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Tim Cross on Managing Human Talent

Tim Cross, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Lesley University

Within our advancement programs today, what are the three most critical challenges that hiring managers are facing?

  • Scarcity of and competition for highly talented advancement professionals. This requires, among other things, that we stay in close touch with the market for these people and develop a deep understanding of the prevalent and decisive factors in their career decisions. An important challenge here is identifying the most useful, reliable reference points for this kind of information.
  • Identifiable paths for career development within our own organization. This is particularly important from a retention perspective and involves establishing clear, meaningful definitions for all positions and distinguishing job titles and categories. Succession planning is also an important challenge in this regard.
  • “Institution-hopping”—i.e., the pervasiveness of advancement professionals changing employers every two to three years. With such short tenures, how do we determine candidates’ strengths, productivity, cultural fit, etc. with confidence?

What are the actions that our profession might take to adjust, change or transform these challenges into opportunities to hire and retain the best and brightest?

  • Develop a strategic, pro-active talent pipeline: Create, nurture, and exploit broad networks of contacts to identify potential candidates for future searches/needs, as opposed to waiting for a position to open and then beginning the recruitment process from scratch.
  • Brand the institution effectively and establish the advancement organization as an employer of choice. I think Michigan and BU are two exemplars of this point, and we plan to steal everything we can as we build a distinctive brand for Tufts!
  • Build a strong retention program.

From your perspective, what are the major trends that our advancement programs face over the next three to five years in terms of hiring and retaining our staff?

  • Continually increasing competition for advancement professionals as more institutions undertake major campaigns.
  • Growing pressure on compensation and other resources available for rewards and recognition.
  • Availability of meaningful and effective professional and career development opportunities.

Are there particular positions that are the most challenging to hire/retain? If so, which one(s) and why?

  • Major gift officers: scarcity of truly talented MGO’s and the intense competition in the marketplace
  • Executive-level managers: the combination of fundraising prowess and management expertise is still a quite rare phenomenon; yet, both are essential to these positions.

What is the longer term perspective or trends that might position our advancement programs to meet the priorities of our respective college or university to raise philanthropic support?

  • Solid, effective organizational strategic planning
  • Creation of talent management department/function/focus within the advancement organization
  • Development of effective recruitment and retention programs
  • Succession planning

Within your own department, what are the types of professional development programs are you offering for your advancement staff?

  • Lunch-and-learn/brown-bag presentations and discussions
  • Staff surveys to determine needs and effectiveness of initiatives
  • Taking advantage of resources provided elsewhere in the University (e.g., HR organizational development and training programs)
  • Engaging outside consultants/speakers/programs to address specific areas of interest or need
  • Sending staff to professional organization meetings/programs.

How are you measuring the success of these programs in developing and retaining the staff?

  • We conduct post-session surveys of participants. These are helpful, but there is more we should and will do in this regard.

For a college/university to consider forming a department such as yours, what are the critical considerations before one develops?

  • Secure explicit, publicly expressed, and funded senior management support and buy-in.
  • Develop an active, constructive partnership with HR colleagues based on clear expectations, well-defined roles and distinctions, and a common vision for the organization.
  • Build a broad consensus within the advancement organization about the value of such an office/function before implementation. Such agreement imbues the ultimate department and personnel with critical credibility and acceptance.

What might be some of the “lessons learned” in the early stages of such a department? What would you recommend to our colleagues?

  • We are in the early stages, and the considerations listed above are proving to be key to our initial success.
  • Include HR personnel as completely as possibly in the enterprise—make it clear they are part of your team, and help them develop a sense of pride and ownership in the advancement division. You might want to consider bringing a key HR partner to the CASE talent management conference—we did that this past year, and it was a very positive thing.

Since we all are interested in “best practices,” what is one that you are most proud in your organization?

  • Successful establishment of a talent management function in our advancement organization.
  • Redefining our organizational relationship and expectations with the University HR office and developing a very effective partnership.
  • Creation of an excellent on-boarding program for new hires in advancement.

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