Relationship-Building and the Intersection of Enrollment, Marketing and Technology

RHB Vice President for Enrollment Management Ken Anselment, Vice President for Client Technology Erin Gore, Senior Vice President for Relationship Development Alex Williams and Vice President for Marketing Leadership Rob Zinkan recently led a webinar as part of the Leading Edge Thinking in Higher Education Series from Bay Path University’s Center for Higher Education Leadership and Innovative Practice (CHELIP). In the webinar, they share guidance and examples for institutions looking to strengthen relationship-building efforts and effectiveness across the constituent lifecycle. You can watch the recording here (registration required), and a transcript of the webinar is below.

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Alex Williams 

Welcome, everybody…Our topic today is…related to relationship building and the intersection of enrollment, marketing, and technology.

RHB was founded in 1991 and is uniquely poised in the industry, having worked with over 300 institutions in all of these areas. Part of my job at RHB is to really help our clients figure out how these elements intersect with one another. We have four practices at RHB, and we’re going to be touching on those today and how those interrelate in ways that institutions may not always think, so focusing on enrollment management, and I’ll let my colleagues introduce themselves in just a moment, executive counsel, institutional marketing, and Slate and related technology.

As we think about these things, when we were prepping for this webinar, the direction that we were thinking about going was thinking about what are the core things that institutions ask us about most when they’re coming to RHB for guidance or counsel. In the institutional marketing side and executive counsel, really that starts in the realm of strategic planning. Dr. Zinkan, who’s going to introduce himself in just a second, has literally written the book on that with Dr. Aimee Hosemann on our staff, having surveyed recently 108 institutions about what makes a strategic plan strategic. So thinking about how that really presents across the entire institution really sets the stage nicely for all of the components that we’re going to be chatting about today, because really, all of these elements interplay with one another to really come up and hit the goals of what a strategic plan really focuses on.

That segues down into how is an organization composed? And so when we’re thinking about future-ready organization, capability assessments, we’re thinking about things like how is an organization structured, who’s on what teams, do we have right folks in right seats, and how are they kind of working with other individuals to ensure that an institution is fostering a community or a culture that has creativity, allows productivity, and allows everybody to be most efficient in their jobs? And we take that down another level when we focus on specifically in the enrollment management realm, which is what Ken is going to really chime in with today. I’m thinking about strategic enrollment planning and what do strategic communications look like and how can we influence how we speak about our institution to our constituents, students’ perspective, and their families as well?

And then that ties into this technology piece. A lot of times, institutions will come to RHB and say, “I need to implement a CRM because I need to get this comm flow up and running.” Okay, great. Let’s talk about the discovery that needs to go into that to really build out an effective comm flow. What is that going to look like, and how is that going to inform the buildout of a tool? Erin is going to really chime in today with what does technology mean in all of this and where does it fit in with the greater strategy that we have at an institution. So focusing on things specifically at RHB on Technolutions Slate, if you’re familiar with that CRM, guiding those implementations, and as well as advanced configurations of the system.

But before we get too deep into that…I’ll let my colleagues introduce themselves. Again, I’m Alex Williams, I’m SVP for Relationship Development here. I’ll also be wrapping up this with the questions at the end as well and guiding what that looks like for us today. But if we want to go around. Rob?

Rob Zinkan

Thanks, Alex…I have the pleasure of serving as Vice President for Marketing Leadership at RHB, and have been with RHB for three and a half years. Previously I was at Indiana University for nearly two decades in a variety of roles. Side note: I have the pleasure of serving as an adjunct faculty member in Bay Path University’s Higher Education and Organizational Studies program and get to work with first-year doctoral students. I’ll pass to Erin.

Erin Gore

Great, thanks, Rob. Hi, my name is Erin Gore. I’m the Vice President for Client Technology here at RHB, and I have the pleasure of leading the Slate and Related Technology practice, which Alex touched upon a bit. We’re the foremost leader of the application of Technolutions Slate, which is the most widely adopted CRM in higher education. We also provide expert consultation and implementation services to help institutions carry out their process and achieve their goals through technology, which I’m very excited to talk more about. I’ll go ahead and pass to Ken.

Ken Anselment

Hey, everybody. I’m Ken Anselment, I’m the VP for Enrollment Management at RHB, broadcasting to you live from not-so-sunny Appleton, Wisconsin, which is where I have been living for the last… Well, for a long time, but I joined the RHB team on May 3rd, 2022. The day before that, I was the Vice President for Enrollment at Lawrence University, a role I’d had for 18 years there. And so, when we start talking about how colleges talk about themselves, I’ll be sharing some of the experiences of how liberal arts colleges and others can more clearly and coherently articulate their differences in the marketplace rather than sounding like each other.

