Magazine article University Business

Making the Marriage Last: Don't Let Your Top Administrators Fall from Grace; Have a Solid Game Plan for Their Successful Retention. (People & Politics)

Magazine article University Business

Making the Marriage Last: Don't Let Your Top Administrators Fall from Grace; Have a Solid Game Plan for Their Successful Retention. (People & Politics)

Article excerpt

A new president, academic officer, or other administrator arrives on campus with credentials that, on paper, seem closely aligned with the criteria established by the search committee. The candidate receives a comprehensive campus tour and meets colleagues and staff in a series of welcoming receptions. Yet, a year later, the honeymoon is over, and the campus wants a divorce.

How does this happen? How can universities increase their success rate in hiring and retaining senior administrators? The key lies in the design of comprehensive recruitment, selection, and leadership development processes within the broader context of succession planning, rather than within the limits of traditional hiring practices.


When a university sets out to hire an administrator, any number of things can go wrong, right off the bat. First, university officials frequently don't take the time to step back and rethink the vacant position in the context of the current leadership environment. The search committee moves ahead with an antiquated position description that survived one or more long-tenured predecessors, or a parade of interim administrators.

Then, once the committee completes its process, the hiring administrators interview the top candidates. But, instead of asking questions to ascertain institutional fit, hiring administrators often react to the urgency of filling the position, and use the interview process to "sell" the campus to the candidate. Once the candidate is sold on the university and campus welcoming rituals are complete, the newly appointed administrator's past experiences are magically expected to translate into an immediate understanding of the new campus's culture and, conversely, the campus's intuitive grasp of the new boss's desires. As the months progress, the honeymoon behavior is abandoned, others routinely critique the new leader's performance, and the rumors begin to fly.

When the match between the role and the leader is out of alignment, consequences range from unmet leadership challenges to wasted resources. One college president found that a new chief academic officer was unable to provide the support he had hoped for in achieving consensus on eliminating declining academic programs and slashing the budget. Having to address these challenges himself kept the president from his fundraising activities. Elsewhere, poor succession choices have resulted in loss of public faith in the college, low morale, mirror-image hiring, and leaders who are retired-on-the-job. Searching for a replacement taxes a university's resources, as does the long-term process of reversing an administrator's behavioral patterns. But, with solid planning, it doesn't have to be this way.


The following critical success factors can reduce the likelihood of costly succession mistakes.

Create a role profile. Hiring a replacement is an opportunity to a) re-evaluate and profile the leadership role, and b) identify core competencies and assess institutional needs in the context of the future leadership environment and the campus's strategic direction. Even where policy or politics discourages rewriting the job description, administrators can supplement that description by developing a "Cliffs-Notes" document that identifies the changes to the constellation of roles the individual will play, and the related core competencies.

Become involved with the search committee before launching the recruitment process. Never delegate the job of translating needs to the search committee. There are ways to influence the committee without creating an adversarial relationship. For example, when a new university president had to replace a chief academic officer in office for over 20 years, she commissioned a report based in part on interviews with key constituents. It outlined the CAO's historical and future role, plus desired core competencies; it formed the foundation of a revised job profile, which was then presented to the search committee. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.