What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)

February 6, 2013


Planning and attending programs and activities is typically the most fun part of a student affairs professional’s year. Successful programming is not only a skill, but an art. However, we need to be able to teach our programming standards to our full-time and student staffers so they understand what is and what is NOT an excellent program. Unfortunately programming expectations can be very nebulous, subjective, and many times concentrate on quantity rather than quality.

In order to better define the standards programming for my own student staff, I developed a simple, one-page Programming Rubric. Simply stated, a rubric is a written set of criteria for which a task is measured against. Rubrics are typically used by K-12 teacher and professors in the classroom in order to set the standards for how an essay, research paper, presentation, or other assignment will be graded.

The rubric includes a rating of Excellent, Good, Average, and Poor for five areas, including Pre-Planning, Marketing, Finances, Evaluation, and Overall Assessment. There is also a section for comments specific to the actual program being evaluated. Each rating has a numerical value attached to it so you can evaluate a program by creating a programming grade point average (GPA). Given there are five areas of evaluation, including the overall assessment, the points will range from a minimum of five to a maximum of 20. After adding each area together, you divide by five in order to get the program GPA. A programming GPA is a great standard for students because they can relate to it very easily, is easy for them to conceptualize, and offers you the opportunity to discuss results during one-on-one’s and semesterly and / or annual evaluations.

As a specific example, imagine you have a resident assistant who plans a resume writing workshop in which she invites an employee from career services to speak and offer tips. The RA discusses the program with you ahead of time and gets the proper consent as well as advice on how to improve the program. She advertises only using Facebook and spends $75.00 on pizza. Unfortunately, only five students attend the program, and there is little follow up of regarding student feedback and / or learning outcomes assessment. Using the rubic, you give a grading of “Good” (3.0) for Pre-Planning, “Poor” (1.0) for Marketing, “Average” (2.0) for Finances, “Average” (2.0) for Evaluation, and “Average” (2.0) for Overall Assessment. Adding these together, you get a score of 10 points. Divide that by five (for the five areas of assessment), and she earns an “Average” (2.0) GPA for the program.

Download the free Programming Rubric handout to help assess your programming. Feel free to utilize the rubric as a template that you can edit in order to create an appropriate tool for your own department and staffing needs.

How to Minimize Employee Mistakes

November 12, 2012

Employee Mistakes

Recently I dealt with a vendor who made some mistakes on a product that was delivered to our office. Upon discussing the issue with one of the company’s employees, I was told that I would receive a refund for the incorrect work, but was being discouraged to have the work corrected by them and to go elsewhere. This was puzzling because I simply asked for them to fix the product without being demanding, rude, or disrespectful.

I came to find out that the owner told his employees that they would have to discourage me from getting the product fixed or the supplies for the fix would come out of their own pay, which was hundreds of dollars. Granted, that is one potential strategy for handling an employee mistake, but not one that I myself would use nor recommend.

Here are some proactive strategies for minimizing employee mistakes:

  • Build in Room for Employee Mistakes – Always assume that your employees are going to make mistakes. Set the parameters for the goals of a project or task, and allow them to do it. Guide them in how to prevent mistakes from occuring with whatever project they have been given.
  • Anticipate Common Mistakes – You can better prepare employees to minimize mistakes by envisioning those common problems that arise for staffers in your organization. Give them the resources and training in order to overcome those typical problems.
  • Do Not Set Up an Employee for Failure – Delegate tasks with the proper levels of authority for the employee given the assignment. As the supervisor, you are the one who should have sound judgement as to who can handle what. Challenging employees is fine, but do not play games by setting up someone to fail to prove a point for whatever reason you may have.
  • Provide Thorough Training – The more employees know how to do their jobs, the better. Employees should always know the mission and goals of your organization. This is important because they become guiding principles for your staffers, which help them when faced with various decisions. This can be accomplished through regular staff training. Skills building through training is paramount.
  • Reward Accuracy – Staffers who achieve success by accomplishing tasks as assigned should be rewarded. This can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or acknowledging their accuracy during supervisory meetings or even publicly during staff meetings.

* Photo courtesy of Mark Puplava

Group Interview Strategies & Activities

September 27, 2012

Every activity that you include in your group process should be there for a specific assessment purpose. Don’t have an activity just to have an activity. You should include activities that get to the heart of your department’s mission, vision, values, and culture. If your department is very program-based in which your student staffers are developing activities and programs, then your group interview activities should be geared to assess skills needed for this area. Assess for the personality and skills that are essential for succeeding.  

