January 4

The Five C’s of Building Great Teams in Higher Ed

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by | Jan 4, 2024 | Featured, Podcast, Teams

Strong, cohesive teams in higher ed are not just a byproduct of good management; they are a critical driver of marketing success. 

It’s hard to carry the weight of leading a marketing team that just isn’t clicking. 

Like me, I’m sure you’ve been there (or you might be in the middle of it right now!)

You’ve got marketing goals to meet and enrollment numbers to hit, but it feels like you’re trying to steer a ship where everyone’s rowing in different directions.

There’s that sinking feeling when you realize your team isn’t performing to its potential. You see the talent and the possibilities, but somehow, it just isn’t coming together. 

Misunderstandings lead to missed deadlines, great ideas get lost in the shuffle, and the energy in the room is more like a flat tire than a launching rocket. 

It can be disheartening, but there is a way out of this!

While it will take time and concentrated effort, the solution might be simpler than you think. 

It all starts with being intentional, getting everyone aligned, and having a collaborative approach.

Kathy Kissane shows us how she builds great teams for higher ed at Jefferson University through her five C's framework. In this blog post, I’ll share with you what Troy Singer and I learned from Kathy Kissane, Associate Chief Marketing Officer at Thomas Jefferson University, about creating strong teams in higher ed. 

Kathy shares her perspective on what it takes to build a high-performing team in higher education marketing, taking us through the key elements of creating a better team for your institution.

What I love about this is that it isn’t about finding new people; it’s about transforming the group you already have into a powerhouse. 

If you consistently apply Kathy’s five C’s of building great teams for higher ed, I’m confident you’ll be able to unlock your team’s potential, align them with your marketing goals, and finally get the wheels moving towards success!

Clear Mission

The first of Kathy’s five C’s is to state clearly your mission, vision, values, and goals.

I like how she stresses that these key concepts not only need to be clarified, they need to be repeated often in multiple channels and to various target audiences.

So I mentioned that we are a merged university now, going on our 6th year. One of the things that brought us together [was that] we had very similar missions and goals. 

But it’s [also] important for the team on a regular basis to be reminded of that. 

Our mission at Jefferson is “We improve lives.” [This is an amazing purpose to have as we get] to help students transform their lives and get to their goal of whatever their profession is. 

So we start each of our meetings, [including] big staff meetings, individual meetings with our different teams, [and] we present our partners with, “What are the goals, [and] who are we looking at?” 

Our goals, like many other universities, [are] brand awareness and enrollment growth. 

Having that set up front helps us to focus on what matters most and takes us out of that reactive mode and puts us in that ready mode to work.  

There are always competing priorities, but we at least try to go into [any project, meeting, or interaction] with a real clear direction. 

We explored some of the practical ways that Kathy reminds her team of the mission, goals, and values they share.

  1. Often (though not all the time) they will recite their mission statement. I think this works well because they’ve got their mission statement down to a punchy, motivational statement: “We improve lives.”
  2. Kathy will reword the mission statement and insert it into different contexts. For example, at the end of her meetings, she’ll end with “Now let’s go and change some lives!”
  3. They will seek out student stories that illustrate how the school is, in fact, improving lives and share it with their team.

Clarity of Roles and Expectations 

The next of Kathy’s five C’s was the clarity of roles and expectations. 

One of the things that we did as a full team (we have shared services, marketing, and different groups that work together) is come up with our team charter.

[Our team charter] is something we’re still developing because we want to get it right. [Through our charter,] everyone can see themselves in this team that we have for our in-house agency. 

[We also keep] looking through our job descriptions. Everything’s always changing, and we need to make sure that we’re all aligned with what our goals, roles, and responsibilities are. 

[In fact,] that’s something the team and I just talked about on Monday was, “Let’s go back and look at [our team charter] and see if there are things that we need to add and update.”

I often say that even though we may have these things, nothing can be set in stone in higher ed marketing. Being able to pivot is important, too. 

We need to have clear roles and expectations, but part of that is being able to have that flexibility to pivot. 

I appreciate how Kathy places “clarity” after the primary issue of having a “clear mission.” Only once you’ve set the mission clearly should you begin to define everyone’s roles on the team.

Especially in higher ed, it can be very easy to say, “That’s not my job.”

But when you have bought into the mission, you realize that the mission is everyone’s job!

Continuous Learning

Kathy gave us some incredible insights into how they are promoting a culture of continual improvement and learning at Jefferson University. 

Professional development, personal development, continuous learning—I love it [all]! 

