by Dr. Susan Emery
I took a leadership assessment years ago that suggested politics is my area of weakness, so I steered clear of governmental careers. Instead, I harnessed my areas of strength – building social and intellectual capital. Our role as admission and enrollment officers is to be the face of the school, build and maintain relationships, and be the expert. Little did I know, politics abounds in every organization, especially when it comes to enrollment management at independent schools. Developing political will and skill is essential for us to influence how the limited resources are acquired and utilized. The CERPP certificate program taught us to dig a little deeper into how we can all develop political clout.
Politics Defined. I am eternally grateful for David Kalsbeek’s simplified definition of politics, which is a process to influence others and get things done. Specifically, organizational politics is “using power and influence as a way of getting things done in an environment where other ways and means may not be sufficient.” Ok. This I can understand! Sources of political influence include everything from personal charisma to office location, which means everyone already has some political will and skill.
Knowledge is Power. The increasing emphasis on data mining, data analysis, and data-driven decision making points to the fact that information is a source of considerable political power. How do we convince the head of school and board of trustees to award smaller amounts of financial aid to a greater number of students? By demonstrating the impact of multiple scenarios on net tuition revenue! How do we persuade the business office that a specific advertising campaign is worth the price? By calculating the return on investment! The CERPP certificate program goes into detail on how to use data to make a case for a worthwhile program, initiative, or policy.
Importance of Organizational Structure. Some of us work as a one-person admission and enrollment office while others have a team of 16. In either case, the most important political skill is knowing how the decision processes and organizational structures influence outcomes. For example, the enrollment agenda naturally includes issues related to financial aid, which means I would take boxes of chocolates (or coffee) to the business office to honestly discuss target enrollment numbers and the financial aid budget. Another important aspect of a school’s organizational structure is how the board of trustees influences enrollment policies and whether the head of school or enrollment/admission director have the ability to inform and influence the board’s decisions. How can you empower your decision-making abilities based on the institutional organizational chart? Politics!
Spheres of Influence. Schools are social settings where we form meaningful relationships with our colleagues. These interpersonal networks are how we find support to influence decisions that help us achieve our goals. One of the hardest lessons I learned as an enrollment director was how to get along with everyone in a civil, courteous, and collegial manner despite differences of opinions. I learned to value reciprocity, the notion that I depend on others and they depend on me to get things done. Whether you are a veteran or new to a school, honing your sphere of influence is critical.
Of the many concepts, theories, and frameworks we learned over the last few months as CERPP scholars, I am most proud of finally understanding that politics is a natural and necessary dimension of organizational life that helps us influence the way we get things done. Further, political behavior does not always equate to actions that are less than forthright, honest, or ethical. More importantly, we can actively confront the formidable challenges we face as enrollment officers by using data, embracing organizational structure, and developing spheres of influence.