Category Archives: Staff Development & Training

Training for Jerks: Five Tactics for Handling Difficult Team Members

Donny - Adventure Time

Managing difficult people on a staff is very challenging and can suck the life out of an otherwise awesome team. Granted, we all have our bad days and can treat each other in less than a civil manner from time to time, but there are those individuals who are habitually difficult and tactless on a daily basis. In other words, a jerk.

The best way to deal with jerks is to simply not have them on your team. One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve learned when hiring is this: fire fast, hire slow. This basically means to get rid of negative elements on your staff quickly while taking thorough time to recruit, screen, and hire new team members. Now this does not mean to simply boot a staffer that has a differing opinion than you or is having some difficulty with the job.

However, this does mean that you should strongly consider terminating someone if they are chronically negative, disrespectful, and ultimately affecting the mission and vision of your organization. Here are some tactics to consider when attempting to manage and train “jerks” that may rear their heads on your team:

1. TEAM RESPECT AS A CULTURAL EXPECTATION – Make it explicitly well known during the recruitment, hiring, and training phases that respect is the #1 hallmark of being a part of your team. Those applicants and / or current team members who do not display respect among others will not be a part of the team. Your team culture should be shared and celebrated; having positive and respectful teammates should be a part of that culture.

2. CONFRONT QUICKLY – Make it a habit to confront “jerk” behavior when it occurs: Confront, document, and educate. The sooner you handle problematic behavior, the quicker you can get back to business as usual. Not only will the offender get back in line, but others on your team will see that you are holding the standard that you have set, which will be appreciated.

3. REWARD “GOOD BEHAVIOR” – Make it a habit to recognize and reward kindness, civility, and generosity. This can occur during team meetings, publicly via social media, or through personal notes and supervisory one-on-one’s. Publicly acknowledging remarkable displays of positive teamwork will go a long way for continually communicating behavioral standards.

4. TEACH CONFLICT “RULES” – Teaching team members how to manage conflict among one another is crucial. Provide mediation and confrontation training so they are equipped with the necessary skills to respectfully handle disputes and differences of opinion among each other. Additionally, give them instructions for how problems are formally mediated per institution policy so they don’t result to making up their own process and making a bad situation worse.

5. CELEBRATE SUCCESS – Be explicit in what team goals will be celebrated. Minimize status differences among your team, and celebrate goals obtained by the entire team. This helps to emphasize the “we live and die as one” message. Celebrations don’t have to be overly fancy or expensive, such as lavish end-of-semester banquets or award ceremonies. Small and simple celebrations can work just as well (and be more economical and meaningful at the same time!) And, to be honest, don’t simply have the obligatory end-of-year bash. Celebrate successes that are related to the vision and mission of your organization and not “just because.”

Artwork courtesy of Chris Szczesiul. Check out his other awesome artwork!

Why Your Programming Sucks! (And What To Do About It)

sucks_stampCampus programming is part art and part science mixed with some luck. While programming efforts vary from institution to institution, there’s no denying that many veteran student affairs professionals agree that attracting the attention (and attendance) of college students has become increasingly difficult. With the advent of Facebook, Netflix, smart phones, and an ever growing catalog of video games and entertainment options, campus programming can easily be perceived as passé by someone out of the realm of Student Life.

Please understand that I myself am a programming “purist” and wholeheartedly believe that student programming efforts add to the extracurricular personal development of our students. However, programming without a strategic plan can lead to poor results, including a waste of time, resources, and the creation of disillusioned staffers and students alike. Having over 20 years of experience in campus programming, I would like to share some thoughts on why your programming sucks and what to do about it:

1. Your Programming is a Mainly a Means to an End: If your activities are simply there because it’s required of you, you’re probably not putting your heart and soul into program development. This is going to be obvious as you won’t be inspiring your staff or your students into putting forth innovative and quality work. If you don’t want to be there, your students certainly won’t want to be there either (i.e., circular causality). Furthermore, if you are programming simply for programming’s sake without any formal goals or student learning outcomes in mind, there’s a good chance your programming will become stale because there’s nothing to challenge you to push past mediocrity.

Resolve: Whether you’re an RA, hall coordinator, assistant director of student activities, or director of a student affairs department, if you find programming a chore and something you have to do for the paycheck, it’s time to refocus and recharge or simply get out. You can refocus by finding out what colleagues are doing across the country. Suggestions include subscribing to Student Affairs blogs, reading tweets from other college and university departments, participating in webinars, and attending regional and national conferences. Get out of your own department and find other colleagues at your institution who inspire you and achieve great results with their own programs. Additionally, ASK FOR HELP if you find yourself struggling.

