The higher education sector is undergoing unprecedented change. UK universities face increasing pressures starting from budget cuts, global competition and increasing students’ expectations to developing their work force.
You might be surprised to hear that adding a high performer to your team could increase the productivity of team members by up to 15%. In turbulent times, identifying and developing potential talent is key. If you promote within the organisation, you can minimise the risk of external hiring and gain significant savings.
In this article, I have selected a few insights for you to help successfully identify and foster high performers within higher education.
Start with performance
Most of us would first evaluate how well the individual has been able to perform their tasks in the job. Looking at past and current performance is a good starting point. There are, however, a number of other factors to consider. It is wise to look at how fast they can pick up new skills or knowledge. Being able to quickly grasp new complex information is a sign of strong learning abilities. People who can effortlessly pick up new knowledge are likely to excel in their job. Independent thinking, creative problem solving, entrepreneurial skills and a proactive approach are indicators of strong performers and demonstrate leadership abilities. When an individual aspires for more senior roles and consistently puts in the extra effort, they could be the right candidate for promotion.
Assess relationship building skills
Managing our emotions is important because it is the cornerstone of building positive work relationships with others. When an individual is open, authentic, resilient and able to handle pressures, they are likely to be strong at building rapport with others. Partnership development, marketing and university engagement roles demand individuals to excel at influencing and negotiating skills.
There are however a number of challenges with identifying superstars. As universities offer more flexibility for staff, home based workers will have less opportunities to shine. According to a study by MIT Sloan Management Review, home working staff had less chances of being promoted or receiving outstanding appraisals. Organisations promote staff who are consistently seen in the office as suggested by Jack and Suzy Welch in BusinessWeek. Being physically present signals commitment. The more regularly you are seen and observed, the more likely you are to be promoted.
So what are some of the practical ways you could spot future stars? You could provide regular 1-2-1 meetings with line managers, observation, systematic performance assessment, 360-degree feedback and psychometric testing just to mention a few methods.
Many UK universities aim to embed systematic succession planning as they hope to develop future heads of schools, directors and senior leaders.
Individuals may accept leadership roles because they genuinely aspire to higher levels within academia or as a response to pressure from their university department. Most academics choose their profession because of deep interest in their subject area. Although they may be cornered into senior roles, they may be reluctant to take it on. An Exeter University study described the concept of the ‘reluctant leader’ in higher education.
Universities may provide coaching, mentoring, leadership courses and other talent development programmes to foster high potentials. Although such development opportunities may be costly, they could have wide-ranging benefits for universities from improved staff retention to stronger motivation of staff. Talent management systems need to be set up carefully because they could cause friction amongst staff if not managed systematically.
Remember to consider bias when signalling out people. When we promote people who think, act or behave similarly to us, there is a real risk of falling into the trap of positive bias. If we promote people with similar personality traits and skills, we will soon end up with homogenous management teams. Diverse teams can handle complex challenges in creative new ways. Homogenous teams are less likely to come up with refreshing ideas because individuals think too similarly! In turbulent and fast changing times, it is more important than ever to create out-of-the box solutions. Diversity enables creativity.
Negative bias could make us blind to seeing potential high fliers. When an individual is different from us in terms of their background, personality, skills or patterns of thinking, it can be easy to dismiss their potential.
Universities are learning organisations. It is no longer sufficient to provide cutting-edge education to students. If universities want to not just survive but to thrive in the future, they must introduce robust strategies for nurturing their employees.