Change is constant. We all learn to respond to it, but few master the art of inspiring transformation in the hearts and minds of those around them (we can’t all be Ted Lasso!).
To shed light on what makes someone a true change leader, I sat down with Dr. Joffery Gaymon. As Vice President for Enrollment Management at Auburn University, and Enroll360 partner, Dr. Gaymon has championed several initiatives that have fostered a culture of adaptability and positively influenced enrollment at AU. Here are her lessons for other enrollment leaders.
“We’re in the business of changing lives.”
ABG: I'd love to hear about your enrollment philosophy and what inspires you.
JG: I think it's interesting that your topic of discussion is change management because that’s what enrollment leaders do. We try to help an institution realize its potential. Being a change agent, managing change and expectations falls in line with the nature of the beast. Specifically for Auburn, it's been very exciting to see the change that comes with having a stronger strategy in place and then realigning resources to help move in the right direction. It's also been exciting to see the success that's happened so quickly. And I think we're just getting started.
We're in the business of changing lives and I think that's what excites me every day. When good things happen at an institution, great things happen around the community. So that is what excites me about working at Auburn, but also within enrollment management.
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“Change is what we do.”
ABG: How have you thought through changes to your enrollment strategy?
JG: Well, I think we have never really had a clear enrollment strategy as an institution, in terms of “Who are we going to attract? Who are we going to enroll? Who are we not enrolling or attracting? What are we going to do to fill in the gaps? And then, 20 years from now, what do we want the university to look like?”
When I got here, we were in the process of finishing up our strategic plan and there was a lot of language about enrollment, managing it, coming up with a tactical plan, and then developing pathways. As a land grant institution, it was stronger language about access and affordability and ensuring that we are focused on enrolling students within the state. That set the tone for us. Since then, we really have been fine-tuning the strategy.
I would say for a university that's methodical about change, my area is very comfortable with it. Change is what we do. As an open system, if we don't change or adapt, then we will not be successful.
“People want to feel like they've been heard.”
ABG: Given the shift from not having a dedicated strategy to being very methodical, have you found any tools or strategies particularly useful for getting others on board with change?
JG: Number one, it's about knowing the campus which you serve. Knowing the culture of the campus you serve. Though we are a large, complex organization, we are very relational in culture. You would not think that you are at a large institution with over 30,000 students by the way in which we interact. Relationships do matter. It’s important to not lose that while trying to move in the right direction.
People want to feel like they've been heard. We are very intentional about having mindful opportunities for that, which I call “stakeholder engagements.” With COVID, we all got very comfortable trading face time for Zoom, but at a school where people value relationships, they need face time—it's important. I'll have regular standing meetings with each college and their leadership and it's a great opportunity to continue to build relationships.
I share updates, and they share what's important to them and what's happening in their college. The meetings have been helpful because they feel like they've had an opportunity to be heard. We talk about our big-ticket items, and they have an opportunity to provide some of their priorities. So, it's not one-way.
I also have standing engagements with academic leadership, and some of my staff have standing meetings with their counterparts within each academic college. We try to ensure that we get some things across and also provide space for organic conversations. In addition to that, I have an enrollment management council that pulls together other stakeholders. For my institution, it's one of many things that need to take place for people to feel heard and a part of the process. It's an opportunity to provide context, get their feedback, and build relationships.
Reflection question: In cross-department meetings, how can you ensure that others feel heard?
“We always close the loop.”
ABG: Have you experienced pushback? And if so, how have you handled that?
JG: I think the biggest pushback we get is a healthy tension. It’s when we have competing priorities that are not aligned. When people feel heard, they feel like they’ve had an opportunity to provide their input, and they feel like changes are not coming from the top down, then there is a common understanding. They may not like the change, but they’re more likely to embrace it.
And we always close the loop. We always provide an opportunity for input. It’s an ongoing process. I think typically, where we struggle is when there are competing priorities. It helps to show folks where we are, and how we can work together to meet the overall university’s goals.
Reflection question: How do you provide feedback after meetings with other teams?
“Progress is progress, but…”
ABG: Do you have any resources that you would recommend others check out?
JG: Yes, I did a Harvard professional development program, years ago, and it was the management leadership, development program. It’s a two-week engagement, and one of the books is called ‘Immunity to Change.’ The author of the book was one of Harvard’s faculty members.
The book talks about why people are resistant to change. And it gives the analogy of like, say you’re in a car and you got one foot on the gas and then one foot on the brake. You know what you need to do to get going, but you just can’t let go. And that’s why some people are immune to change. The book talks about how to help based on the person, based on the situation, based on the environment, understanding the environment, and how to help. And at the very least how to take baby steps in that environment, ‘cause you can’t move... You don’t do anything by pressing your foot all the way on the gas. If your foot is still on the brake, you’re going to waste gas and energy.
It also talks about the cadence at which you can successfully move forward. Because progress is progress, but you need to move forward while allowing people to understand they’re safe. And essentially, it’s what innovation and change are. It’s small little steps in the right direction. It’s a great book.
Reflection question: Do you seek out resources to help you with change management?
“Celebrate the small wins.”
ABG: Do you have any other advice or words of wisdom for other enrollment leaders?
JG: I would say, stay sane and stay in the field. I think the work is hard. It’s rewarding though. I mean, oftentimes we have to remind ourselves. I think that we get focused on the hard, the challenging, the upset people, and this boulder that we're pushing uphill, that we often forget to celebrate the small wins. So that would be my advice is to try to take time to celebrate small little wins.
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