This morning I read an article that had been posted on LinkedIn by a former colleague: Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management. I found the short post to be very fascinating and resonated a lot with me as someone who would consider themself to be a high achiever and do my best to disassociate myself with the Millennial generation whenever possible. However, if this article is any true indication of that generation, then I have to admit that I am certainly 100% 'Millennial'.
In my graduate work, I wrote a final paper on Millennials and how our current hiring practices do not actually meet the needs of this group. Particularly regarding the emphasis on purposeful opportunities, much of that academic work focused on teasing out this notion that many of our HR practices have been around for years and cater to an older way of thinking. The "tell me about a time when..." worked when we were interviewing folks with years of experience, but based on my research for the paper, this group is not as interested in what has been done; rather, they are more focused on what can be achieved and how it can be done at a higher level. Furthermore, one of the things I found most fascinating while doing my literature review was that although it is often suggested this generation is very selfish, many people don't realize that it can be taken out of context because one of the things Millennials want most is a opportunity to be purposeful. So while it could be said that they are solely focused on themselves, they often do it with the intention to want to make change and make a difference.
When I read this article, all of the work I had done in this area was not only validated, but it was a good reminder that the way in which we hire and train our staff only goes so far. Workplace culture is ultimately one of the most significant reasons that folks stay or go. Hiring doesn't seem hard, but retaining high quality employees does, and as someone who has very high expectations of myself, my peers and my organization, this article really resonates with my ideals as well as my challenges. This connects very well to the first point that it hits home: Tolerating low-performers, which the article points out is "downright debilitating to a high achiever". Check.
The second point of the article highlights that ROI is not enough, because "I need something to care about today". Check as well. Although I can only speak for myself, a bottom line is not enough to keep me motivated to continue to not only work at a high level but be invested in an organization. It is important to me that I know the work I am doing is making a difference in the lives of others, and not just written in a year end report to demonstrate that I achieved some metrics or met some KPIs (which, don't even get me started on my thoughts about KPIs because I think we overuse them and/or don't use them correctly). In my own context, that is what I love most about the work I do; as an educator, my work has meaning and purpose, but as soon as I start to feel as though it is far more transactional than transformational, I find myself craving a new opportunity to challenge myself. So, in the context of this article, I can see why many Millennials move on.
The third concept is around this notion of workplace culture being about free lunches. As the author mentions, "I'm not inspired to be more innovative over a Bacon Turkey Bravo ... I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we're doing". Amen, sister. Don't get me wrong, everyone loves a free lunch now and again, but I would trade it 2000 times over to work with a group of highly motivated, fun and passionate colleagues where purpose and expertise is cultivated. While food may be the way to some people's heart, I can appreciate from my own experience that there are a lot of Millennials that struggle working in an environment where they are rewarded with meals as opposed to with high quality colleagues who push boundaries and think differently. After all, free lunch doesn't challenge you to learn something new, set the bar higher or grow. It merely makes people think they are rewarded for doing their every day job, and at times, that can be really difficult.
Finally, the last point included in the article is about getting personal with colleagues. I have to admit that I don't entirely agree with this one, although I can appreciate that many Millennials "dump" their employers because they feel like a number and not a name. Speaking from experience in recruitment, I also wonder if we create this expectation because it is not uncommon to sell students on our respective campus experiences by constantly telling them they will be a name and not a number. But I think there is a fine line between getting to know someone as a person, and then being too personal. Do I want my colleagues to know that I am a learner, a homeowner, a cat lover, a nerd, and a partner? Sure. Do I want those people to know my life story, my struggles, my personal challenges, and my background? Absolutely not. So while I can appreciate the article suggests that if Millennials do not have personal relationships with management they will walk out in 8 months, I also think that we could all do a bit more work to draw some lines in the sand to identify what getting personal in a professional environment looks like. I do think establishing some boundaries is important, especially between workplace friends and workplace peers.
At the end of the article, the author emphasizes that Millennials want employers "to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit ... But I'm not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes." This is really interesting to me because it suggests there is a difference for Millennials between doing work that they find to be meaningful, high achieving and personal vs. working in a culture that ultimately allows management to make their way onto a sunshine list and drive nice cars. If someone is looking to work in a place that emphasizes change and intentionality over wages, I can see how this would be a point of contention and contemplation.
