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How Can a Leader Impart Purpose in Their Enrollment Team?

Posted by  Vance Pascua  on Mar 2, 2020 9:52:00 AM

Purpose: Used as a noun, it’s the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. As a verb, it means to have as one’s intention or objective.  Either way, I am a firm believer that if anything we seek to achieve in enrollment is to be done effectively, it must be believed in…and must be led and imparted from the perspective of purpose.

“Those able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability enjoy a distinct competitive advantage.”
—Valerie Keller, Global Lead, EY Beacon Institute

We've become good at knowing our purpose as leaders and organizations. We plaster it on the office walls, put it in the new employee binder, or look at it in the strategic plan every three years.

A deep belief in a purpose outside oneself can quadruple engagement at work, foster team cohesion, and even help people live longer. However, according to EY Beacon Institute’s research, most leaders do not feel their teams have internalized the organization’s purpose—and the lack of engagement and results agree.

To impart purpose to their Enrollment Team, leaders should ask the following two questions:

How can I ensure our identified and acknowledged purpose evokes an emotional response from my team?

Purpose needs to be felt. You can’t just talk about purpose. Until it is brought home in a story or testimonial directly from a student or family impacted by your team’s support, the stated purpose is nothing more than lofty words. 

According to Gallup, more than 60% of people report active disengagement in their work. Most of these organizations, including universities, have compelling mission and purpose statements that have been carefully word-smithed. 

Imagine you lead the outreach efforts for Admissions, connecting current students with prospective students to discover their greatest needs, wants, and concerns. How would you motivate your team—a group of busy, distracted, and often stressed students who know they need and want the job (and the money), but must also muster the strength and energy to serve sacrificially? 

According to a study by psychologist and author Adam Grant, Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, if you stood in front of a group of people and talked about the impact of their work, you probably wouldn’t improve anyone’s performance. But, if you invited a few current students to share their personal stories of how receiving a scholarship affected their school decision, that would be much more impactful. Grant’s study found that after volunteers had listened to a story of how a scholarship recipient’s award affected them, they raised 400% more money than average. 

Bring the team face-to-face with people whose lives have been changed by what they do. Collect your team’s stories—put processes in place where these valuable stories are gathered, saved, and shared. They tell the story of WHY your team exists.

If the enrollment team experiences the cause and effect between their work and the college’s progress, understands how a student is making an impact on the world or being impacted by the faculty at the college or experiences first-hand how their role is vital to other departments, the team will feel a sense of purpose.

How can I ensure my team believes our stated purpose?

Start with making sure you believe in the purpose. As the leader, you need to believe what you’re saying and doing. Then make sure your actions line up with the purpose. If your other leadership behaviors don’t reinforce the purpose, your team will view your tactics as manipulative rather than inspirational.

Then, be clear—through the ranks. Researchers have found that it was clarity of purpose that determined its effectiveness for teams. Here, middle management plays the key role, not hourly workers or the top leadership. You will need middle managers or team leaders who buy into the purpose and can take daily steps or make course corrections to guide everyone toward the purpose.

Make sure everyone on the team can answer the question "Why am I here?" with a common language. Purpose only makes a difference if it is implemented in conjunction with clear, concise direction from top management and in such a way that the middle layer has fully bought in. Belief is the activator of purpose.

Lastly, every member of the enrollment team must ask themselves, and each other, these questions on a routine basis. Ideally, this would be the practice across campus, led by the President’s Cabinet, especially since enrollment is everyone’s business.  Even if you successfully make the purpose personal and believable, it must become enduring community-wide. The purpose is not a one-time transaction, rather, it is an ongoing transformational principle. Purpose naturally evolves, just as the people on your team and the challenges they face evolve.

Throughout our Value Based Enrollment Methodology (VBEM) curriculum, we impress upon the enrollment teams with whom we work to conduct themselves with a Service-Centered Counselor approach, where we pay particular attention to the Values of all parties involved and the Value of your college.

Encourage your team to make a habit of experiencing the problems and the achievements of prospective students, firsthand. Encourage your team to interview students to learn what led them to select your college, what has been positive and what has been negative for them, what did they expect and how were those expectations met or not met, frustrations experienced, etc.

These types of personal experiences will allow the team to adapt messaging to meet evolving needs, as well as increase the team’s sense of purpose, because they will witness first-hand the why of their work and be empowered to solve problems they encounter.


Vance Pascua has served Secondary and Higher Education since 1987. A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, he has served up the ranks, from Admissions Counselor to Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid. He’s also spent significant time leading Athletic Recruitment and Retention efforts from the Admissions and Financial Aid side. Currently, he serves colleges and universities by coaching and training enrollment teams with Value Based Inc.'s Enrollment Methodologies to maximize their impact and results. He enjoys musing and writing on topics like team building, innovation, and the college search and planning process. He lives in Roseville, California with his wife, Diane, and their beloved dogs, Buster and Willie.

Topics: innovate higher ed, admissions, enrollment, leadership