Use the AACRAO Competencies to set professional development New Year’s Resolutions


By:     Joellen Shendy, Associate Vice Provost and University Registrar, University of Maryland University College
Patrick Elliott, Senior Associate Registrar, University of Maryland University College

Happy New Year! The ball dropped, we have cleaned up after our parties, and most of us are back to our regular business of supporting student learning. What about your new year’s resolution? Was it put to the curb with the balloons, confetti, and empty food containers? Statistically, about 45% of Americans make a new year’s resolution, but only 8% successfully achieve their goal (Statistic Brain, 2015). If you committed to a resolution, there is hope for you; over 70% of people maintain their goal through the first couple of weeks. The odds are that you have been faithful to the new you during the first weeks of 2017.

Our business is all about learning and growing - regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall from Admissions to Registrar to Student Affairs. However, learning is not limited to students, and neither are goals! The best place to start is where you are, and there is no better time than now to keep on track with resolutions regarding you or your staff's professional development and growth. There are several ways to improve yourself, your colleagues, and your work environment this year. In 2015, AACRAO published professional competencies for Admissions, Enrollment Management, and Registrar professionals. This resource is useful for new and veteran professionals alike. In fact, this is the start of a two-part series that explores ten ways that you can use the AACRAO competency report to achieve personal and professional development goals. In Part One, we will focus on the first five uses, which will provide a foundation for Part Two, to be published in the Feb. 7 issue of AACRAO Connect.

1. Use as opportunity to benchmark the talents of staff and leaders in the office

    Perhaps nothing is as important as using the AACRAO professional competencies to benchmark the talents of your staff. A benchmark allows you to create a starting point on which you can evaluate the professional growth and proficiencies within your team.

To get started, create a list of your team members with assessments for each of the core and relevant job-specific competencies. It may be helpful to create a matrix with staff on one axis and the proficiencies on the other. You can use the ratings of entry, intermediate, and expert based on the guidelines in the full report. If the situation warrants it, you may want to include your staff in this benchmarking, having them add a self-assessment to the mix. You can find other suggestions on how to engage your colleagues throughout both parts of this article.

    The final output is an inventory of skill and competency level of your team. Make it a living document by updating it regularly, thus tracking progress and analyzing new opportunities and areas of growth.  You can use this information in multiple ways. For example, try folding it into your annual performance review process - – come back for Part Two to learn more. You could also use it to help set operational goals, leveraging the strengths of your team and providing opportunities for their growth,  to maximize success and achievement. Benchmarking your team against competencies designed for the profession also allows you to assess staff against competencies that their peers are demonstrating, creating a more objective and industry aligned process. In fact, once you have the information, you will find it comes in handy on a regular basis. As this step is the foundation of many of the suggestions in this article, you will have a head start on completing some of the other activities when your resources – time, money, and staff – are ready to be allocated and prioritized.  

2. Allocate resources wisely and put your time, money, and staff where your competency exists

    We face many resource constraints when implementing professional development programs. Often times we have limited resources to invest in staff. Money, however, is not the only scarce resource.  In fact, many of us find that we are always busy; time is our scarcest resource.

The benchmark analysis in #1 provides a way to prioritize our finite resources by identifying where the needs and opportunities are - aligning identified staff knowledge, skills, and abilities with institutional and departmental objectives and goals . Once you complete step one, review it, looking for areas of strength and weaknesses. It may make sense to give priority to the competencies that represent significant gaps in your office skills or those that may support your institutional strategic plan. Also keep regulatory and policy initiatives in mind as you might need to pivot to support these items. Once you complete this step, you should have a list of competencies to target and a general idea of the order in which to target them, even with limited resources.

    If your office has an operational plan, you should consider creating a task or goal to address the skill gap in your office and develop strategies for success. Record these ideas, on paper or digitally, to hold yourself and your team accountable. That way, you will be sure to focus your time on growing competency levels and managing the inevitable daily “fire fighting” with the long term success of staff resources in the office. If you do not have an operational plan, this could be the year that you start one or at least lay the foundation for the next fiscal cycle by identifying competency development in your office as a key operational goal.

    If you are seeking funding for professional development, do not forget your other budget line items. You may be able to provide and enhance professional development by purchasing new software, obtaining training services, or even office supplies. For example, if you identified “Interpretation and Application of Data” as a target competency, you may want to look at reporting software, training books, or even screens to display dashboards in your office as possible expenditures that will further that goal.