I read a lot. And I think that’s important for our teams [as well], especially in higher ed marketing.

I remember starting many years ago putting together our first website. And then there was social media and all the different things. Email marketing—I’m certainly dating myself! 

But I think the best part about being in higher ed marketing is that you always have the ability to learn something new. So we really take that seriously. 

Here are some of the many things they do to build great teams in higher ed through continual learning.

  • Every month or so, they bring in outside people, or they have their in-house experts talk and teach everyone about their particular areas. 
  • They do a lot of book clubs reading and discussing works like The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Natalie Nixon’s The Creativity Leap, and No Ego by Cy Wakeman. 
  • They created a “learning lab” using Microsoft Teams for team members to share and discuss resources like articles on relevant topics (e.g., Media Planning, Admissions, Student Surveys).
  • Kathy encourages the use of free learning resources, recognizing the constraints of professional development budgets in higher ed marketing. These resources include:
    • Listening to educational podcasts.
    • Subscribing to e-newsletters.
    • Attending free online and in-person conferences.
  • They conducted a survey with team members to identify their interest areas in various functional aspects of their work, regardless of their current roles.
  • They established “cross-functional leads,” who are responsible for learning more about their chosen areas using free resources and then sharing insights with the team.
    • These leads are expected to generate innovative ideas based on their newfound expertise and contribute to achieving team goals.

I know this post is getting long, but I really wanted to get all of this incredible content to you! 

Believe me. There’s even more good stuff coming up.

Collaborative Culture

This is one of the most important C’s in building great teams for higher ed. Especially, in our modern times where remote is growing in popularity, you’ve got to be able to create a collaborative culture.

We wouldn’t be able to make it all work without collaboration. It’s one of the pillars of our university teaching students about working with people outside of your own silo. 

We’re trying all these things to see what works, [like organizing] “pods” [small interdisciplinary teams made up of] someone from the digital team, from creative, from marketing, from comms, and from social. We all bring different perspectives to [the pod]. 

But we’re really trying to build that common language, [going] back to that North Star of what our goals are and what we’re here to do. There’s a true purpose to everything that we do. 

Everybody knows what the left hand and the right hand is doing so that we’re all on the same page. That’s been a great partnership. 

There are so many natural silos in higher education. There’s the marketing silo, the enrollment silo, the creative silo, the social media silo—the list goes on and on!

It’s important to be able to break down the silos in our higher ed marketing teams and get our teams working together towards the common goal. 

Celebrating Wins

Celebrating wins is the last “C” on the list, but it is by no means the least important. When you’re building great teams for higher ed, you get more of what you reward.

In higher ed marketing, we are very hard workers. Everybody has so many different priorities that we’re focusing on. 

So it’s important that you take the time to think about what you’re doing. Celebrating the wins is so important because people forget what they do. 

You’re working so hard [that before you realize it] you’re on to the next thing. We need to take the time to sit and [remember and celebrate]. 

[To do this,] we have a monthly meeting where we go through our monthly wins. Then we also have Microsoft Teams and some internal channels where people are encouraged to say, “Hey, check out this new publication we just worked on.”

It sounds counterintuitive, but Kathy’s right. 

We often forget what we’ve done, and even more often, we don’t realize just how much impact our work has made. 

But there is more to celebrate than just the successes.

It’s also important to celebrate the tries. 

We need to let our teams know that you’re safe to try things and take the risks because that’s where the best innovation comes from. 

Having that ability to say, “This was an idea that I had, and it worked,” or “This was an idea that I had that needs a little tweaking and maybe we can do something from there,” allows [team members] to be active learners. 

[It shows them] that they’re becoming the leaders. It’s our job as leaders to train the upcoming leaders.

An innovative culture can only happen in a place where everyone feels safe enough to try new things. 

Celebrating your wins and your tries is a powerful way to encourage out-of-the-box thinking that will drive better results for your marketing and recruitment efforts. 

This Interview is Jam-Packed with Actionable Insights!

I’m sure you can see by how long this post is that our interview with Kathy was densely packed with practical ways to build even better teams for higher ed marketing.

But there’s still so much more in the audio version! I highly recommend you take a moment to listen to the entire episode with a pen and paper. You’ll be glad you did. 

Listen to our interview with Kathy Kissane to get even more insights into:

  • Why you need to have a clear mission, vision, and values (07:47)
  • How you can encourage continuous learning (15:45)
  • Why it’s important to celebrate the wins and the tries (27:03)


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Featured image via jefferson.edu

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