- Tambellini Analyst
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Talent Management in Higher Education

Attracting and retaining IT staff in higher education has always been a challenge, given constrained budgets that are typical in the higher education landscape. These constraints result in lower salaries for people with technical skills, people who can leverage those skills for higher-paying jobs in industry and the public sector.

Also, as colleges and universities move from legacy on-premises systems to the cloud, IT leaders need to pay close attention to the value their employees provide to their institutions, knowing that some skills will become obsolete and new skills will be required. It is critical that institutions provide training and promote growth, to assure success for employees as changes are incorporated.

Katelyn Ilkani, The Tambellini Group’s Vice President for Client Services and Cybersecurity Research, spoke with Shady Azzam-Gomez, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Suffolk County Community College, to hear his thoughts on talent management in higher education IT departments. 

Mr. Azzam-Gomez believes deeply in the importance of good communication. Here is what he had to say.

The Benefits of Working in Higher Education

For all institutions—especially those near major urban areas—hiring and retaining talent is one of the hardest things. Emphasize how employees contribute to the institution’s vision and how their work transforms students’ lives. There are benefits in addition to salary, such as retirement, tuition and health benefits, and community participation, that make working in higher education more attractive than working in a corporate environment.

Lead with Kindness

Empathy with your staff is at the root of good leadership. It is important to understand the struggles your employees may be facing, what is happening in their personal lives at some level. Don’t violate their privacy, but know enough about them so you can understand obstacles that may prevent them from moving onto the next step.

Surround yourself with champions. This benefits you, your employees, and the institution. Pushing the vision is not a one-person job.

How to Ensure Good Communication

Meet with every single employee in your organization at least twice yearly—even those that are three or four layers down the organizational chart. This may take two or three weeks of non-stop meetings, but it is worth the time.

In those meetings, listen. Mr. Azzam-Gomez believes listening is one of the most powerful methods of communicating. It helps to build a rapport and lets employees know “that they are the most important person in the room,” he emphasized. It gives your staff the opportunity to tell you about their work, how things are going, and what the institution could be doing better.

These meetings are also opportunities for you to brief your staff on important information that they may have missed in their day-to-day activities.

The Adult Conversation

An adult conversation happens when you finally sit with an employee and tell them in a candid manner some of the feedback that they need to hear. This is not an easy conversation to have. Supervisors have an easier time praising employees and giving positive feedback, but it is harder to tell an employee what is needed for improvement. These are often things that nobody wants to talk about. Once the conversation happens, though, the employee can improve. Don’t let fear of an employee leaving as a result of an adult conversation stop you from having that conversation.

The feedback could be as simple as advising an employee on how to dress for C-level meetings, or how body language can be interpreted, or the tone of an email. It is important that you stress the benefit for the employee. For example, an employee may want to be considered for a higher-level position. Hiring managers will remember and factor in appropriate dress and professional behavior observed during earlier meetings.

When you have these conversations, make sure your employees know that the feedback is not a reprimand. It is not to undermine them or to minimize their role in the organization, rather it is to enable them to grow within the organization. The conversations are for their benefit. It doesn’t hurt to be honest about how difficult the conversation is for you. Also, you have an obligation to provide support for correction, perhaps in professional development or training.

Good rapport is necessary for these conversations. Depending on your rapport with an employee, you may need to address smaller matters initially and save the larger ones for later. Be careful of your tone. If you have an issue that applies to several employees, start with those with whom you have the closest connection before you approach an employee you have never spoken to—though, hopefully you have spoken with all employees in one setting or another.

If you think the employee will not be receptive, do not start this conversation. Also, know that, sometimes, an employee will react badly. However, most of the time, if the conversation is respectful and honest, employees appreciate the feedback. They understand the benefit and may actually thank you.

What Not to Do

Do not take all the credit. Never fail to acknowledge employees. Never prevent employees from attending professional training. Never miss an opportunity to give employees positive feedback. Never avoid coaching and mentoring; help employees grow within the organization. 

Last Thoughts

Have the courage to maintain long-lasting conversations with your staff. Find the time to build the rapport and connect with your staff, and be honest in your feedback. When things are not working, make sure you can provide professional development and training.

Do not ignore the issues, because the more you ignore them, the more they will grow, and eventually they can become serious problems.

Institutions can adopt modern solutions to support talent management, to hire and support great employees and leaders, and to develop teams more efficiently.

Talent management solutions are available as stand-alone solutions, and they are part of integrated human capital management (HCM) suites. See our Finance and HR/HCM Report regarding talent management solutions.

Mr. Azzam-Gomez has so much more to share. Be sure to listen to his interview in our Top of Mind podcast now.


©Copyright 2019, The Tambellini Group. All Rights Reserved.

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Columnist: Sue Spies - Tambellini Analyst
As The Tambellini Group’s Research Director of Enterprise Information Systems, Sue Spies authors and publishes research, assists in client engagements, and supports client services. Most recently from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Ms. Spies was the Director of Enterprise Information Systems, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and support of academic and administrative systems. Ms. Spies is an experienced panel facilitator and presenter covering topics such as custom solutions, code, and collaborative work with institutional research colleagues.
CATEGORIES: Technology Leadership