The enrollment management team is one of our faster growing teams on the RHB team. We’ve got three of us right now who are working with clients, helping them with enrollment strategies, search strategies, communication strategies, financial ai, awarding. You name it, we’re working on it with our clients. And so, really excited to share some more perspectives with you a little bit later, but thanks.


Thanks, everybody…I’ve already talked to you all about how wonderful RHB is and the work that we are doing here, but wanted to say that’s really founded in a basis of discovery. A lot of times when we’re having conversations with clients, we’re so focused, or institutions I should say, are so focused on what the outcome’s going to be that we really have to help them take a step back and focus on let’s do some core discovery here. We have a number of methodologies at RHB that help us get at that information that really sets us up for success when we’re going to deploy the strategy or execute a particular plan in the system.

But I think a key thread that’s going through all of this is really focus on lifecycle from the student. The unique thing about RHB is we’re poised in such a way that allows us to inject our expertise at all of the stages of that student lifecycle process, and Rob is going to look at that. But instead, you can see here from focusing on a fixed point in time, we want to make sure that we have a coherent journey for that student as they go through the entire experience with your institution. Rob, next slide.


Yes, and that is certainly easier said than done. This one is really hard because higher education institutions are largely organized into functional silos while our audiences or our constituents view the institution more holistically. So if we were to ask you, “Who on your campus or what office at your institution is in charge of this full life cycle of a student?”, what would the answer be? It’s probably no one. No one has that full constituent or full lifecycle view. Everyone has a role to play, but no one’s necessarily waking up every day thinking about this charge of helping their institution play the long game.

So, how might your work or your office’s interactions, your communications with your core audiences change or shift if you stepped back and reframe constituent relationships in a more holistic way? Ideally, these experiences, these communications, they’re timely to your audiences, they’re relevant, they’re seamless, and personalized as more of an integrated journey across this full lifecycle that you see from perspective student to current student to graduate, ideally an engaged alum and donor. So creating that continuum that Alex mentioned, what it requires is what you see here, putting the student in the center, not the organization, which is what we often see in practice, where the institution would be at the center and the circles would be more about individual offices and departments whose work is sometimes connected but other times not connected.

A place where we see these friction points or areas of disconnect are often at transitions, going from a current student to a graduate, for instance. I have a son who’s a senior in college, and I think what the typical experience for him or other graduates come this May will be, as they become alumni and they shift, is that they go to a different office, different staff members who are responsible for that particular audience segment, and likely a different information system. And so, do those new graduates then, do they have to essentially reintroduce themselves to their own institution, or would it be more of a seamless transition? That’s the question here, do your communications reflect the organizational chart of your institution when the audience though views the institution in a more holistic way, not as disparate offices or units? Or do your communications reflect everything that you know about a constituent?

That gets into this concept on the next slide of coherence, and this guiding principle of coherence for our work and our client’s work: discovering and telling the truth about the one place your institution occupies in the higher education universe and aligning behaviors with that position. This point is so timely. Last week, I saw yet another example of a university launching a new brand, and that presumes that an institution gets to choose its brand. But it, that’s up to our audiences. Again, putting the audiences at the center. Audiences, our constituents, they decide our brand. But, we, our institution, we get to decide our market position. We get to choose a position of who our institution intends to be in relation to other institutions. And so, coherence is aligning that distinction between position and our brand.

What we say about ourselves, obviously, should be the truth. It should be in line with what our constituents expect from us, which is our brand, and it should be in line with what our constituents then actually encounter with us. So, do you have all the institutional behaviors in place that would support that market position so that it’s actually experienced by students who come to your institution? That becomes the task or the challenge is making sure that all of those experiences, all of those institutional behaviors, communications and so on, everything that you say, everything that you do point to that market position that you’ve chosen. And then once you do that and then that is experienced repeatedly, you continue to repeat that through coherent experiences, coherent communications, then that shapes brand, that builds awareness and trust. And then that’s how people come to identify the brand that you intend, not simply by launching a new brand.

So onto the next slide. You don’t start at that destination, you arrive at your destination. So you choose a market position or you choose to change your market position. That requires an understanding of where you currently are, your current state. Alex mentioned earlier our strategic planning research. What we saw across 108 strategic plans is that nearly two-thirds of them lacked any market orientation, meaning those plans were not informed by environmental scans or surveys with constituents or key audiences. No shortage of goals or clarity around where we want to go, those were articulated, but the exact starting point and the current institutional position was often less clear. We’re great in higher ed often at saying where we want to go but sometimes not as clear about understanding our current position. Obviously, to draw a map to where you want to go, you have to know the starting point.

