Turnover Stinks, Part 2: Three Ways to Minimize It

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Turnover stinks! In December, I released my article “Turnover Stinks: Some Critical Perspective for Admissions Leaders” to help admissions directors shift the way they think about it. Now, looking ahead at the new year, I’d like to offer some advice on how to deal with turnover.

While many would say (and I would agree) that the solution to turnover is to pay better and improve the working condition, there are many other things you can do as an admissions leader. Here are a couple of suggestions to help prevent turnover and build a high-impact admissions team.

1. Train Well and Often

Training and re-training is critically important to aligning strategy and execution of responsibilities. Training also represents a time and opportunity to get into theory and examination of what you do and what you want done.

Yet too often, training is a secondary priority. One might think, “He’ll get it once he does it for a while,” or “They won’t be into it; they have too much experience.” This is the wrong approach.

Think of training as an opportunity to:

  • Align vision
  • Engage in a discussion about process
  • Think critically about the reasons behind how you want things to be done

Build time into your annual plan for training for everyone, not just the new members of your staff. In my office, we are very intentional about training. For example, we regularly have colleagues sit in on each other’s interviews to provide feedback and to keep our own skills sharp. In addition, we use particular meetings, like those focused on application review and even the admissions committee meeting, as training opportunities. While I sometimes refer to this sort of training as “norming,” it’s really training; and, it’s very important for engaging and developing a high-performing team.

2. Expand Roles and Responsibilities

In small offices or those with a few very experienced staff members, promotion may not always be possible. But expanding on roles and responsibilities often is.

Let’s admit it, admissions and recruitment work is monotonous and a sure way to lose staff is to ask them to do the exact same thing the exact same way every year. If you want to keep staff, expand the parameters of their work. This may mean giving up something you do or finding a way to engage staff in work or service outside the office.

I know the tendency is to think, “She’s so busy now, how can I possibly ask her to take on more?” But it’s been my experience that those staff members who are most engaged and valuable will always find time for a new role and a new challenge. Furthermore, a new role or responsibility might be exactly what someone needs to engage at another level and remain a valuable member of your team.

I find it helpful to nominate staff members to campus committee assignments, as well as positions with our state and regional association, IACAC. In addition to assigning roles within the office, the external expansion of responsibility is critically important for staff members who excel.

3. Help Staff Develop the Capacity for Change

Change is hard. Change is often unwelcome. Change is against human nature.

However, change is what our work will revolve around in the coming years, as we face challenges unlike anything we’ve witnessed in a generation. A leader can help stem turnover by helping staff members develop the capacity to embrace change.

A gentle approach to the change process rather than a “change or die” attitude can go a long way. I’ve found it particularly helpful to ask staff members to perform an environmental scan related to areas that I’ve been thinking need to change. I ask these staff members to provide background about what others are doing and determine if we should (and can) change to improve. This equips staff with knowledge about the process and the rationale—why change is necessary and how it can be most effective. My approach has been to create change agents, rather than be the change agent. Other approaches may work more effectively, too, but it’s been my experience that when staff understand a process through which change can occur and are empowered to make the change (as opposed to being ordered to do so), their engagement and the quality of their work increases.

These are just a few suggestions; there are plenty of other things you can do, and I discuss these during a webcast. But regardless of what you do, the bottom line remains that an admissions leader has to be intentional about doing the right things to keep a talented staff engaged.


W. Kent Barnds is a frequent contributor at Academic Impressions. You can read more of his editorials and advice on practical strategies here: