classroom “I was opposed to this workshop before I came but after learning what it means and how I can do  it just by being a better teacher and using the techniques you taught us, I am willing to try it.”

The energy that is needed to initiate cultural change to accept academic customer service as a valid concept and retention as a goal is training. And the more that is done the better.

For example, at Coastal Carolina University and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, they began their service excellence (customer service) initiates with training on what is meant by service excellence in a college setting. I was honored to be a part of that. Then they kept on training on campus. For instance, Coastal Carolina is rolling out training programs in Civility on Campus and CCU History and Traditions this semester. They and UMass-Dartmouth for example, made changing the culture through training a cornerstone of the change in their campuses way to of looking at the campus world and interacting in it. Other schools have had us come in and do the training for them where they did not have the people to do it all in-house.

And to make certain that training in customer service is a constant factor in campus habits, they appointed an individual to be in charge of the effort and to keep training going. They will succeed in changing their cultures, retaining more students and in so doing change their lives for the better.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with head nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher

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