Two people assume Director-level roles with a similar scope and size of institution in the same year. They graduated from strong masters programs and they came up through the professional ranks in higher education in traditional ways. They are universally liked and have similar skill sets. They have good co-workers and get along with their supervisor. Six months into their new roles, one person is completely floundering and the other is flourishing. So what is the difference-maker in this situation? Capacity.
It is your professional capacity to successfully add more work to your plate that is a key indicator of career progression.
At entry and mid-level roles there is always a lot of work to be accomplished. Student issues. After hours events. Crises management. However as you move up the ranks your supervisor will not monitor your workload or limit the scope of your projects nearly as much as when you were first starting out in the field.
Having an increased capacity means that you will never assume that something is going to be taken off your plate by your supervisor. Instead it is up to you to manage your current workload, delegate when appropriate, and add new responsibilities often while managing the same level of success in completing those duties.
Five years ago a colleague and I made a documentary about women in higher education. We interviewed Donna Carroll, the president of Dominican University. When I asked her what strengths she possessed that made her an ideal person to be a university president she responded instantly.
"I have always known," she said, "that I have a very large capacity for getting work done."
I was surprised by her answer. I thought she would say she was a skilled fundraiser or possessed a strong financial mind but instead of focusing on skills or tasks she focused on the process of working.
Since that day I have talked with others in our field about this concept of “capacity” and wondered if each person has a set-point (meaning that they either have a large capacity or they do not) or if there are actual capacity-building techniques could help a person increase the amount of work they can produce. After careful thought I have identified four key areas that I believe are capacity-building strategies:
1) Creating strong organizational process to manage your day: There are about a million different ways to organize your work--to-do lists, planners, electronic calendars, setting reminders on your phone, etc.—however people who have high levels of work capacity have consistent processes that guide their day, manage their time and signal when their goals for the day have been accomplished. This includes any personal appointments, family commitments or anything else that needs to get done during the course of a single day. People with high capacity may have set days or times for errands, volunteering in their home communities and working on special projects. They are rigid with adhering to those set times. They always make sure they are on-time to meetings, events and activities because they always have a plan B (and C and D) when life's little surprises occur.
2) Recruit, hire, maintain and promote an exceptional team: In order for everyone to increase their capacity, a high-level team must be created or else you (and your other team members) will be constantly working to compensate for their lack of productivity. The most important thing we do in our jobs is recruit and hire the most talented people we can find. Take that responsibility seriously. Recruitment is a 365 day a year process—it’s not just when you happen to have an opening in your department. Keep lists of folks who excel in particular areas in your professional field and create relationships with them. When an opening becomes available you’ll have a well-developed list of people to consider and recruit.
Conversely, know when you have to counsel someone out of the role who is no longer helping the goals of the team and/or their abilities do not align with their current position. This is a painful process and the dignity of the person must be preserved at all costs however an unwillingness to address a toxic or non-functioning staff member can cause serious damage to even an otherwise strong team.
3) A commitment to wellness: Eating well, exercising, getting a consistent amount of sleep and being spiritually centered (whatever that may mean to you) impacts your capacity. Another important part of this is the phrase “on a consistent basis.” If these components of wellness are a part of your daily routine they will lead to long-term capacity-building. The ability to wake up well-rested, fuel your body with things that will maximize the functions of your brain and body, and focus on particular tasks are all benefits of a healthy lifestyle. A key indicator of increased capacity for work is stamina—the ability to continue your work past your typical stopping points.
4) A commitment to a blended life: Capacity is increased when you can kill two birds with one stone. Many folks in higher education have enthusiastically embraced this concept. When you take your partner and/or children to a program on campus, is it considered work time or family time? It’s both. When you work on an article for a professional journal on a Saturday is it work time or personal time? It is both. By re-framing your life to simply be just that—one blended life—then you can focus attention on all areas without feeling a need to compartmentalize them.
Some of these areas may take years to perfect but I believe they are good steps towards increasing your productivity both at home and in your professional life. If not consciously developed, I believe that a lack of capacity-building can stall your career progression and can impact your happiness.
What are some capacity-building techniques that you employ in your daily work?