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January 18

Five Ways to Build Trust Within Higher Ed Enrollment


by | Jan 18, 2024 | Featured, Podcast, Teams

Most of us know what it’s like to work in teams where trust is the last word you’d use to describe the work environment. 

In these kinds of teams, marketing professionals work away while the manager hovers over their shoulders like an uninvited guest at a party, scrutinizing every move they make. 

Micromanagement like this creates poor work environments and, as a consequence, gets mediocre marketing results at best. 

When there is little trust in your team, it leaves everyone feeling undervalued, second-guessed, and stifled. 

Creativity goes out the window. Initiative starts to die on the vine. 

At best, it becomes a demoralizing place to work. At worst, it could be reflected in poorer enrollment outcomes as creativity and initiative declines.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Imagine a workplace where your people are trusted to do their thing, where their skills are not just acknowledged but celebrated. 

There are clear goals, crystal-clear guidelines, and the freedom to approach work in a way that makes sense to them. 

This is where the magic happens. 

Team members feel empowered, valued, and part of something bigger. Productivity soars, creativity blossoms, and suddenly, the team isn’t just a group of individuals. 

How do you build trust like this in your higher ed marketing team?

Jen McCrady shares how she builds trust with her team. #highermarketingleadershipThat’s what Troy Singer and I discussed in this podcast episode with the Senior Director of Enrollment Marketing at Baylor University, Jen McCrady.

In our conversation, Jen talks about what helps her unique management style to not only establish trust with her team but also empower them.  

How you support your colleagues is key to realizing their full potential and building a strong team for today, but it also plays a huge role in creating the work culture of tomorrow at your institution.

Let’s dive into how building trust can transform your team from a group of solo artists into a symphony, playing together in perfect harmony.

Micromanaging vs. A Culture of Trust

Baylor University’s marketing team is known for being trusting, happy, and high functioning.

This has a lot to do with Jen McCrady’s non-micromanaging leadership style. 

We’ve all had experience with a micromanager. [That experience] makes us feel like we’re not trusted. It’s like we’re almost treated as babies or not competent. 

When it comes down to it, we’re all adults, and we’ve all been hired for a very specific reason. 

A philosophy that I’ve adopted over the last several years is, “Look, I hired experts for a reason, so I want to let them do their thing, to do what they’re good at.”

Honestly, in higher ed, I don’t think any of us have time to be micromanagers! 

It’s the most efficient process to say, “Okay, great, you’ve got this handled. I am officially taking it off my plate and moving on with my life because I want you to deal with it. You can have full ownership over this. If you fail, then we both fail.”

It goes without saying that this kind of leadership requires a high level of trust in her teammates.

But it’s the kind of trust that keeps on giving. It’s contagious. Jen shares how experiencing a leader who trusted her shaped her own leadership philosophy.

Honestly, I don’t take credit for this. When I first started here, my leader, a great mentor of mine, said…

“Look, if someone else on your team can do it, then they probably should do it. This will allow you to do the things that only you can do. We are all experts in our own way. So if you’re doing something that someone else on your team can do, then let them do that so that you can focus on your expertise that no one else can do.”

Trust breeds trust. 

Creating a team culture of trust starts with us, as the leaders, modeling it for our teams.

Then, Jen went on to share her secret sauce of five ways she builds trust in her higher ed marketing team. 

1. Train Extensively

For Jen, everything starts with training. How can you trust your team if you haven’t informed them of the way that you do things, the expectations, and the things to avoid?

You can’t just let someone loose and throw them off into the deep end. You have to train them, and train them well – and extensively. 

At Baylor, we have a solid two to three-week training program called “Bear Camp” (because we’re the Baylor Bears!) where new employees attend. 

Of course, [we do] all the HR type trainings. But then they train in all of our admissions policies, our best practices, and our terminology. (I came from corporate retail, so I had no idea what people were talking about when they were using certain acronyms or other higher ed [terms].)

We have two to three weeks of training for all new employees. And then, honestly, every meeting turns into a training opportunity as we’re talking through updates and explaining acronyms. 

Baylor University’s “Bear Camp” is a great approach to onboarding new employees. And it sounds like they might even be having some fun! 

This strategy underscores the importance of comprehensive training, moving beyond mere HR formalities. 

This level of detail in training, particularly for those transitioning from different sectors like corporate retail, is crucial for a smooth integration into the university’s environment.

2. Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations in order to build trust sounds counterproductive.

But it actually goes a long way to establish trust between you and your team. 

When your team knows exactly what you are expecting from them in their daily and long-term work, then they are free to focus in on what is important for the success of the project.

Jen shared one expectation that she has well-established in the office that is keeping them all working together in harmony.

If I forward you an email, [then that email and its content] is officially out of my head, and it’s on you to handle. I know 100% you’re going to handle that because we’ve built that trust, and we’ve set up those clear expectations. 