A starting point or understanding your current position can be done by answering three foundational questions. On the next slide, these three foundational questions, number one, what is true about us? What is true about our institution? What is the real experience that students will have as part of your institution? And then number two, what do we say is true about us? What do we say is true about our institution? And we’ll talk much more about this point coming up. And then number three, what do others say and believe to be true about us, about our institution, that’s our brand. Would the answers to those questions reveal coherence for your institution, or are there gaps? Where are those gaps? So these three foundational questions and then triangulating the findings from those, that would give you your position, that would give you a great starting point and help you understand, do you have that coherence that’s required?

And then next slide please. Key formula that also guides our work and the colleges and universities that we have the privilege of working with is this formula that relevance delivers relationships and that deliver revenue. The focus of today’s session is on constituent relationship building, and that starts with relevance, and requires your institution to bring relevance to every interaction, all those encounters with the audiences that matter to your institution. So it could be everything as simple as an RFI form where you’re asking for name and email, but are you offering something of value in return for that? How are you delivering relevance? One quick example, my former institution used a design thinking process to reimagine the alumni association membership. They asked a set of alumni to write either a love letter to the university or a breakup letter to the university. The breakup letters had a common theme, as you might suspect, with the sentiment of, “Well, all you do is ask us for money or ask me for money.”

So that’s getting to the revenue without delivering the relevance to alumni that is needed to develop a strong relationship that then eventually leads to revenue. And again, this puts the onus on you and your institution to always be assessing your value creation. How are you bringing relevance to the constituents that you want to reach and influence and move to action? Across our work, Alex mentioned this full lifecycle, and we often talk about student lifetime value. Again, it may be tempting to look at that only through the perspective of revenue and the revenue that a student could bring to the institution over the course of their lifetime, student broadly defined, but that would not be coherent. It’s not just that financial value to the institution. What’s the value to the student? What does lifetime value mean to them? What is the value for that student, that person, that individual to be engaged in the life of the institution for their lifetime?

With that, I want to pass to colleagues. One thing, as I turn to Ken, we’ve jumped right into this terminology that can sometimes make some of our campus colleagues maybe feel a bit uneasy sometimes: marketing, brand, revenue, and then there’s customer. But what we’re trying to do is help orient our perspective to the customer and their experience with our institution.


Did you just say that naughty word, customer, Rob?…One of the things, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and maybe it’s because I’m reading or rereading Peter Drucker right now, but one of the things, in fact, I have the quote nearby, “You cannot arrive at the right definition of results without significant input from your customers.” And he says, “And please do not get into a debate over that term. In business, a customer is someone you must satisfy. If you don’t, you have no results, and pretty soon you have no business.”

In higher ed I think we excel at getting caught up in language sometimes, as Rob was saying. I even saw a debate, I don’t know if you can call it a debate, but a conversation on LinkedIn. One person said something about treating your students like customers. Another person said, “They’re students. End of story.” I think that hangup on treating them just as students and not thinking about them as customers is one of the places where we miss the opportunity to build those relationships over time and how you actually make it easier for your students that you recruit to make it to the next step, which is to come back for year two and year three and work their way towards completing a degree.

We could take a page out of some of the corporate handbook. In fact, I got this message from… not that you need to see all of it… but Bergstrom Cadillac and Chevrolet here in Appleton, right around this time in our lease agreement with them will get in touch with us because we have been leasing Chevys from them for a while. They send us a note that says, “Hey, your lease is about to come up for renewal. We’d like to get you in your next car.” They know when to get in touch with us, they know how to recruit us and invite us in for a conversation to make sure that we stay brand loyal. But anyway, I don’t want to go too far down that because I’m going to get into that a little bit further when we talk about building the relationship. I know we also wanted to talk with Erin about technology.


It’s all related.


For sure.


Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting listening to Rob chat about relevance, and Ken as well, because we were thinking about bringing relevance to every exchange with a student along the lifecycle and their experience. It got me thinking about the power of pausing to reflect on your process. Because I think too often, and it’s appropriately often, we think about how to create a more unified and integrated approach to the student and constituent lifecycle and how they interact with the technology. But you’ve got to think about their experience in interactions with the technology as well, and think about your process.