3. Form a foundation to build a leadership succession plan for the office


A necessary role of a leader is to plan for a time when she is no longer there and develop a cohesive team. To do so, you need to understand your team’s talents and areas of growth required to propel them to the next stage in their career. This process is another mapping exercise. This time you should create a map of the competencies of the team leader(s) - using the leader currently in the position or the competencies which represent a great leader for your office. There are several possible outcomes of this analysis.

If you are fortunate, the joint team will cover all of the leaders’ identified competencies. If someone were to leave, one or more team members could assume a portion of his or her duties. In an ideal world, there would be a close one-to-one match between the proficiencies of a staff and a leader, meaning one person could be swapped for another during a transition. It is, however, more probable that a team has multiple team members that, together, cover the skills of a leader or significant gaps in skills in the team.

If your collective team has adequate skill, you could use a small team to assume temporary duties, if someone were to leave. You, however, will also need to keep the long-term strategy in mind. You should again look at the competency set of each person and determine those likely to assume leadership responsibilities. It could be one person or all of them, depending on the individual aptitudes and your organization’s promotion processes. From there you can compare how each compares to the competencies for the leadership position(s) and decide how to develop those skills. The goal of this process is to create a roadmap for promotions and backfills on your team; having a plan will prevent transitions from taking yo by surprise.  Of critical importance here is the transparency and line of sight you provide to your staff and leadership team for the next generation of leaders to be identified, coached, and developed using the work you've done with competencies. Having defined and clear pathways for advancement in the office can enhance staff engagement and loyalty to your institution.

4. Opportunity to tie learning to the workplace in a meaningful way for staff which helps staff understand learning-workplace connections on a personal level.

    Competency-based education (CBE) is trending nationwide, and we are in the business of helping students learn. Administrative units, however, are often removed from the academics, left to provide services to students and faculty, rarely diving into the core learning models and pedagogy traditions. The AACRAO professional competencies provide a suitable opportunity for leaders and staff outside of curriculum development to understand and work with competencies in a way that is meaningful to them on a personal level. Nationwide, a shift to more competency based hiring is gaining ground. Staff who are familiar with their competency skill set and how it can be leveraged for career growth and opportunity are ahead of the game when it comes to hiring and assuring they have what it takes to move to the next level in their career progressions.

    For staff who are struggling to understand the difference between traditional learning models and CBE, reviewing the AACRAO professional competencies may help. AACRAO has not provided a list of courses that professionals need to take to advance their careers. Rather their framework focuses on proficiencies staff can acquire and sharpen in many different settings. Much like in CBE, the focus is not on where something was learned but that it is known and demonstrated. The learning can occur in a variety of ways - and the main point is really about what a learner (staff) CAN do. Ask your team to review the full report and read Part Two of this series (to be published Jan. 24) for some idea task they can own.

5. Influence your profession by innovating new models of professional growth and development using the competency framework and sharing

    AACRAO published its professional competencies in 2015, and now is the time to seize the day to develop them in meaningful ways for our institutions and offices. The report provides the scaffolding on which we can build innovative professional development programs. With the increased focus on competency-based education and hiring, we have an opportunity to drive innovation from within our department.

    We, the authors, are developing a competency-based staff development program that uses the AACRAO competencies. We presented on our initial model and pilot test plans at MSACROA’s 2016 Annual Meeting. Our goal is to produce a scalable program that almost any organization could use. We will share more as our project progresses.

    For all of the reasons we lay out in this article, professional development is an important function within our offices. We are a profession of educators and that must go beyond student learning. To really embrace the idea that it is the competencies that matter, identifying and mapping staff to competencies creates an understanding of CBE which is part of the fabric of the university versus merely a pedagogical model isolated to the classroom. We hope that our work and this article will inspire others to roll up their sleeves and create something great with the resources. When you do, please remember to share it with the AACRAO community.

To be continued

In this part, we discussed five foundational uses for the AACRAO professional competencies, benchmarking, resource allocation, succession planning, making meaningful connections, and contributing to our profession.  In Part Two (published Feb. 7th), we will provide five more suggestions that build on the points in this article. Stay tuned and help us make 2017 the year of professional development.

Explore AACRAO professional development opportunities (webinars, online courses, meetings and more) here.