2. You Concentrate Solely on Attendance: While numbers are certainly good, they shouldn’t be the sole reason for why you program. Rather than focusing on worthwhile activities that students will appreciate and find worth their time, programmers can easily fall into the trap of offering gimmicks and prizes to attract attendees. Of course pizza, gift cards, and t-shirts are awesome, but don’t create a situation in which students only come to grab the free stuff and bolt.

Resolve: Refer to your department and university’s mission and vision when developing your programs for the semester and year. Determine the purpose behind your programming and plan accordingly. If success is only determined by numbers at your institution, I challenge you to illustrate the student learning outcomes you achieve to your superiors rather than following status quo. It is hard to argue against programs that foster student development and education. (It’s even better if you can do this without spending a lot of money to achieve those results!)

3. Your Marketing is Lacking: Throwing up a few flyers and sending out an email and a tweet isn’t going to cut it. Students are inundated with loads of information and a lackluster advertising effort will go unnoticed. In large part, the bulk of students don’t care about what you’re doing. Furthermore, if they don’t see your message, they can’t make plans to attend.

Resolve: For all intents and purposes, your marketing campaign should be as well planned as the program itself. Try to make the marketing fun as well. A message that sets itself apart from all of the other “noise” of departments hawking their events will have a better chance of getting noticed. Don’t simply use one avenue of marketing, such as only using Facebook, but use all of the tools you have, including social media, email, handwritten personal invites, flyers, announcements at organization meetings, sidewalk chalk, and even guerilla marketing techniques.

4. You’re Trying Too Hard or Not Trying Hard Enough: We’re not going to compete with the likes of Playstation, Netflix, and off-campus parties so don’t try to. You’ll quickly burn yourself out on multiple half-assed programs that little if nobody will attend. On the other hand, if you’re hosting programs that you yourself wouldn’t want to attend, why would you think your students would come? Programming takes creativity, and most importantly, hard work.

Resolve: Sometimes simple can be better. In large part, students want the opportunity to interact with one another and do something fun. If you can add in some education in there, all the better. Yet, you can’t just throw a pizza in the study lounge and expect 100 people to show up. Float some ideas by a bunch of students prior to rolling out a program. You’ll get a quick sense whether or not an idea is decent or not. Also, consider giving some program types a rest while bringing old ones back that haven’t been done in awhile. What’s new is old, and what’s old is new.

Good coordinated and creative programming is challenging, but should be fun for you, your staff, and your students. Spend the time to develop a programming and marketing plan to ensure better success. And if something doesn’t work, get rid of it. Don’t hang onto traditions just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Programming needs to stay fresh, innovative, and fun.

For further information regarding programming, I encourage you to read Developing Activities (Free 650+ Activities Handout) as well as What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)

Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

Now is the time Student Life staffers are looking for advice and resources regarding spring training for student employees and student leaders. Each college and university has its own tradition regarding how they provide training at the beginning of the spring semester whether its for resident advisors, orientation leaders, student government representatives, and other student leaders. The philosophy behind that training and how its implemented can be very different from institution to institution. In some cases the results of spring training can be largely ineffective.

Here are some questions to consider and strategies to implement as you assess your own spring training program:

Do You Have Loosely Defined Learning Outcomes? What is the purpose of your training? What is it that you want your students to learn as a result of attending your training? Do you have any formal or informal learning assessments to implement during and after your training? Define what you want your students to learn and create your training to teach that knowledge. Don’t simply present random topics loosely related to your department and hope that your students will learn something from it. Create short and simple surveys, quizzes, and / or require a demonstration of some sort so you can determine if they learned what you wanted them to learn.

Are You Are Training for Training’s Sake? Is your training strategically created or are you simply following tradition of what was done in the past? Take stock in the value of your current training practices and assess whether or not you need to need to modify it. I don’t like to waste people’s time, and I don’t like my time wasted. With that being said, create something that is worth everyone’s time. Don’t simply bring students and / or staff back early just for the sake of bringing them back early and force lackluster training content. Also, don’t outsource all of your sessions to guest speakers from across campus who may not add real value to your training just to get a training schedule together.

Is Your Training Actually “Training” At All? Are you scrambling to find activities just to fill the schedule? Is your schedule mostly filled with social rather than educational activities? What would happen if you didn’t have your spring training altogether? Would it truly be missed and have a negative impact on your semester? Have sessions that are impactful, memorable, and directly relate to your daily “business.” Understand that fun activities and team bonding are appropriate as a part of training, but they should not constitute your entire schedule.

*** Photo courtesy of Tomasz Szkopiñski