Although you can build effective relationships on and off campus with technology such as CRM systems and student information systems, it’s really just a set of features and tools. It’s not the strategy, it doesn’t define your process. It helps you execute your process and your strategy and better organize and automate and track and look at engagements with folks. But it’ll do what you tell it to do, so you have to know what you want to do. You have to ask that question. That’s really what’s going to get you to that more integrated approach. We have an example. Often we work with institutions in thinking about even something like the structure of their college application, or working with large graduate programs, have a lot of pages in their applications, a lot of faculty on campus that might have input and so forth. And jump right into the conversation about how to just build this in Slate or how to just build this using technology. I’m going to jump right to the technology when it’s just as important to stop, pause, and look at the current state of your application and think about not just the administrative experience, but what is the student experience in filling out that application.

Where are there ways to streamline, make it easier? Is it giving us the information we need from an evaluative standpoint? Those are questions that the technology itself isn’t going to answer for you, but it is something that you can have conversation around and the technology can help deploy it and streamline it for you. That’s just one example. Sure, we’ll talk about more today, but something I want to bring up is that conversations around current state pain points, future state opportunities should be had, as well as thinking about process strategy and goals and alignment around that, things that need to take place outside of the technology before jumping straight into configuring the technology itself to meet process needs. There has to be alignment. Next slide, please.

And just as we’re saying, aligning position, strategy, and goals, and that goes beyond even talking about technology itself, but when there’s alignment there, you’re going to be more effective. That’s how you create greater value. This is why we consistently use discovery, Alex chatted about this before, to learn more about your process needs and your goals. I think a good example here is even thinking about communications. We do a lot of work with communications, a lot of work with communications and marketing planning. Communication, recruitment planning, that doesn’t happen in the a CRM system like Slate itself. It doesn’t happen in the software platform itself. We can think about ways to automate and track and report on communications because sometimes that’s the first thing that institutions want to jump to. They want to think about the metrics. They want to think about open rates and click rates and things like that, or jump this communication plan in the CRM so we can automate.

We can do that, but let’s stop and pause, once again, and thinking about your audiences and your goals. Are your communications aligned with market position? Is your message coherent with the constituent experience? Another good example too is the work that we do with bringing college search in-house. Ken, if there’s things you want to add to that as well and the value of having those conversations through discovery and looking at current state before reimagining part of your process in using technology to carry it out.


Yeah, I know there’s always the urgency of now in the work that we do. The cycles come quickly, they overlap quickly. We’re doing multi-year recruitment. We’ll talk a little bit about that in a bit. But one of the things that I know that folks will sometimes get impatient when they’re feeling urgent is to get to the solution right away. And one of the things we’ll often urge is to pause, as my colleagues have been saying, and to go back to what Rob had mentioned earlier, which is, okay, what is actually true about the institution? What are you saying is true about the institution? Are those two things aligned with each other?

One way to find that out is to actually go to the current student experience. In fact, we’re talking with some colleagues at a particular college right now who are hyper-aware of the fact that the language and the story that have been told to the students who have said yes to the institution changes as soon as they get there. The experience is still a wonderful experience, but the tone, the way that students are treated once they get to the institution is out of alignment with the way that the institution has been recruiting them. And so, part of what we do then is we’ll go in and we’ll talk to students, we’ll get a sense of what their experience is like. We’ll also look at what the institution has been saying about itself and look to see if there are alignments or misalignments there.

In fact, we can move over to the next slide. I think that might be useful because we start talking about brand lying in the specific, something that my colleagues at RHB say all the time, they said it to me all the time when I was a client at Lawrence University too. When I was in my role, one of the things that we did at my institution, and I think that’s many of us in small liberal arts colleges or pick your sector of the marketplace are really good at is not being bold about who you are. You want to be everything to everybody because you don’t want to leave any stone unturned. And in the process, you end up sounding just like everybody else, “We are a small residential liberal arts college where our faculty really care about our students and make themselves available outside the classroom. They have office hours, blah, blah-blah, blah-blah.”

What we really need to start getting at is, great, those are all fine and dandy. What else have you got? That’s not quite exactly how we ask it, but we want to find out what the secret sauce is of your institution so that you can, while sounding like some of the colleges that you’re trying to compete with, also articulate your difference. One of the things that Rick Bailey I remember said to me when we had actually gotten through the first exercise of discovery is he wanted to make sure it was abundantly clear in the minds of prospective students who chose not to enroll at Lawrence University what they were giving up by going to the alternative. That mindset shift really shifted the way we started thinking about and talking about ourselves. What it meant was we weren’t telling the whole story, we were focusing on specific elements. And there’s a danger in that, because once you start talking about specific things, that means you might have some things that aren’t going to be appealing to a broad section of the marketplace. That’s okay. It’s weird, it may seem counterintuitive, but the more specific you can get about your institution, the more people understand how and why you’re different and the more likely they are to know what they’re saying yes to and maybe even pay more of what you’re asking them to pay.

