In my last blog post, I talked about finding the right level of administrative support. But once you find the right level, where do you go from there? One key is to make it easy for someone to support your program.
We focus a lot on making recycling easy. We try to make it easy for waste generators to recycle. We try to make it easy to understand. We try to make recycling bins easy to find. Hopefully we focus on trying to make it easy for staff to collect. Yet somehow, too often, we forget to make recycling easy to support. Making your program easy to support is critical to getting the administrative support that you need to sustain the program.
To make that program easy to support, it is very helpful if your program, or at least elements of your program, meet the following criteria:/p>
- Aligns with personal motivations of a particular administrator
- Aligns with campus “drivers
Let’s start with personal motivations. Administrators are people. Despite the fact that the trappings of the of the Ivy Tower (or other corporate structures in other industries) may seem to dehumanize some administrators to elevate them on a pedestal, and despite the fact that some student activists or labor unions may seem to dehumanize them in order to vilify them, administrators are human. As such they have personal values that color their decision making. It helps to know those personal values and highlight those aspects of your program if you are asking for their support.
Be aware that an administrator’s area of interest may have nothing to do with the environment. This can be a tough transition for a lot of folks who started out as activists and who are used to talking about the “environmental crusade” aspects of their program to other like-minded individuals. Attempting that same approach with many administrators many only lead to frustration and failure. But administrators don’t have to be environmentalists to support your program. You just have to find areas of mutual benefit.
If you come from an activist background, I urge you to think outside your comfort zone and start thinking about other aspects of your program. Be prepared to talk about safety and risk management aspects of the program to administrators who care about those things. Be prepared to talk about financial benefits to folks for whom that is of primary importance. Be prepared to talk about aesthetics. On the flip side, if you are coming from a primarily operational background, also think outside your comfort zone and be prepared to talk to certain administrators about things like student engagement, or co-curricular learning, and how your program can foster that on campus.
The other part to consider regarding administrators being people is that they have other interests. Sometimes a few minutes of small talk or banter about sports, or movies, or the activities of their children can do far more to establish a positive relationship and gain their support than hours worth of well designed presentations. When making small talk, I would recommend Wildcat’s Rules – the owner of a breakfast place I used to frequent regularly who used to tell us “you can talk about anything except politics and religion because those cause too many conflicts.”
If you are uncomfortable making small talk, I’d urge you to practice. I was a natural introvert, so I will admit that small talk was a real struggle for me earlier in my career and something that I had to really work on. I still marvel at folks who are more naturally conversationalist, who have a more innate ability to make small talk than I do, and what they are able to accomplish. If you struggle to make small talk, my only advice is to practice. Sit at the counter in a local diner and try to join in the conversation. Go to a conference or trade show, where at least you are starting from a common point of interest, and try to make conversation from there. Even if it is difficult, try to socialize. Learn to be respectful of other people’s interests, even if you don’t share them, and be comfortable enough with your own that you can share them.
However, when it comes to aligning your program to the personal interests of any administrator, I would urge a few cautions. Don’t go “all in” becoming a total sycophant or aligning your program to the personal motivations of only one administrator. You often have to work with several administrators to get the level of support that you need. All of those different administrators may have different, sometimes conflicting personal motivations. Because of that, sometimes aligning too much with the personal motivations of one administrator can make it harder to get the support that you need from another. My other word of caution is that administrators change. If you have aligned your program too heavily toward the personal motivations of a particular administrator, you may find yourself having difficulty if that administrator leaves for a new position or a new campus.
My other word of caution is that person motivations are only part of the equation. No matter what an administrator’s personal interests, there are still “business interests” that drive their decision making. In my next post, I will talk more about identifying those and working with them to help get the administrative support that you need.