The reason that I am so drawn to articles like this is because they really challenge me to check myself and my assumptions, and ponder what does work really mean to me. I think that we can all do a better job at times of asking ourselves if we are happy in our role, but also, if we are managing an organization in a way that encourages strong employees to stay. I often think about myself leading a department in the future, and I believe articles like this are important reminders that how we lead and the culture that we create results in the type of employees we hire and those that stay. I also think that we can often forget the importance of establishing a strong culture because we get so busy, but it is important when you consider that we spend far more time at work than we do at home and with our families. If we are sacrificing the chance to see our grandparents, go to our child's softball game, enjoy a beautiful day with our spouse, or get ourself a massage, it is important to care about our role and the workplace that we devote so much of our life to. When life is this short, it makes sense that Millennials are happier to "dump" an employer to seek a workplace that demonstrates they "make a difference to something bigger than your bottom line". I really can't say I blame them, but then I wonder what each of us as managers can be doing to help change that and enhance our ability to retain top notch people.
Following the publication of our posts on the RyersonSA Blog, Jordon's presentation at OACUHO, and the roundtable we co-hosted at CACUSS, we are both overwhelmed with the support of our colleagues and the number of people, both within Canada and abroad, that reached out to us looking for tips, tricks and strategies to enhance their student conduct program. In particular, colleagues were looking for ways to begin developing a conduct curriculum, implementing different and unique outcomes, and demonstrating student learning through intentional assessment practices. We have even had institutions reach out asking if we would be willing to travel to their campus to help guide them through the process. With that in mind, we wanted to put together some lessons that we learned along the way while we developed our conduct curriculum and assessment strategies.
To all those colleagues who reached out knowing nothing about us but appreciating our articles or presentations – thank you – and here is a brief introduction of us. Jordon and I both have backgrounds working in Residence and student conduct. We have worked at 4 institutions combined – 3 universities and one college; two large residence programs and two small. The variety of experience that we have gained has contributed to our own professional development, as well as our respective interests. As we progressed through our careers, Jordon always stayed interested in student conduct because of the ‘ah-ha’ moments that it provides to students. It is a forum of student learning that is very unique and, unlike many who dislike the conduct part of their roles, he finds a student’s ability to change their behavior, outlook and more positively contribute to their community very rewarding. As I moved through my career, I found that same feeling when I was able to demonstrate that learning was happening throughout our students’ co-curricular experience, one of which, is student conduct. Currently, Jordon is the Residence Student Conduct Coordinator at Carleton University, and I work at the same institution as the Program Assessment Specialist (Acting). While our interests in student learning are very different in the way we conduct our day-to-day jobs, the end result is the same – demonstrating what students are able to know and do as a result of their learning experience. In this particular case, after moving through a student conduct process.
1. It’s important to know what your educational priority is!
Even if you don’t have a formal educational priority for a conduct curriculum, it is important to know what the mission and values of your department are. What does learning look like in your student conduct program? What principles, theories, or ideas guide your conduct practice? How would you explain what is most important to your process? In order to truly think about how to develop a strategic approach to your conduct program and effectively assess student learning, you first need a vision or philosophy to guide you.
If you already have an established curriculum, your educational priority should be the same for both your community engagement and conduct process. However, if you aren’t yet a formal curricular program, get your department together and identify what guides your conduct program and ensure everyone who works within it buys in. It is very difficult to sell colleagues on the notion of assessment as it is, let alone if not everyone agrees on the vision.
2. What are your learning goals?
Again, this is easier for schools with a curricular program, because the ones that are established are the same in the context of your conduct program. In Jordon’s case, he works under the same learning goals as the overall curriculum – self-awareness, positive relationships, and community engagement. Everything within the conduct program can be connected back to at least one of these three concepts.
Without a curriculum, it is important for a conduct program to sit down and identify what are three or four core concepts that they want to connect their outcomes, assessment, and overall process back to. Do you want students to gain interpersonal or intrapersonal skills? Is self-awareness or personal development important? Is engaging citizens a crucial part of your program? What about open communication?
In order to start to work your way down the funnel of program development and assessment, it is important that the priority or vision, as well as the goals are in place to start as a jumping off point to map your educational plan.
3. Administrative Tasks are Awkward
By far one of the greatest challenges we had when we began mapping and trying to assess the educational plan was figuring out what the role of administrative duties are. For example, most conduct programs send communication out via email or by written letter. It was difficult trying to find ways to consider that a learning component of the program, and then identifying what students have learned through that process. When the whole concept of focusing on student learning is at the core of what you do, this is a very important part of the process that can be difficult to find a home for. The approach that Jordon took when developing the conduct curriculum was to infuse curricular language related to the priority and goals into the letters. While they still need to fulfill their purpose - notifying students of meetings, outcomes, and the process - they can at least be more aligned with an educational and student-centred approach. It is also important to find creative ways to measure the learning that happens, and while that is not directly done for the communication, students are asked to complete a pre- and post-assessment to indirectly demonstrate if the communication was true to how the process went.