We’ve seen with some of our clients early in the engagement what happens when you are not specific about your institution. You end up being in a position where you’re competing less on who you are, less on your value, and more on price, and it becomes a commodified position. In a market that is so competitive, those marginal differences can make a significant difference between making your budget and missing your budget for the next year. And so, we always encourage our clients to go through an exercise that sometimes is a leap of faith and takes an act of courage to put into play, but to really embrace who you are and also who you’re not, and make sure that that is true. And you tell it in a relevant and resonant and clear and coherent way and that it’s consistent from the point the students discover you to the point they deposit to the point they work all the way through to their degree.

I forget if it was Mark Twain or who said this quote, but if you’re always telling the truth, you never have to keep track of the record, or something like that. Better read people know what the quote is, but it’s something like, “Always telling the truth makes it a lot easier to keep track of things.” I’m going to have to look this up and maybe follow up with that. But point being, specificity matters. It can sometimes be counterintuitive, but it’s the key to enrollment growth. I think it’s one of the significant keys to carving out a more distinctive position in the marketplace that people are willing to pay more for. Not get all the full pay students, but fuller pay students. 

Balancing the short term and long term, we said something about this earlier. So many folks in the enrollment position, pick your spot, but I’ll speak to the one I’m most familiar with, we’re often focused on the next class. It never seems like there’s enough time to get the work done. But one of the things that we’re always encouraging our clients to do is not just think about the next class, but think about the two to three to four classes after that. I know we have this thing of a demographic cliff or a demographic decline or a black diamond slope, whatever you want to call it, coming up on the horizon. But while you are working to recruit the next class, what are the things you’re putting in place to ensure that your institution is going to be attractive, relevant, worth the investment?

And it’s not just about promotion, as I hear my colleague Dr. Zinkan say over and over and over again, but it’s really also about product and programming. What are the things that you’re putting in place to ensure that students can find their way to your institution and stay at your institution? And also, who is at the table when you’re making decisions about what you’re offering on the academic side but also on the student success and student support side? Is it just faculty or is it a full representation of the expertise you have at the table? Does marketing have a role in those conversations? Does your enrollment leadership have a role in those conversations? If they don’t, strongly encourage them to, because I think sometimes colleges can convince themselves that there is a particular academic program that they need to put out into the water because it really vibes with what the faculty like, but it may not have a market out there. And so it’s making sure that the decisions you’re making institutionally about your offerings are not just capitalizing on institutional strength but also on market potential. 


Adding to that as well is moving from a state of reactivity to proactivity too, building a strong foundation for your data and technology that’s sustainable with an eye on the future. It might start with thinking about how you are best engaging in building relationships with prospective students, but looking ahead about how you can continue to use technology to build relationships with current students, recent graduates, potential donors, and so forth.

Speaking of that, you’ve got to invest in technology and people. Investing in technology and investing in people aren’t mutually exclusive investments. Too often, and I may or may not have been in that position on the other side of the desk as well, when I had worked in higher education for over a decade, there are so many times you hear, my colleagues here have probably heard it as well, you hear people say in an office on campus, “I’m a one-person show. Now I’ve got to do this and that and implement this system and figure out my communication plan.” Because oftentimes you’ll see campuses invest in the technology and sometimes throw it to band-aid a situation or a solution when we need to take time to think about not only investing in technology, but who are the people that are going to be managing it, implementing it, focusing on the current state in the short term, keeping an eye on the long term, and continuing to manage the systems going forward. How do you invest in these people? Are you invested in professionally developing people on campus in terms of their technical skills and acumen? Are you invested in building the relationships on campus that are needed to collaborate on projects even beyond technology, projects that go into talking about market position and strategy and communication planning and so forth?

But what about those projects such as implementing a new campus software platform or a CRM system, like Slate which we work with? When you invest in that time and space and development of people, or if we’re going back to Drucker knowledge workers on your campus, you’re going to be able to more easily navigate change because change management, there’s a huge, huge, huge component to navigating a new implementation of technology on campus. And also thinking about governance and team structure, being willing to invest time to think critically about that, because that’s going to create more value through technology and that’s going to ultimately make you more effective.

