Why companies should act more like universities

Why companies should act more like universities

Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash.

People throwing graduation caps in the air.

Source: Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash

I have spent more than 30 years working and being a high school student. During that time, one outside criticism has remained constant: colleges and universities need to start operating more like businesses.

No matter how you feel, everyone can benefit from learning from other models and frameworks. And there is one thing that higher education does really well that can and should inform how we all do management work: the ongoing and deliberate practice of cultivating a group of unconditionally enthusiastic and loyal fans known as alumni.

It’s no secret that many people leave or think about leaving (or have already left) their jobs for what they believe is a “better” job. According to the World Economic Forum, 20 percent of workers plan to leave their current employers in 2022, with higher pay and finding meaning in work as the top two reasons for leaving.

According to Gallup, “only 20 percent of workers strongly agree that they enjoy what they do every day. And even more people feel chronically burned out: 28 percent of US workers report feeling burned out at work very often or always. And one of the main reasons for that burnout, according to Gallup, is a lack of managerial support.

If you are a manager of people, know that one way or another your people will leave. Either another opportunity will come, a life situation will force a change, or an internal promotion or role change may occur. Or they will leave because you, their manager, are negatively impacting their health, well-being and future prospects.

Your people are your number one marketing tool. So, think about it: If your people were to leave you now, would they do so as enthusiastic and loyal fans of you and the organization, or as bitter and disgruntled ex-employees relieved to get away?

What would happen if you started thinking of every person on your team as a future graduate? How might you change your management strategies? Here are four to consider.

Strategies to turn your employees into graduates

  • Create thoughtful career plans together from day one. Not everyone on your team is looking for advancement or future leadership roles. And that’s good. However, each person has the opportunity to learn and grow while on your team and to consider how the position fits with their future work.

Be an active participant in this journey by creating thoughtful career plans with each member of your team. After all, their growth is their responsibility. But you enable them to do this work when you create intentional conversations about it and let them know that you support any future career decisions they make. Be their partner in that journey, not a roadblock.

  • Create ongoing engagement opportunities. People want meaning and purpose from work, which means finding ways to connect work with meaning and purpose. One of the benefits of creating shared career development plans is that it allows you to understand their meaning and purpose, which allows you to find opportunities to make that connection.

Maybe it’s asking them to serve on a committee or lead a project. Maybe it’s delegating responsibility or supporting professional development. Not everything will or has to connect, and sometimes people have to leave to find that connection.

But they’ll do it with gratitude and loyalty when they know you’ve done everything you can to help them find what makes their hearts sing.

  • Conduct on-location conversations. Organizations love the exit interview. So are the employees, especially the most dissatisfied, because they finally feel like a safe place to burn. But really, what good is it? He rarely fixes what the problems were and really does nothing for the employee who leaves (except for the instant gratification of revenge).

To convert your employees into future graduates, you need to start regular conversations. And that means asking for and really listening to feedback. This means it’s safe and comfortable for people to tell you where you’re failing and how you can improve. And then you have to actually act on that feedback.

This is not a one-time exercise and not a once-a-year conversation in performance reviews. It is an active, continuous work. Universities always ask for feedback from their graduates, and you should too. These are your most experienced and purchasing users, and their voice matters.

  • When they come out (and they will), be their biggest fan. Your people will leave. As I imagine, someday you will be too. So, think about how you want this experience to be for you. Do you want your manager to yell at you, embarrass you, and tell you how disappointed he is in you? Because this happens too often to young professionals.

And at that point, their attitude is, “I’m so glad I’m never thinking about that place again.” It’s okay to be sad, disappointed, or sad about someone leaving. This is very normal. But how you handle this moment will make the difference in whether someone thinks, “I’m sad to leave, but I’ll be recommending everyone I know to apply for this job,” instead of, “I’m so glad I’m leaving, and I’ll make sure everyone I know I know, never claim one position.

Be their biggest fan. Giving someone another professional opportunity is an achievement you should be extremely proud of. Remember, these are your future graduates. Will they cheer from the sidelines or lead a boycott? It’s entirely up to you.

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