4. It Must Connect to Training
It is not uncommon for departments to train professional staff and student staff each year on the student conduct process and their direct role within implementing that. Like everything else, how students and staff are trained on the curriculum or process must align to the goals, mission and priority of your program. In training, Jordon has to focus on having all parties involved with conduct understand the importance of curriculum and priority as it relates to the greater department and overarching educational priority. This means emphasizing the WHY and not just focusing on the how. It is not enough to simply walk through the Residence Standards so that all staff are aware of what they are and what they mean; rather, using curricular language, focusing on the importance of student learning and behaviour change, and connecting each part of the process back to that curricular model is at the heart of a successful training. Staff, both professional and student, should be able to articulate to students at all stages of the process from initial learning connection, to documentation, to meeting, or sanction, how the learning goals are used to help support students in residence. Furthermore, effective assessment should be done in those training sessions to ensure learners have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills within this area, and course correct if necessary. Focusing on the WHY in training creates buy-in, understanding, and a shared approach, which will later help when they try out the HOW during experiential learning experiences. Far too often we are too concerned about staff being able to have a conduct conversation than why we do it at all, and how to articulate that value to students.
5. Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
While it is certainly true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, its empire did rapidly expand because of its leadership. Overhauling, revising and/or adding intentional assessment to your conduct curriculum or process is not an easy task. It takes some institutions years to do, but it doesn’t have to if you have the determination and expertise to make it happen. I’m going to toot Jordon’s horn a little bit for him, because few people know that he actually overhauled an entire punitive conduct program to be a fully educational approach within less than 60 days since starting at Carleton. Within a year of starting a fully curricular approach within the department, he has already designed a conduct curriculum with outcomes and intentional assessment. Because of the time and effort he had already put into changing the program previously, it made it much easier for him to develop a true curriculum, and I was fortunate enough to be involved in taking it to the next level by adding intentional assessment efforts in almost every facet of the process. Come September, not only will the meetings and sanctions provide evaluation and assessment data; the entire process will demonstrate how much learning is happening as students move through the curriculum. It will also compliment that tracking statistics Jordon already does regarding number of cases and repeat behaviour, which has already significantly dropped since implementing an educational approach.
While it may look like a you are fighting an uphill battle in terms of resources, if you are able to find the value, divide the workload and remind yourself that student learning is at the centre of a conduct curriculum or process, you can make change. Even small additions over the course of a term or year, such as implementing a set of learning goals or easy assessment strategies, can enhance a program and offer helpful data. Implementing change at 40% or even 20% is still better than none at all.
6. Share Your Story
Sadly, sometimes student conduct can be forgotten about in the broader context of student affairs because it is not always thought of as highly as student engagement initiatives. I have found that, generally speaking, people seem very keen to know what students are learning in regards to leadership development, career clarity, training opportunities, etc., but are less interested conduct as a learning opportunity. As Jordon mentioned in his Ryerson SA post, conduct could actually be seen as the most effective vehicle to demonstrate student learning, and after seeing assessment results, I have to agree. While looking at what students have learned through leadership opportunities is valuable to know, it tells us that students who wanted to be involved in the community were able to. Conduct, on the other hand, demonstrates how students who were negatively impacted the community learned that they could contribute more positively in the future. It doesn’t get much more Cinderella story than that.
One of the most rewarding parts of creating a conduct curriculum or process with intentional assessment is the ability to show that learning is happening, particularly when students recognize how their behaviour impacts their own success or that of others’. Using assessment to share the story of how students have changed their behaviour, positively contributed to their community, repaired the harm they caused to others, and now see the responsibility they have to others, is so important and rewarding. It offers us testimonials, quantitative numbers, and ‘ah-ha’ moments that we can share to administrators, colleagues, and students about the value that this process has on creating citizens of the future. It reinforces to professional and student staff that conduct should not be seen as “policing’; rather, it is educating. It creates awareness for parents, prospective- and current students that negative behaviour is not the norm in our communities and the ideals outlined in movies are not true to our student experience. Most importantly, it reaffirms that the hard work we invest into enhancing our conduct programs and including opportunities for intentional assessment was worthwhile and should be celebrated.
