4 Apr

The chief connection officer

The following is a March 2017 post that I wrote for Inside Higher Ed’s Call to Action marketing and communications blog.

Inside Higher Ed logoColleges and universities are organized into functional silos, while our audiences view our institutions holistically. As marketing and communications professionals, we are uniquely positioned to help break down these silos. We are connectors, not only for our audiences, but also for our colleagues. Because our work intersects nearly all facets of the institution, we can see opportunities across multiple departments and make valuable connections for them.

But before we can connect others, we must first connect ourselves with people outside of our department. Simple steps, such as meeting for coffee, can help forge interdepartmental connections, but these actions must be planned and built into our work. We can’t leave it to organic conversations (consider those icing on the cake) or assume that these interactions will take care of themselves as a byproduct of our daily activities.

On the Student Affairs and Technology blog, Eric Stoller encourages practitioners to set a 2017 goal of “at least 20 meetings with colleagues in various departments at your institution.” Even better, he advocates that getting to know people in different units should be mandatory (and incorporated into performance review).

The point is, we have to be intentional. Here are a few approaches that I have tried.

Embrace the Search and Screen

Do you dread the search committee assignment? Yes, it is time-consuming, but it is highly worthwhile. I recently chaired a search for a key enrollment management position, and in doing so I was reminded of the benefits of search committee work. First, I gained a deeper understanding of the department and its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges. A search process is an unparalleled behind-the-curtain learning opportunity, allowing you to become an insider. Second, I walked away from the process with new connections to other departments and enhanced relationships with fellow committee members whom I already knew. Searches are an intensive undertaking marked by frank discussion, and you will come away from them with stronger bonds to others at your university.

When I worked at one of my university’s regional campuses, I wanted to get members of my team on as many search committees as possible, including all professional staff searches. We embraced and sought out these learning and relationship-building opportunities. Plus, they are an excellent way to serve your campus; hiring decisions are among the most important ones we make for our institution.


At that same campus, I also experimented with my own version of Google’s old “20% time” program, where employees could devote one day a week to work on side projects. In our case, it was 3-5 days during the summer months to explore a project or an idea that fit the following criteria: it fell outside of the person’s job description but was campus-related, and it was something the staff member was passionate about.

Staff explored projects and areas ranging from campus dining and counseling services to sustainability and mentoring. (For my part, I conducted interviews with 10 senior administrators across our multi-campus university, exploring their experiences and philosophies related to strategic planning.) Staff members reported increased knowledge of other areas on campus and better connections with colleagues, both of which are conducive to the cross-functional and cross-departmental work that our universities need.

We allocate time and resources for conferences and professional development. Shouldn’t we do the same for building these important connections across campus? If we want to be the most effective marketing and communications leaders we can be to advance the goals of our institution, it is a necessity.

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