Here are a few specific group interview activities based upon a few of the functional job areas typically encountered in Student Life:


  • Brainstorming – You can do this individually or as a group. Give the candidates sheets of paper and markers to come up with programming ideas based upon criteria that you give them (e.g., more than $25.00 per program; must be original / nothing you’ve already attended or exist on campus)
  • Planning – Provide the candidates with a basic idea for a program and have them list the specific steps they would take to implement that program.
  • Marketing – Similar to the planning activity, have the candidates develop a marketing plan for a program idea that you give to them. Provide paper and markers for them to draw actual flyers and / or posters. 

Student Conduct

  • Creative Sanctioning – Give each candidate a a sheet with various student conduct scenarios on them. They are to come up with suggestions for what they think are the appropriate sanctions for each violation and present them to their group.

“Soft Skills”

  • Following Instructions – This is a simple assessment that can be easily overlooked. All candidates should be evaluated on very basic habits needed to perform well in the workplace. This is an easy way to eliminate candidates from consideration. Do they show up on time for the group and individual interviews? Did they bring the required materials you asked them to bring? Did they complete any assignments and / or paperwork you asked them to?  Candidates who fail to follow instructions (or simply disregard them) during the interview process will most likely exhibit the same behaviors if offered the job.
  • Listening – Break candidates up into various groups and assign a current staffer to each group. Have the staffer pretend to be a concerned parent or student and read a one-page scripted dialogue that you create. After the staffer is finished reading, they then quiz the candidates on what they just heard. You can rotate staffers through each group with a different script and different set of quiz questions.  Each candidate should be given a sheet in which to write down the answers for each dialogue quiz.


  • Group Evaluations – In one of my doctoral courses, we were assigned a group project that has various components that were to be completed over the length of the semester. At the end of the semester, we had to provide a written evaluation of each of our teammates on their performance. You can do something similar in which you have groups who work together throughout the course of your group process. At the end of the group process, they can provide a written account of how they thought their team members performed. Not only will this offer some more insight that may corroborate what you already feel about particular candidates, but you can judge the content of the actual comments. Was a candidate particularly harsh in their criticism or did they provide constructive feedback? Was any feedback inappropriate? (i.e., discrimatory, foul language, overly negative).     

For more information, please see our previous post titled Creating Effective Group Interview Activities.

Ways to Handle Staff Power Struggles

September 17, 2012

Most of us have the joy of supervising people who are mild-mannered, team-players, and get along with their co-workers. But occasionally we have those vocal staff members who feel the need to be in charge. Unfortunately, they are typically untactful in their approach and this creates discord among the staff. This can eventually lead to conflicts and, ultimately, a lack of production. The situation can be worse if you have multiple staffers who enagage in the same behavior.

As the leader of the group, you need to be able to quickly and efficiently handle power struggles that will occur on your team before they get out of control.

Here are some tactics you can use to alleviate team power struggles:


Hire for Attitude – Take the time to thoroughly assess candidates for postivie attitude, getting along with others, and the ability to work effectively on a team. Purposely ask questions that assess for potential staffers’ need to control and be in charge. Examples include: Tell us about a time you felt that you had to take charge of a situation? Give us an example of when you had a conflict with a co-worker over an assigned task? While we certainly want staffers to take control of situations, we don’t want them power hungry and starting staff civil wars. Mark A. Murphy better illustrates this in his book Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude.

Employ the “No Asshole Rule” – Robert I. Sutton recommends that supervisors utilize the “No Asshole Rule,” which essentially means not tolerating those who act like bullies with whom they work or are supposed to serve, particularly subordinates. Setting this expectation during staff recruitment sessions, training, and supervisory one-on-one’s are important tactics in helping to maintain a drama-free staff. I highly recommend Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t. He includes a short survey to see whether or not you yourself display these types of behaviors in the workplace.

Be the Role Model / Set the Standard – Staff will typically emulate your example in how they conduct themselves and interact with their co-workers. If you exhibit pushy, demeaning, and demanding behaviors, your staffers will see this and potentially use the same approach with their colleagues. Take stock in how you rare representing yourself to your employees. Humility goes a long way in setting a positive example. Dan Rockwell (@leadershipfreak) explains more in Secrets to Leading without Position or Authority.