If you [set clear expectations like this], it’ll change your life. 

It is the most freeing thing as a manager to trust the people on your team so well that you can delegate to them and trust that they will just handle it. 

This is an example of setting an expectation as you go along working together. 

But then Jen added how setting expectations is important especially at the beginning of the professional relationship.

[Setting clear expectations] comes into play when you’re hiring. You have to hire well. 

You have to go through multiple rounds of hiring to ensure that not only will they fit your culture, but they will [also] fit your expectations on ownership [of projects and tasks]. [You need to know] that they’re okay with delegation, and they’re okay with you being there for them but not handholding them. 

The hiring process is so important. We really tailor our questions very appropriately for what we’re expecting them to do. 

3. Follow Through on Expectations

Another counterintuitive principle that Jen talked about in the conversation was how to follow through with your expectations. 

Most of us are wired to avoid anything that comes close to a confrontation, but if you don’t follow through on your expectations, your team may get confused on what you truly expect of them. 

You have to follow through with those expectations. Sometimes that’s scary. When you’ve got a new person, you’ve trained them, you’ve set those expectations, and then you forward that email to them, [it’s easy to] just file it away [and forget about the whole thing]. 

Maybe they don’t live up to that expectation. [You still need to follow] through with your expectations. 

You are doing what you said you were going to do, and it’s on them to follow through with their end of the bargain. 

Of course, Jen very helpfully advised us to “take baby steps” with delegating projects and following through on them.

You don’t want to delegate large projects and simply watch your teammates “fail big.”

All of this takes intentionality. 

It is courageous leadership in higher ed to let things go (as in delegate them) and then (kindly) hold teammates accountable for those expectations.

If you’re not intentional about delegating, and on top of that not careful about following up, it will be difficult to create a culture of trust that brings about high performance.

4. Stay Available for Questions

A lot of these five ways to build trust are balancing acts. The fourth way Jen shared with us is no different!

Number four is to stay available for questions but get out of their way. 

There’s a common phrase that you hire the experts and then get out of their way. That’s sort of true. 

But I think you [should] hire the experts, [and then] stay available for them. Then, you get out of the way. 

There’s that willingness to still be a part of [the project] if they need you, and it’s on them to reach out to you if they have any questions or concerns. But otherwise, you’re going to treat them like an adult and stay out of their way—because they’re the expert!

If you keep getting in the way of your team by micromanaging or doing all of the work for them, you will be exhausted, and you will exhaust your team!

But if you are available for their questions, then you’ll give them that perfect balance they need of freedom and assistance. 

It’s kind of a safety net. We’re here to support you, but we also want you to lead and be an expert in what you do. 

You were hired for a reason! You weren’t hired to just do exactly what you were told. 

You were hired to come to the table with your own expertise based on your skills and your talents. 

5. Let Employees Fail

This is perhaps the most distressing part of building trust in your team. At some point, you’ve got to give your teammates permission to fail sometimes.

Let them fail and give real time feedback. It’s never a great idea when they hear feedback for the very first time at their performance appraisal. 

We like to give them feedback in real time. That allows them to be fresh on what just happened and know that they can change it for the next time. 

I have four kids. When they were little, I wanted to protect them from every bad decision. 

But I quickly learned that sometimes, you’ve got to let them learn it on their own. 

If the failure didn’t put them, their siblings, or anything else in danger, I would often tell them to not do something, and then let them ignore my counsel. 

When they experienced the consequences, they knew for themselves to trust me next time. 

It also showed them that I respected them and trusted them (even though they broke my trust at times) to do the right thing and meet my expectations.

But in letting someone try and fail, you have to be careful how and how quickly you react so as not to shame them. 

It’s a tightrope. 

Letting them fail is probably the hardest part of this whole process. None of us like to fail. None of us think that’s fun. 

Especially as a new employee, it’s not fun to fail when you’re trying to prove that you’re trustworthy. 

We all have the best of intentions, but we all fail. We are human beings on planet Earth! We’re going to fail. 

As a manager, it’s so important to let that happen because that really is one of the only ways you’re going to learn. 

I can remember vividly the times that I’ve failed, but I’ve learned from [my mistakes], and I’ve put in safeguards to not let that happen again. 

Get even more insights into building trust in your team by listening to the whole podcast!

Taking the time to build trust in your team is never a waste. Your team will go so much further when they’re pulling together in harmony towards the goal.

You’ll also be able to lead without exhausting yourself with a team that has been empowered to push the limits of their creativity and abilities.

Listen to our interview with Jen McCrady to get even more insights into:

  • Why Jen’s team-building philosophy focuses on trust and empowerment (7:16)
  • The five ways to build trust within your team (14:15)
  • How a tight-knit professional community is created (25:50)

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Featured image via baylor.edu

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