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Planning for an Effective Summer:
Four Suggestions for Getting Ahead

As you start to think about well-deserved summer vacations – where a “discount rate” is a good deal on a hotel and the only “melt” to worry about concerns the ice in your lemonade – you’ll avoid some of the stress of this past year if you take time now to plan for a productive summer.

We have passed the most significant milestone in the traditional enrollment cycle – May 1st. This is always a moment of symbolic and practical importance, but especially so this year. However exciting, frustrating, disappointing, or anti-climactic your May 1st was, we at Maguire Associates extend our congratulations for weathering the anxiety, adversity, and apocalyptic rhetoric that has permeated media coverage of this challenging economy for the past six months.

There seems to be some modest sense of relief among many enrollment managers that May has arrived and higher education doesn’t appear to be as catastrophically different as some had feared. However, in order to make the necessary adjustments that will place your institution in a stronger position for 2009-2010, now is the time to engage in an honest and thorough review of the past year.

Don’t let summer get away

We often hear that summer is the time when institutional and departmental leaders can finally get critical planning and strategic work done. The reality is usually different. The summer months have a knack of getting away from us before the best intentions turn into the best work products.

There is, however, a brief moment between now and Memorial Day when you can achieve two important objectives and lay the groundwork for an effective summer:

  1. Reward the incredible efforts of your colleagues. Celebrate the many accomplishments that your team has achieved together in these past months. Make sure your hard-working staff members know that their work is appreciated, and that they are appreciated.
  2. Focus deliberately on learning from this year’s challenges. Set an ambitious, realistic, and carefully scheduled plan to evaluate and improve those areas that were not as successful as you or your institution would have liked.

The time is limited, but it’s not short. Vacations, recuperation time, and motivation all play a role, but they don’t have to take the lead. If you determine your top priorities early, understand what you really want to get done, and take steps now to set these activities in motion, you’ll have the best chance of accomplishing them.

Gone are the days when we thought that May 1st meant that the hardest work was over until Labor Day. That mindset is simply no longer a viable option in this challenging economy. Shepherding your first year class towards matriculation is a bigger job than it's ever been. And setting up your summer teams, plans, and initiatives requires the same discipline as your work in February. There are key components to successful projects: clear goals; accountability; firm schedules; assigned roles; and collaboration. If you wait until after the vacation carousel starts to spin to organize and coordinate your summer work, you might find that the more you try to put those plans in motion, the dizzier you get.

Here are four suggestions for a productive summer that still enable you to take some well-deserved time for yourself:

  1. You can’t lead everything yourself, but you can lead something. Our most recent survey of chief enrollment officers revealed two frequent concerns: not having enough time to plan and lacking sufficient time to do the work they love because of growing management responsibilities. Summer is the ideal time to address both of these concerns. Choose something that you can lead yourself that excites you and allows you to re-energize by having your hands on at least one part of the work you love. Summer is an important time for creating the foundation for the crunch of the fall and winter, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be exhilarating and professionally fulfilling.
  2. Adopt a 4A strategy – analyze, attempt, assess, adjust. Evidence is in the linchpin of effective planning and decision making, especially in an economy that is reshaping recruitment and enrollment plans nationwide. For example:
    1. Analyze: Where were the atypical changes in enrollment yield patterns this cycle? How much money do you spend on name buys and marketing campaigns? Are you getting the results you want from specific recruitment efforts?
    2. Attempt: The evidence is likely to support important adjustments in admissions and financial aid awarding strategies. The evidence may also suggest that you alter your name purchases, marketing mailings, and subsequent recruitment travel. Instead of considering a complete overhaul – which may be a bit extreme – test new methods first on a small number of markets.
    3. Assess: Capture the precise data needed to know how the tests actually fared.
    4. Adjust: Don’t repeat strategies or tactics over and over unless you are satisfied that they really do work. And if you are not, start the process again from the top.

The 4A Strategy means defining success and crafting practices and processes that can be objectively evaluated. Too often, well-intentioned initiatives are added to operational workloads in such a way that either the goals are not defined or the performance data are not captured effectively. Without both, this kind of work is frequently frustrating and the results ambiguous. When the summer finally rolls around again, you should always be able to ask and get a clear answer to the question, “Did that work?”

  1. Be both ambitious and realistic. If you want something done, ask a busy person. But, don’t necessarily ask the busiest person. There’s a delicate balance between seeking too little and seeking too much, both from yourself and from your team. Forge an agenda that is somewhat aggressive, but not so aggressive that participants conclude it can’t be accomplished.

    Of course, setting the right agenda requires that you and your colleagues have determined which priorities are the most pressing. Not everything can be a top priority. Unclear or too numerous priorities are a recipe for inadequate performance. Plan some early wins to help yourself and your staff to see the wisdom and potential of an active and engaging summer.
  1. Mix it up. People understandably want to tackle projects with folks like themselves, regardless of the effectiveness of the grouping. So stir it up this summer! Encourage people who rarely collaborate to solve problems together. Productivity and creativity are fostered when different perspectives are shared in ways that people don’t normally experience.

    Do you have an issue or analytical project that crosses both admissions and financial aid? Instead of putting it in the hands of a director or dean to navigate the terrain, assign two admissions officers and two financial aid officers whose skills are appropriate and who infrequently have the chance to collaborate. As a matter of fact, why not also invite a key contributor from the research staff? Or the IT staff? Get some disparate opinions and encourage communication across departments. Assign seats; then give them a mandate, direction, a timeline, support, and a chance to produce.

It is not a choice between recuperation and renovation

We all want the coming summer to be both rejuvenating and rewarding. The systematic, intentional approaches outlined here can themselves be both, especially when they foster a real sense of ownership, involvement, and the prospect of change for the better. These approaches, in concert with hard work and campus–wide support, are also what lead to robust enrollment of enthusiastic students that are likely to persist and thrive.

After all, the objective should be to enjoy watching the ice cubes in your lemonade melt rather than your incoming class. This is precisely why there is no better time than right now to start planning for an effective summer.

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