What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Slate

Congratulations, you’re getting Slate! You’ve read about it in forums, heard counselors gush over it at fairs, and quietly side-eyed that college down the road as they launched a new app and weirdly celebrated with a Slate-themed cake. Can it really be THAT good? If you’re good to to your Slate instance, the answer from the higher education enrollment community is a resounding “yes!” With all that excitement, however, we thought it might be good to bring you back down to earth…just a little bit.

Before Slate

People are talking. Something is happening. There’s a shift in the air. Finally, it comes out in a meeting (because that’s how everything comes out on campus, yeah?). Slate is coming. Here’s how to prepare:

1. Throw your processes out the window.

That sounds extreme but do it. They’ll end up on the lawn somewhere and then you can look down on them all at once and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what absolutely has to change. If you’re lucky, that one process that makes zero sense will stay right where it landed: out of sight, in a bush, impaled by a branch.

2. Talk to your team. Just kidding. Listen to them instead.

What are their major pain points with current processes and systems? What would make their job easier or allow them to be nimbler? What processes drive them to a cliff?

3. Huddle with the team who was there when the last solution was implemented.

If you haven’t implemented a CRM before as an institution, huddle with a school who has. Let these sessions help set expectations and give you all a chance to talk about lessons learned.

Ready to Launch(pad)

At this point, you’ve had some great conversations, you’ve likely spoken with other schools, and you’ve seen some amazing portals that folks have built in Slate. Cool. Chill out. Time to learn to fish. And in fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear at #SlateLaunchpad. “We’re here to teach you to fish.” How do I know that? I used to say it during Slate Launchpad trainings in New Haven. So when I tell you what to expect here, my recommendations come from both the presenter vantage point as well as from the consultant side. I’m the only person who has ever sat in both seats at this point.

1. It’s a fire hose.

You will not be prepared. There’s nothing you can do to be prepared. This event is designed to introduce you to the foundational elements of this system. It’s four days of intensive training. You’ll feel great on day one—maybe even ahead of the game. Things speed up from there.

2. Do NOT expect to retain information.

DO expect to know what resources are at your disposal once you leave. Invest all you can in the working sessions. Do not attempt to follow along on your laptop while the presenter clicks. (Do you have any idea how fast Technolutions employees can click through the system? I’m happy to show you.) It’s an intuitive platform, but you need to get a bit more familiar first.

3. Engage the Technolutions team.

Teaching Launchpad was my favorite “role” at Technolutions. It gave me an opportunity to engage clients face-to-face. The teams that present Launchpad love those interactions. Get to know them. Get to know how the company operates. It’ll give you a different perspective.

After the Champagne

You went. You learned. (You had some really good food in either city). But you didn’t conquer. That’s next. And if you remember, the expectation for Launchpad wasn’t to walk away with a built system. In fact, even those schools who have been on Slate for two or eight years will tell you (Megan and Dom on our team can speak directly to that) the path doesn’t ever end. It shouldn’t and you shouldn’t want it to.

1. Breathe.

This is a VERY important first step. Maybe breathe and then have a drink. You might even do this as soon as you get on your flight home. You’ve taken in a lot of information. You might feel overwhelmed. You might not know what to do next. So I’m telling you here. Breathe. You’ll get there.

2. Don’t start your data export.

Whether or not IT came with you to Launchpad, I can tell you that your most pressing issue won’t be the data export. And don’t let anyone tell you that’s your priority. If you don’t feel comfortable saying that you can send them this article instead. Slate is driven by admissions and operations. IT is vital in its success, but you have a decent amount of implementing to get done (like, you know, an application) before that conversation can really start to take serious traction.

3. Do bring everyone back together. I mean it. Everyone.

You don’t have to do it all together, but you should share what you’ve learned and how, at this point, you expect processes will change. You need to start that conversation now. It’s an uncomfortable one, but you already threw things out the window months ago.

Work, Work, Work

Yes, we know. You don’t need to tell us. Those conversations were uncomfortable. People don’t want to change. We’d say “surprise,” except you set that expectation way back in the beginning. It’s also just nature. People. Don’t. Want. To. Change.

But they will.

I like to think of implementation as the RE-buy-in stage. (Read this post by Rob Zinkan on buy-in and co-creation.) This is where you move from having expectations set for you to setting them yourselves. If we aren’t in the room for those conversations, we’d like to provide you with a few canned responses:

Q: What does this mean for everything we’re doing now?

“Keep doing your job right now. Your processes are going to change. It won’t be easy, but it will make every person in this room more efficient and allow people to get back to the business of enrollment: building relationships.”

Q: There is no way this will work.

“This has worked for over 1,000 other institutions. It will work for us.”

Q (but more of a response): No it won’t.

“We have purchased this system. It was an institutional decision. We are moving forward with implementation.” (Disclaimer: You should probably have a specific title if you’re saying this or ask your consultant who will happily oblige 🙋🏼‍♂️)

Q: I need access to start working on the data export.

“No you don’t.”

Q: This is a lot of information. How are we even supposed to get started?

“What a great question. Here’s the plan of attack…”

So that—the plan of attack. It’s modular. It’s scaled. It’s going to take time. As you learned at Launchpad, you don’t want to just jump right in and start rebuilding all of your fields and forms from your last system. The goal here is to evolve, to grow, and to create a better professional world for your enrollment colleagues. So do that. Build fields as you need them. Start with your inquiry form and make it as simple as possible. Print out your current app (or let’s be real, you probably have a stack of paper apps around somewhere). Mark it up. Rebuild it outside of Slate. One of my favorite things to do as we guide schools through implementation is to take their processes out of Slate. I have two notebooks. One for actual notes and to-do lists because I like to write things down. My second notebook is for visuals. It’s filled with reader workflows, application structures, communication strategies, and lots of unintelligible scribbles. If you’ve been on a call with me, you might have seen me hold it up and wonder what the heck I’m showing you. As someone who works in a 100% digital environment, it’s wildly helpful for me to simply just draw processes out. You should try it.

Divide and conquer. It’s easy for me to say that as a consultant. You might be looking around at your core Slate team and see yourself and a mirror. If that’s the case, look yourself in the mirror, nod your head, and tell yourself that you’ve got this. Then get to work. If you have a team of folks, have individuals focus on their operational area. This isn’t the best way to share knowledge of how the system fits together, but it is a way to get things done faster. The modules in Slate integrate seamlessly with one another and you’ll have plenty of time to collaborate. But if you want to roll through an implementation quickly, you’ll have to have subject matter experts. We have a team of Slate experts at RHB, but even we specialize in certain areas of the platform. That benefits our clients and keeps us lean, but it also makes us significantly more efficient when implementing.

Cake Smash

My third child just turned one. We’re moderately cliché and did a cake smash. We hope you’ll do the same. Your first year in Slate won’t be easy (even as intuitive as the system is once you get familiar), but it will be fun. It will also be energizing, exciting, and liberating. There are tons of snippets (see what we did there) of advice you can follow to make your first year a success.

We have a few implementation rules we like to live by:

1. Design to the majority

2. Don’t get lost in the details too early

3. Don’t miss the opportunity to reshape processes

You only have 18 more years before your instance of Slate is off to college itself. You’ll be a pro by then.

  • Spread the word
Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President for Marketing Integration at RHB.