Running a small undergraduate student staff

I need to be careful on this one; several of my current staff members follow me on twitter and keep up with the things I put out there….

But, there is an art form in how I run my staff.  I have seven amazing undergraduate students that I work with.  In accordance with my job description, I hold weekly 1:1’s with them, have a weekly staff meeting, and generally keep tabs on what is going on with their buildings.

However, there is so much more to what I do with them.  I should note, nothing that I do is landmark or groundbreaking — but, it is good stuff.

First off, I know their names.  Sounds silly, but is important.  Beyond their names, I know a lot about them.  I know their majors (or at least I know mostly what they are), I know where they are from (ish), I know about their dreams, where they want to be in five years, how they plan on getting there…etc  I have really taken the time to get to know them as people.  Not all of them have confessed their deepest and darkest secrets to me – but, that’s not what I’m here for.  I ask them what matters to them, and we talk about those things.  You learn about the one staff member with a family member in poor health and how that occupies lots of the staff member’s energy and thought.  Then you ask about that every week.  Use that to really see how the staff member is doing; while genuinely caring about who they are.

Next trick – I know what their job is.  While I have never been an RA – either at this current institution or any other institution – I have read their job description, I was involved in planning their training, and I continue to re-train them on a daily basis.  I think it is crucial to understand what they do and how they do it.  I have gone on rounds with my staff members, I have made door dec’s, I have made bulletin boards (I’m not good at those), & I’ve engaged with our residents in all sorts of fun conversations.  However, I am not an RA.  I am the supervisor of seven RA’s.  While I understand their job, I don’t do it.  So, I ask them for input on things.  I ask them why we do the things that we do and see if we can come up with a combined meaning or understanding of the given task.

CONSISTENCY and ACCESSIBILITY!  These two words are in caps for a reason.  They are huge and connected.  Consistency: it is important that you are consistent with your staff.  You can be as firm or as flexible on deadlines as you want to be, however if you change your expectations mid-year, your staff will not know what hit them and you will loose them.  Same thing holds true if you have one level of expectation for the group, but always allow one or two people to slide on things.

Accessibility ties into professional balance.  If you are clear with what works for you, then you are good to go.  My staff know that I tend to not want to be bothered after 10p unless it is an emergency (or obviously if I am on duty).  However, they know that they can email at any time and I will respond as soon as I can.  Questions and communications from my staff are my number 1 priority, after communications from my direct supervisor.    In general, you figure out your boundaries and then publicize them; and your staff will respect them — as long as you are consistent about it.

Finally, I have taken time to figure out their motivations, work styles, and try to understand how they need to be encouraged.  I readily admit that I have a huge weakness in recognizing people for doing a ‘good deed’ – I just forget.  However, some of my staff really need recognition for doing their job.  Other members only want recognition when they go above and beyond.  Still other members of my staff don’t’ want any recognition at all.  I have taken the time to figure out the best communication method for each staff member.  One wants a big long email with a list of things to do and then the rationale behind it.  Another staff member only works well when I send them quick text messages asking them to do things.  Finally, a third staff member just wants a to-do list and then wants me to bug off.  Figuring out how your staff work is a crucial key to creating the best living environment for your residents.

Last tid-bit; some of this seems like a lot of work.  Let’s face it – for me, 7 hours of 1:1 meetings a week is a lot of time!  I’m currently a GA – I am only on the books for 20 hours a week.  However, by investing my time and energy into my staff I find that they give the extra mile worth of effort back to me every time.  When I am in a pinch (or we have a hairy situation) I find they will push through and preform to a very high level.  I attribute some of this to the amount of time and energy I put into working with them.

A lot of this boils down to respecting yourself and them.  The first thing I told my staff when I met them at the beginning of the year is that, “I value your time more than you do.”



One response to “Running a small undergraduate student staff

  1. “One wants a big long email with a list of things to do and then the rationale behind it. Another staff member only works well when I send them quick text messages asking them to do things. Finally, a third staff member just wants a to-do list and then wants me to bug off.”

    The thing that worries me about this a bit is that I wonder how we are preparing them for “the outside world.” If your staff member that needs a text message to do good work gets a job at a Fortune 500 company, chances are their boss won’t text them to remember their TPS reports.

    I’m not saying there is harm in your method, just curious what you do to address preparation for future positions.

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