A big key to building a strong foundation around your data as well, and systems, is strong communication in the process, transparency, and team governance around managing the systems. And I’d say sprinkled with a little strategic optimism. Because I think sometimes we’re like, “Keep in mind of this and these challenges you’ve got to think of,” but a lot of the stuff we’re talking about too, and we even think about the word change that can make your blood pressure go through the roof, but when you invest in people in that space and time, also invest in creating an environment that embraces change of strategic optimism. It doesn’t mean you ignore the challenges, you face them head on, but you’ll look at it in terms of thinking about opportunity, even if it means thinking about opportunities to change process, reimagine process, maybe even reimagine a bit of your team structure and what’s going to make sense. Because just like a house, I love talking about houses when I talk about software systems, you want to reimagine things. You don’t always want to think about shoving old furniture and old processes into a new house. You want to think about the new furniture and the new opportunities.


Yeah, I would add on to that when we’re thinking about this, a way that we talk about technology implementation or CRM specifically implementation with institutions is we have to reshape how institutions think about an implementation and help them take those steps back. A phrase that we like to use at RHB is people and processes before platform. So understanding exactly what those processes are. When we enter into an engagement for CRM specifically of an implementation, we go to campus, we do discovery sessions. Those discovery sessions are all about process. We rarely even pull up the platform at all. But we also want to have a strong understanding of what is the team composition, to Erin’s point just now. Is this going to be a one-person managed or a half-time job for somebody? Or in some cases we have a team of nine folks that we’re working with on an implementation, and who’s going to be the decision maker long term? And what is sustainability going to look like?

It’s important for us to flesh those things out with an institution because we can set expectations for timeline of an implementation or the things that we’re going to develop. What an institution needs to help set internal expectations on is what’s this going to look like from a sustainability aspect and who is going to be responsible for this long term. That really does tie into some of these other elements. I’m reminded of a recent…Ken, another colleague and I had a really fantastic engagement over the summer where we had a wonderful institution come to us for technology implementation. Prior to that engagement, through a couple of conversations, we really came to the realization that what they needed first were conversations around their structure and change management. When we think about somebody implementing a tool, I always say in the initial pre-calls, “This is 60, 70% change management. The technology implementation will come, but this is going to feel different for the institution.” And so, we took this opportunity to engage an institution a bit differently.

Ken, I don’t know if you want to lean into that a little bit about the change management aspect, but it was a very rewarding experience.


I remember when my colleague Amanda and I were in the room with you, Alex, and part of the gift of us being there as a second set of eyes and ears was we got to be observers and watch how people were responding to or reacting to the changes that you were showing Slate would be able to enable for them. They had been working in an original flavor SIS using workaround after workaround for decades. What we saw was, for some people, it was the nervous look to another colleague where they had been sisters and brothers in arms in this terrible process. But for them, it was the potential of the loss of meaning of what their jobs had come to stand for over the previous 10 years. Our job was to help mitigate some of that fear and lean into, we already said lean into twice, but to really leverage their human capacity for all the things they knew they wanted to do for students to make the student experience better but which the technology was keeping them from doing.

And so, part of what we were able to do, and it was a wonderful experience for us, was to help recognize the opportunities that these folks would be able to actually take ownership of things they hadn’t been able to touch but knew they wanted to do but were unable to do because of the limitations of the technology. And so, it was really creating a playbook for the leadership on how to communicate and communicate and communicate with all the changes that were going on, but also to reassure and give people opportunities to have a hand in what the workflows would look like as they were building these new processes, because they were going to suddenly have abundant time. This was an organization that was interested in keeping the whole team together, so it wasn’t like, “Let’s cut headcount,” it’s, “Let’s make better use of the headcount that we have.” Let the technology do what technology does best and free up humans to do what humans do best. Yeah, it was awesome.


Yeah, I would add into that just for Rob talks about what that looks like more holistically at an institution from an organization assessment perspective, that I think one of the greatest things about that experience is that we went into it with the thought that we were going to be talking about implementation and processes. But then when we’re in the room with all of these wonderful folks, it was a palpable shift of energy from that squirming and anxiety to, “Oh wow, this is going to transform the way in which we do our work and the way that we engage with our students across… ” For them, it really was across the student lifecycle, it wasn’t specific just to admissions. That’s, I think, the most rewarding aspect when you get to really feel that change with an institution. But Rob?


Thanks, Alex. On the last slide, we recommend not to be constrained by your organizational chart. Our focus today, we’ve emphasized starting with strategy, putting your audience, putting your constituents at the center for this cross-functional work or the intersection of enrollment and marketing and technology. This type of work, the collaboration that’s needed to do that may raise a question. We get this question when we do an organizational capability assessment of, “Well, we’re not structured that way.” or “That office reports to a different VP.” Again, all of those organizational functional issues that exist within complex organizations such as colleges and universities.