Illustrate the Chain-of-Command & Discuss Expectations – Fully explain who reports to whom and who is in charge of what. Additionally, illustrate what tasks and responsibilities staffers are NOT in charge of or are NOT supposed to be involved with. This helps to clarify expectations so there is no confusion among staffers. These expectations should be directly tied to specific job descriptions and supporting literature in employee handbooks.


Channel & Direct Their Energy – Give those who need to be in charge something to do. And I don’t mean busy work for work’s sake. Create projects or new responsibilities purposely for them to allow them to stretch their wings while also being challenged. Keep a close eye on them and have them report their progress during your regularly scheduled supervisory discussions. However, be careful not to “feed the beast” by enabling their ability to boss around their staffers with the new project(s). This can be accomplished by having it as a solo project or by having them work exclusively with you.

Supervisory Discussions – Use one-on-one supervisory meetings to quickly address staffers that are extending their reach. Seek to understand why they are getting overly zealous. They may actually perceive that they are being helpful when, in fact, they are creating more problems than solutions. If necessary (and use this very sparingly), tactfully remind them that you are ultimately the supervisor of the team. See my previous post, 10 Tips for Mentoring & Supervising a Know-It-All, for more advice.

Limit Work Scope – Supervisors who have a laissez-faire attitude about what can and should be done among staffers can create an environment that breeds uncertainty. While some staffers may become aloof, others will see this as an opportunity and will go overboard trying to solve or fix things that may not be broken (including their colleagues). As stated previously, clarify roles and position expectations. Staffers with unlimited reach can create complications.

What are some insights and stories that you can share related to staff power struggles? Share your comments below you will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton.

Combating Staff Fatigue

September 3, 2012

Work can be satisfying, gratifying, and challenging, but it can also be demanding and tiring. Have ever felt exhausted, had your creativity stifled, or found yourself irritable with your coworkers?  If so, you are not alone as this is a common theme among overworked employees called “staff fatigue.” If you are unsure whether you or your team is suffering from staff fatigue, there are a few behavioral warning signs and questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed a significant change in attitude?  (Those who were once easy going are now on edge.)
  • Do you or your staff members perceive most things in a negative way?
  • Is there are breakdown in communication? Are staff members having trouble communicating with one another?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in performance or production?
  • Are you staff members complaining more than usual?

If you find that you are answering yes to the majority of these questions, then you or your staff could be suffering from staff fatigue. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of the type of work they are performing. Staff fatigue can be caused by overwork, dissatisfaction, poor balance between work and personal life, and lack of control over the work environment. It typically occurs during the busiest work times because staff members are working extra hours and spending more time together than usual. We can notice it in our student staff member because it can be particularly difficult for them to separate their work from their personal lives due to them living around one another and having constant interaction.

So if you feel that there is an issue amoung your staffers, how do you go about devising a solution and returning your team to its fully functioning and creative zenith? As a supervisor or team member you should:

  • Relax and take a deep breath before acting.
  • Extend your hand in appreciation.
  • Toss in some time off to give everyone some breathing room.
  • Understand the issues from each staff members’ perspective.
  • Recognize the work and effort of your staff.
  • Create open dialogue and the need to maintain open communication.

When team members spend more than eight hours a day with one another sometimes personal quirks can work their way under each others’ skin; after multiple days of the same routine it can become too much. As a supervisor, you must remain aware of your staff members’ feelings towards the work they are doing and realize when they are at their breaking point. As a team member, you need to be open with how you feel and communicate your feelings with those who are directly involved. Whether you are a supervisor or a team member, communicating with one another is one of the most basic and essential functions, and also it is what is needed to help return the team to a positive, productive, and creative dynamo.

For additional information, click HERE for a 30 second video (“30 Second MBA”) from Fast Company titled How do you re-inspire exhausted team members? by Dr. Joseph Folkman, Ph.D.

Have you ever encountered a situation where you or your staff has been overwhelmed by fatigue? If so, how did you work through it? What techniques did you use? We welcome your stories, thoughts, and ideas on this topic.

Creating Effective Group Interview Activities

April 4, 2012

Nothing should be as crucial and important as selecting top-notch student staffers for the upcoming semester or even for various summer sessions. Colleges and universities employ various processes for screening and selecting staffers, which in many cases includes a group interview process. For those of you not familiar with this, a “group process” is a day when potential student candidates are invited to participate in various activities to assess their worthiness to move on through the job selection process. The length of the group process and the types of activities involved are institution-specific, and many of the activities are handed down from one “generation” of professional staffers to the next.

