Just a few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a number of uninterrupted days at the beach with my family. The beach is my favorite spot; it’s always just what I need to disconnect and recharge. 

During my time there, in between the boogie boards and boardwalk fries, I found myself in the ocean looking out into a pretty deep horizon without a cloud in the sky or boat obstructing the view. I find a lot of peace in this space, floating in the ocean looking off into the distance. I’m not certain if it’s the distance from land (which to be fair isn’t very far because I’m not crazy), the physical distance from my phone or the distance from general responsibility on PTO, but it’s in these moments where I think the most about opportunity with a fresh sense of clarity.

The ocean, as we know, is humongous. We’ve explored less than five percent of it. The sky just keeps going in the opposite direction until we’re in space and we’ve only explored about four percent of the universe that we can actually see—it is literally limitless. So when I’m in a spot where these two intersect, you can imagine why I think about possibility. I have no aspirations to go to space, nor do I seek to travel to the bottom of the sea, but I do love to help people think about what could be. That’s my job—guide prospective clients in exploring opportunity and articulating pathways for discovery and success. 

Exploring undiscovered space 

Part of my role at RHB is to help clients understand that there’s a lot of undiscovered space between where we sit as consultants and an institution’s end goal. In fact, there’s usually a lot of undiscovered space between where prospective clients sit and their aspirations. Portals don’t just magically appear. Organization assessments occur because of gaps in, well, organizations. Enrollment communications require analysis to ensure we’ve got the tone, topic and design aligned. Determining and changing market position requires a whole host of activities built to get at the core of what is true about your institution.  Everything we do requires discovery. Everything. 

When we present this to clients as a part of our proposals, we’re sometimes met with questions about how discovery impacts timelines and delivery of that end goal. To be transparent, the addition of discovery as a part of our process sometimes pushes those desired timelines back by a few weeks. But that push is necessary to get it right the first time. 

However, you aren’t here to read about my experience and approach to business acquisition or our recommended processes for successful projects. You’re here because you read that word “horizons” in the title and were intrigued enough to read on. Maybe you want to know just how to unpack your own pathway toward a rising sun. Perhaps you’re part of the way there and the waves crashing on the shore are in your rearview mirror. If you’re lucky, you’re on a catamaran during golden hour with a few good colleagues ready to glide off toward another coast. 

The horizon is not the goal, but what we’re always seeking 

The horizon is different for everyone, it holds varying levels of significance and, as we know, you can’t actually ever reach it. Often, we think about the horizon as the goal—that’s where we want to be. In fact, we want the horizon to be something we’re always seeking. Our goals are beautiful islands along the way. And each time we set sail again, our boat is bigger, better equipped and we have a more knowledgeable crew. 

When it comes to projects, we sometimes need help just stepping into the boat. Who are the stakeholders and how have they been identified? What’s our timeline and how is that impacted by other departmental or institutional goals? Why are we doing this to begin with? What will the end product yield for our team or for our students? Is this even realistic? How will we assess success and what will be the key indicators on which we can judge? What do we hope to learn? What experience do we hope to create?

It’s so easy to get caught up in a deliverable that humans sometimes skip steps in order to get there faster, focusing so much on the end product that important decisions are missed along the way. The wind is blowing so hard in your sail to get to point B that you don’t realize you’ve left shore without water to hydrate or an anchor to pause when needed. 

Discovery is at the core of everything we do

When we enter into an engagement at RHB, these are the types of questions—among many others—that we aid institutions in uncovering if the work hasn’t already been done. Discovery is at the core of everything we do. Sometimes, discovery yields significant gaps in a project plan or a system limitation. Other times, discovery lands a team significant kudos on work already accomplished. (That’s our favorite kind.)

During Slate Summit earlier this summer, I had several conversations with individuals about the opportunity to bring search in house. You’ve got the most powerful CRM for higher ed, it just makes sense. While the entry point to the conversation was how to implement, I had to take each conversation back to the strategic aspect. 

For over a decade, RHB has paved the way in integrating the strategic side of search, the development of content, the creativity of design and the implementation of systems in the higher education space, aiding institutions in deploying in-house solutions that impact prospective students and their families. But it’s one thing to implement a series of templates that have been repurposed from institution to institution. It’s something completely different to dive into understanding your institution’s one spot in the universe. 

This discovery allows for a completely bespoke experience that resonates explicitly with the values of an institution and, more importantly, how to articulate that position to students and families. These are all things that we do at RHB and one of the reasons I’m so excited to be a part of this team. The opportunity to have the sometimes tough conversations with clients about the perception of their market position versus the reality opens a door of opportunity for an institution to drop an anchor for a bit, rechart and perhaps take the boat in a different direction that will better equip it for future voyages.

There will always be a horizon. Figuring out how to outfit your boat, how to staff your crew and how to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters on your way are the real tasks at hand. It’s incredibly invigorating to think about possibility as you look far off into the distance. But don’t forget to put the work in in advance to get over the breakers as you leave the shore.

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Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President of Relationship Development at RHB.