Appendix B
Episode 027 -

The Impact of Turnover on University-Agency Partnerships

Appendix B Episode 27, text is present that reads, "The Impact of Turnover on University-Agency Partnerships"

What happens to university + agency partnerships when there’s a change in leadership? 
How does presidential turnover affect project momentum and communication? What can be done to safeguard ongoing work?
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Kristin Van Dorn:

Okay. So Joel, we know that this year we have a historic number of new presidencies for universities and colleges. And we know that people tend not to leave their job, but leave their manager. So we can expect that the turnover trends that have been lasting for the last few years might either increase a little or stay with us at least through this period of university and college change. How do you think that affects agency life and our projects and whether or not people can get new websites launched?

Joel Goodman:

You know, I like- Turnover of any kind has so many wide reaching effects. So on the agency side, you know, we feel this and we’ve felt this for years. I think, you know, when you’re inside of an institution, it’s probably a little bit hard to kind of get a sense for how much turnover is actually happening and how much that turnover does affect the work that you do and the work that your partners do. On our side, where we’re, you know, kind of looking in and looking at all of the all the administrative stuff going on within institutions. It causes real issues with the work that we do.

I think we’ve touched on parts of this in the past on Appendix B, but when the people that an agency interfaces with on the partner side leave, you are dealing with not only re-educating the organization, you’ve also got new people coming in, well cool, well we gotta get them up to speed on all the work with the last person that was in that position, try to bring them back along to the strategies. You know, a lot of the work that we do isn’t just saying like, hey, this is what we’re doing, because if we did that, institutions wouldn’t trust us, right?

A lot of what we’re doing is it’s convincing, it’s explaining, it’s teaching, it’s educating, and then it’s bringing those people along in the plan and getting them on our side, getting them to understand why we’re recommending the things that we’re recommending. And we don’t recommend those things just because we think they’re fun or it’s our preferred way to do things. I mean, entirely. I think that sometimes it is our preferred way to do things because the… the right way is always the preferred way for me anyway. I don’t want to do something the wrong way and have to redo it later on. But new people don’t know that stuff, right? They may not know the culture of the institution. They definitely don’t know the history of the work that we’ve done with their predecessors.

And even worse, a lot of times they may be coming in with a whole different agenda and that could cause… the work that’s been done to basically be scrapped or put on hold. You know, and then there are still expectations from the wider organization that you’re going to hit the timelines that were already agreed to in contracts way back. But, you know, the changeover in personnel is not just an easy thing to do unless you’re like unless leadership has a huge hold on it. It’s just like, hey, no, you can’t change a thing. Your ideas don’t matter yet. We’ve got to plow through this project and get it done. And that’s never the case. And we and we don’t want to work with people in that way. We don’t want our partners to come along begrudgingly because they came in late to a project. We want them to help, or we want to help them own that part of the process too.


We think of turnover as a quick change, but it is a long-lasting change. Like it’s a process. So when someone has more or less effectively decided to leave an organization, they don’t leave the next day. typically, right? They don’t just hard quit. It’s a process of decision making, plus it’s usually a process of job hunting.

And in that process that they’re going through, they’re slowly unhooking from the sense of responsibility and the sense of commitment to their current place. And as that happens, especially when they’re in the midst of an agency process, you know, or a partnership, the client side project management starts to depreciate. And they stop making decisions because for one part, they feel it’s unethical to make decisions that are going to behold another staff or another team to. And they stop passing information back and forth between key stakeholders in the agency because they feel like there’s some energy in there that they don’t wanna bring to that project or that process.

Then there is usually an interim that’s holding down the fort but not changing strategy and is not really sure what they can commit to. So there’s a few months of while they run a search and then there’s getting a new person on board. And throughout that process, the work of… university agency partnership just starts to lag. It’s really difficult to keep it on pace and to keep it tethered to goals. And so your research begins to age, your strategy begins to age, and you’re not able to leverage the data that you have and the ideas that you have in an effective way because your environment is already starting to shift.

Plus on top of that someone else comes in, and they want a different set of priorities and a different set of tactics to deploy. So all of these things tend to wear away on the university agency trust model, right? So I feel like we spend a lot of our time during a turnover process, really working on establishing that trust with new people all over again, like it’s a brand new project.


Yeah, it’s and to some extent it, you know, it oftentimes feels that way. Like it is a brand new project. And sometimes it ends up being that which is which is frustrating. But I think if there’s something that, you know, that I could communicate to leadership, especially new leadership, it’s that if you have projects that are in place, see them through like, you know, a probably a chunk of that money that was committed is already spent just see it through with what was in place and then work from there because a lot of times, you know, a lot of institutions are not doing a web redesign or a renewed content strategy or refreshing their digital marketing strategy because what they had before is maybe just a little bit outdated.

Usually it’s kind of do or die. It’s get this thing up and running so that you can get your next enrollment cycle barreling down the tracks and get it some momentum. Not, well, you know, our enrollments been fine, so let’s update the website. Like that’s not happening. And so if you take the if you’re a new leader at an institution and you decide that you want to make your mark now in the middle of a project that’s already been going, you’re actually doing a disservice to the institution. And you’re doing a disservice to the staff that have been working on it for you know, however many months prior to you coming on board, because you’re putting a pause and you’re definitely going to be prolonging the end result of the process and the project that’s been in place.

And that costs the institution money, that costs trust, that, you know, like there are ways to calmly come into that and make it work in a good way and coming in and just changing everything is probably one of the worst things you could do for a web project.


Yeah, and I think that if you are forecasting a need for change in strategy or direction, if I could offer my wish list, it would be to speak transparently and directly with the agency and allow the agency to respond with ideas and possible… changes to contracts or effective new directions that you can go into, rather than just abruptly canceling or redefining on your own what your goals are.

Bring the agency into that conversation and state what the forecasted problems or issues are and work together on solving those problems. You know, even though you might be new to the environment, new to the partnership, that trust between that university and the agency has been there for a long time. So while you’re getting up to speed, you could still leverage what’s been there and look for solutions together.