And no question, it would likely make things easier if you worked in a more integrated structure to be more collaborative in that way. But the org structure doesn’t have to be this insurmountable obstacle. When we work with institutions, and whether that’s an enrollment organizational assessment or marketing and communications organizational capability assessment, we start with some of these fundamental questions that we’ve posed today about strategy and institutional goals. Because those organizational structures, when you start to go back and understand the history or how they were created, they’re often established based only on functional roles.

But how might you operate or how could you operate more if you were organize less by the functional responsibilities or functional roles and more aligned to institutional priorities or top institutional goals? It maybe seems straightforward, but to what extent are the foundational parts of your institution—mission, values, strategic plan goals—how much are those truly guiding your work and the way that you work with other units? When you start talking about those you serve and your mission and have those types of conversations, these points of intersection and ways of working together can become much more apparent.

So if you need to make some of that progress on cross-functionality, one question we would ask is, “How is that incentivized?” or “How is that rewarded?” You may have your own professional development plan, for instance, individually or for your unit as part of your annual goals. Well, what if you established an individual plan or unit plan for how you work more collaboratively or work in more integrated ways with colleagues and other offices or other units at your institution?

One other brief example in trying to do that and set up a strategy toward that—at my previous institution was we tried to have, at a small campus, every member of our team—always have someone, always be represented on a professional staff search and screen committee was one way. And that, yes, is time consuming and a lot of work, but the work involved with that was such a relationship accelerator with other parts of the institution and provided this unique window into other units and their challenges when you have these frank conversations about staffing and needs was a great way to uncover some of those opportunities for collaboration. So building in ways to be more intentional about how you can collaborate with your colleagues and uncover some of these opportunities when you may not be set up that way from an organizational structure standpoint.

…Alex, you may have some final thoughts before we move to questions, but would love to entertain and hear thoughts from others and take some questions.


For sure. Yeah, I was going to say we were happy to open up the floor to questions. I think we’ve covered a lot, certainly, in the 45 minutes that we’ve been chatting. Hopefully you have an idea a bit about how we’re structured in our approach to this work. I think the best part about my job, other than getting to talk with new people every day, is helping institutions think creatively about how we can leverage all of these different areas of RHB to really pull together something that’s going to provide a coherent, cohesive solution that’s going to have a bigger ripple effect than simply implementing a platform. So happy to take whatever questions will be out there.

Jana O’Connell

Okay, here’s a question, actually, someone had asked is, “Hi, you mentioned a love letter or a breakup letter. Is there a friend zone letter?”


Ha, that’s a great question. One of the things that I so admired about that exercise was, again, that it was based on design thinking principles and a design thinking approach, which again starts with a human-centered way of understanding the experience, understanding, well, what’s the problem, or what are we trying to solve for? One of the things that I’ve experienced when it comes to that design thinking work, or even if it’s not a full design thinking process but elements of design thinking principles, is the vulnerability that that requires in not necessarily knowing what the solution may be or what the steps may be. So it’s hard to be comfortable with ambiguity, and design thinking elicits that or it’s a requirement to do that work. Again, that’s a great way for those of you who may have experience with design thinking or utilize that, but such a great way to shift that perspective of what we’ve called for today of being less institution centric in putting the student or the audience at the center of your work.


I should point out, I found the Mark Twain quote that I was fumbling…Yeah, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” is how it goes.


You have delivered, Ken. Awesome. Well, I would say… Well, Melissa, I see you’re jumping back on. I was going to say we’re always open to take questions afterwards. If anybody has wants to email us or wants to chat more about any of these topics, we would be happy to engage further. But Melissa, I’ll let you jump in.

Melissa Morriss-Olson

Well, I actually have a question…First of all, thank you, this was really, really helpful. As a faculty member and talking with faculty colleagues at other institutions, one of the things I hear people talking about a lot is the relationship or lack thereof between faculty, program directors, and the enrollment and marketing team. And just wondering if you could speak to that. How critical is the role of faculty and particularly those who are leading programs and the admissions enrollment process? And then any suggestions for how to strengthen that relationship.


Okay…In a shared governance environment, it’s critically important to have faculty and staff and probably trustees or other key stakeholders involved with some of those conversations. You want to be strategic about it because that’s a lot of horsepower to bring to bear. But ultimately you want to have… and your students too. You want to make sure that you have representative views when you are collaborating on those sorts of projects. I know, for example, when we went through this exercise at my previous institution, the president put his horsepower behind it himself and really called together the provost, the VP for enrollment, a small group of trustees, and a handful of faculty to really dive into the research and take it away from personal preference of, “This is my pet project that I want to see get out into the light of programming or get funding or validation,” but to really look to evidence on where there was an alignment between institutional strength, market opportunity, and also student demand, and have all three of those things pulled together.

