Every day you are faced with a number of questions. What will you eat for lunch? Why are your numbers down this month? Are you really still watching this show (don’t judge me, Netflix!)

Particularly when it comes to problem-solving at work, if you’re anything like me, you want – no, you need – to find the answer. In a sometimes politically charged industry like higher education, there are often many people who have information and opinions that affect the answers to your questions.

The good news? There’s usually a way to find the answers you need. But there are many ways to arrive at a resolution, and you must ask the right questions to get there. Here are a few tips to set you on the right path.

1. What is the main objective?

There needs to be a purpose driving the conversation. If everyone around the table can’t answer this question or doesn’t agree on the objective, you’ve already set yourself up for trouble.

It also doesn’t hurt to do a gut check along the way to remind everyone of why you’re all here. For example, an act as simple as gesturing to a campaign goal or business objective you’ve written on a whiteboard can serve as a visual cue if the discussion gets off track.

2. How will finding the answer impact the way you do business?

If there is no appetite for change, you may as well stop here and save yourself some time. We’ve all probably been through exercises that ended up being for naught because there was ultimately no desire to change the status quo. Don’t do that to yourself. Your time matters.

If you and your colleagues (and leadership!) are genuinely open to change, look broadly at how those changes will impact your day-to-day. And keep in mind that the effects may reach further than your department. From tuition pricing strategies to branding campaigns, every decision has its own ripple effects.

If you’re all truly focused on your institution’s mission, changes to the status quo are ultimately in the best interest of all affected parties, be it students, faculty and staff, or your institutional community.

3. Who is leading the conversation?

Ever been to a meeting without an agenda? A ship without a captain is a wayward vessel. While you may have more people profess “not it!” when looking for a leader, it’s important to have someone steering the ship to ensure the objective remains in focus, tasks get completed, and a clear outcome is achieved.

Keep in mind that leading a conversation doesn’t require a “leadership” title. No matter your role, you can lead and contribute to impactful conversations by being engaged, actively listening, and helping others to be heard.

4. Are all the right people at the table?

Every captain needs a crew. I’ve seen many initiatives fail because all key stakeholders didn’t have a seat at the table.

If the outcome of your research may impact the admissions counselor, fundraiser, or data manager down the hall, include them in the conversation. It will result in fewer dart boards with your photo as the bull’s-eye. Relationships matter!

For example, if your focus is reversing enrollment declines, determine what areas of campus will be impacted by the insights gleaned through enrollment and academic program research:

  • Admissions officers will have new or revised academic programs to promote to prospective students.
  • Marketing and communications might need to revise or develop new web content strategies or creative materials.
  • You will need buy-in from faculty and staff that changes are in the best interest of students and your institution’s mission.
  • Advancement and alumni engagement may be faced with questions from alumni and donors who may be perplexed by changes happening on campus.

5. It’s okay to ask for help.

No one is an expert at everything. There’s a reason why you see many professions branch off into various subspecialties. And sometimes an objective view of the issue is just what you need. The devil is in the details, and sometimes you will benefit from a little help to achieve your goals.

Marrying data-driven decision making with consensus building is often best achieved with an outside expert’s objective counsel. If you are ready to take a hard look at academic program offerings, infusing market research data into institutional strengths and weaknesses can help achieve your goals.

What questions are you seeking to answer? Email Sarah Clough today to discuss your market research options and effectively arrive at a resolution.

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