7. Reach Out for Help
We are two educators who truly believe in learning opportunities for students at all levels of their post-secondary career, particularly within the realm of student conduct; however, we did not do it alone. Creating the conduct curriculum and integrating assessment was championed, supported, and guided by several important colleagues from within our department, and institutions across North America also implementing a curricular approach. We reached out, asked questions and consulted with professionals who also shared their challenges, successes, and vision. Because we know how helpful it can be to have alternative perspectives, we are so appreciative of those who have reached out to us for support, asked questions themselves, and are seeking guidance along their own student conduct journey. Hopefully these tips will offer some help to get those looking to develop a curricular approach or enhance their process started. We certainly will be cheering you on if you decide to take the plunge into intentional conduct processes and assessment.
If you're following along with my blog, you're probably familiar with my post from Friday, where I talked a lot about my renewed enthusiasm for professional development and personal fulfillment. I have spent a lot of time over the past few months trying to decide what I need to be a better professional and to develop my identity as a person first. I decided at the end of last week to undertake in developing a professional development curriculum for myself to help guide my goals over the next 12-18 months. The reflective practice has been really rewarding, and in true curriculum fashion, I started with an Archaeological Dig using a variety of resources to help me identify professional competencies, personal values, strengths and problem solving skills, and theories that guide my work as an educator. One of the theories that I have been placing a lot of emphasis on recently since finding it a few months ago is Integrated Life Planning (ILP). Although it is actually used more as a career development theory, the connection that I have drawn directly to being an educator is really inspiring. Hansen argues that, "Through ILP, I suggest that we are all quilters ... We try to help [others] make sense of where they have been, where they are, and where they are going. We as counselors are also quilters in the lives of our clients and employees, and in our institutions, as we try to make them more humane and meaningful places to study or work" (2011). Furthermore, it encourages inquiry into, what I would suggest should become a self-reflective question: "How can I continuously use internal and external critical life tasks to develop a meaningful holistic career pattern, including both self-fulfillment and betterment of society?" (2001). But seriously... does it get any more motivating than that?
As I have mentioned before, the reason I love education is because it provides an opportunity to work with students and colleagues and help them find meaning and purpose in their life. Whether it is in an academic program, a co-curricular learning experience, community engagement opportunity, or a fulfilling career path, I love that the work I do is directly related to helping others find their purpose in life. In fact, I was once asked in an interview "If you were given a million dollars to help others, how would you use it?" My answer was that I would use that money to help homeless people or those feeling unfilled in their lives find opportunities that are purposeful, because I truly believe that the best gift we can give another person is supporting them in their journey to self-actualization and purposeful living. As I'm sure you can tell, I am really drawn to this idea that we as educators are quilters, trying to weave together knowledge, skills, experience, academic pursuits, and purpose into a quilt of success for ourselves and those we support. With this in the forefront of my mind recently, I decided to use it as the basis of my educational priority: Professional development will enrich my knowledge and skills as a purposeful educational "quilter". I can't even begin to tell you how excited and inspiring this statement is to me in this moment.
From there, I began to list out several learning goals that I felt directly connected to the priority. My initial brainstorm list included 7: lifelong learning; personal values; mentoring relationships; holistic educator; professional skills; academic commitment; and career exploration. As I started to think of what defined each of these goals for me, I started to see a lot of overlap. Academic commitment and career exploration were very much integrated into what I believe my own lifelong learning looks like, so I combined the three of those. I also thought that having expertise in professional skills for my role was an important part of being a holistic educator, but so too was personal values, which I later changed to fulfillment. Initially, I had also connected personal values and mentoring relationships because I firmly believe that much of my own personal and professional success is in thanks to mentors I have had throughout my life and career, but each time I thought more about it, I really felt as though it deserved to be its own goal. The more I started to define what mentorship meant to me, I also really interconnected it with helping others develop in the same way my mentors had done for me. After about an hour of sorting, sifting, combining, defining and organizing, I finally had three goals:
As I'm sure you can imagine, there is a lot going through my head right now. I have all of these ideas about ways I can achieve my outcomes and some opportunities for self-assessment as well. The next step in this curriculum journey will be to decide what my educational strategies will be, and who the "experts" in helping me facilitate this learning experience are. I think I will likely need to brain dump into a concept map in order to make sense of all of my ideas. I'll be sure to post it when I'm done! :)
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal fulfillment.