You really need to have this together at the outset, but then you also need to make sure you keep your promises to report on the results of those decisions that you’ve made, build in the accountability for it. But it was a great way to pull together all of the people that would be ultimately involved with the decision. It may have slowed things down, but it was better to measure thrice and cut once.


Sure. Well, my experience is that, and this is certainly the case at Bay Path, the faculty would love to be more involved. They’re very eager. But understandably, sometimes it can be more work for enrollment and marketing folks to figure out how to involve faculty in the right way. So I’m just curious if you have any suggestions there.


Go to faculty meetings, for starters, if you are an enrollment person. Get to know who your faculty are. But also make sure, if you have the opportunity, that you’re presenting, that you make your faculty aware of what you’re seeing in the marketplace again, not just right in this current environment, but maybe what you’re seeing longer term and what the implications are for the institution. Sometimes it involves some charm offensives, getting around, talking department by department. It can be time consuming, but it’s also a way to start building those conversations and those pathways. Because sometimes faculty also don’t know that they’re a fabulous resource to be involved with that enrollment planning process to begin with. And it’s not just about making a phone call or sending an email to a student, but really thinking about how the institutional aligns itself around recruiting and retaining the students you recruit.


Sure. I’m seeing several of you nodding, so this must be a hot topic.


I was going to add on, and I might take words out of Erin’s mouth, so I’ll speak for both of us. When we’re thinking about things like implementation particularly, this crops up more when we’re looking at graduate implementations, as you might imagine, and so it becomes even more…when we’re working with a graduate model that’s decentralized. And so, when and where do we choose to engage faculty in that process? But I think the key thing is just making sure that people are heard. So that key discovery that we’re doing at the beginning, sometimes we’ll engage, depending on how the institution is structured and what that level of engagement needs to looks like, faculty at that stage in the process. I think when we look at decentralized models particularly, something that’s interesting that really comes to bear there is how much similarity there actually is and how the processes are run but folks aren’t aware of what those processes are because they’re so focused on their individual program or their department.

And so, I think it’s an opportunity, related to an implementation specifically, to bring folks to the table and say, “We’ve got some commonality here. Let’s think about how we can make all of these processes, while they still may be decentralized, more standard and sustainable for us as a graduate program.” And looking at things like that. But Erin, I think we all may have been in experiences where been brought into an engagement where faculty haven’t been engaged, and then we’re having to take steps back to re-explain the reasoning of why something may have been done in a certain way. So I think that’s a interesting just lens specifically from the technology side of things.


Yeah, absolutely. And that’s, again, where you have to take the time to pause and ask what you’re trying to solve for, when it’s appropriate to bring folks in to be a part of that process the clearer you can be. I think going back to faculty and thinking about when and why you want them invested in a part of your process is important. And just about what Alex said too, and I’m thinking of applications, the graduate level, or even departmental review process too, file evaluation, especially master’s and PhD programs. If you’re looking to do an implementation where you’re configuring a workflow to read applications, well, when and how should faculty be involved since they’re going to be using that? So keeping students at the center, but also thinking about faculty or other constituents on campus too in their experience in utilizing technology if I’m looking at technology as a specific example.


Terrific. Rob?


Yes, you mentioned marketing too as part of that, and that in higher ed, as we know, typically we don’t see a lot of that where marketing is involved at that stage of program development. And it’s a real missed opportunity and something that we saw across our strategic planning research, this emphasis that Ken mentioned earlier on promotion. There’s an obligation or responsibility on marketing and communications leaders and staff to demonstrate strategic capabilities beyond just the “getting the word out” people or making the brochure of the new program once that program is developed. But again, having the pulse on the target audiences or core audiences and helping bring a market orientation to an institution where so often you may see a new program point to a labor statistic or secondary research as the data point to show demand for a program. Your marketing colleagues can provide a lot of assistance in that regard too. And so that’s a wonderful opportunity for collaboration that in other sectors we would see marketing assisting in ways that are much earlier and much farther upstream.

Again, it’s a great way for an academic and administrative partnership there. And hopefully, again, marketing and communications has already established close working relationships with faculty, again, understanding the student experience and helping to tell the wonderful stories about the work that that faculty are doing and the impact that they’re having on students’ lives.


Terrific. So many good, valuable takeaways. My number one takeaway among many, many is that silos are not at all valuable on an institutional level these days. So reaching across the aisle. Silos are bad, collaboration is critical. Thank you so very much.

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Rob Zinkan

Rob is the Vice President for Marketing Leadership at RHB.