While a group interview process can be a very powerful assessment tool, I have observed many that were filled with “fluff” activities and ice-breakers that did not help in assessing whether or not a student will be a good fit for the open position(s). Having student candidates solve puzzles or perform the “human knot” to determine if they would be a good resident assistant or orientation leader is just as effective as having medical students sit down and play a card game to assess their level of concentration for surgery. The only benefit of these types of group interview activities are to screen out the “show-off’s” and those who hide in a corner.

Here are some strategies and suggestions for creating effective group process activities:

  • Create actual quizzes to determine their level of knowledge about campus information and resources necessary for the position. While most of this information is something that would naturally be covered in training, there is nothing wrong to determine the level of awareness a student has pertaining to job-related information. A 10 to 20 question quiz can be distributed to everyone during a group process. Scored quizzes can serve as a source of valuable information to see if they take the quiz seriously and write mindful guesses even if they do not know the exact answer (or to see if they attempt to cheat!) Additionally, quiz scores can be used as “tie-breakers” should the selection process get down to a few candidates left for one remaining position. (Question examples could include: 1. Where is the counseling center located on campus? 2. What is the phone number for campus police? 3. What are the dining hall hours?)    
  • Include activities that require them to create or demonstrate something job-related. I like to see job candidates actively show me effort and motivation. If they give a half-hearted effort during an interview process, they most likely are going to perform in a similar manner if they are hired; past behavior usually predicts future behavior. One example: Having them come prepared with a leadership portfolio to present to the group will allow you to see if they actually do the work ahead of time, the quality of the work, and if they present well to the group. The presentation is particularly important since you are hiring for positions that require high levels of interaction with people. A handful of candidates may simply self-select out because they do not want to put the time and effort into this project. An example for screening orientation leaders could be to break them up into smaller groups with a current employee and have them give impromptu campus tours. Each candidate could give a short five minute walking tour while the other candidates ask questions posing as new students. Each candidate would get the opportunity to serve in each role (i.e., tour guide and new student). Given that not every situation can be trained for, this allows you to see how they think on their feet, handle potentially difficult questions, and also to see if they are a good sport when given the opportunity to ask questions to a fellow candidate (i.e., Did they try to stump them out of malice and competition? Were they helpful despite not being the guide? Did they even ask questions? Did they take the activity seriously?)  

Keep in mind that a group interview should only be one part of the entire screening and selection process; the group process should be seen as one tool in your toolbox along with individual interviews and application materials.

Please leave suggestions of group interview activities that have and have not worked for you below in the comments section.

How to Facilitate Great “One-On-One” Supervisory Meetings

January 18, 2012

Meeting with your staffers on an individual basis to discuss their performance is an important part of being a supervisor and a leader. However, these meetings do not only have to be a means to critique your employees from an evaluation standpoint. “One-on-one” meetings can foster a rewarding mentoring relationship as well as a means by which to engage your staffers as a true partner in meeting the mission and vision of your organization.

Here are a few tips that I have found helpful in facilitating great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings:

1. Set the Parameters for Meeting Participation – As a part of the hiring process and during staff training, set the parameters for what is expected during one-on-one supervisory meetings. By setting the tone that these meetings are important and participatory in nature, your staffers will embody this as part of the team’s culture and act accordingly. Tell them that they should come prepared with feedback, questions, and suggestions for making your organization better. As I tell my own staff, I don’t want to hear complaining for complaining’s sake; if there’s a better way to do something, I want a suggestion, solution, or plan of action.

2. Always Keep Your Appointments with Your Staffers – This seems like common sense, but it is very easy to get sidetracked by other important meetings and activities and either forgot or attempt to reschedule your supervisory meetings. By making this time important, you are symbolically demonstrating that these meetings and, more importantly, your staffers are crucial to you and your team’s success.

3. Purposely Seek Out Feedback to Enact Change – Allowing for and seeking out honest feedback from your employees is a great way to keep your employees engaged in continuous improvement conversations. People take a part in what they help create so allow them to help create team goals, policies, and practices during regularly scheduled supervisory meetings. Be a servant leader and ask them how you can better help them in their position and if they need any particular type of resource or support so that they can be more effective.

4. Have an “Activity” Planned if There is Nothing to Talk About – If there is nothing of note to discuss, do not simply cancel the meeting. Utilize the opportunity to connect with and mentor your staffers. One-on-one meetings can be used for personal development and skills building. Have a “bag of tricks” developed that you can utilize quickly and easily if you’re stuck in one of these “I-have-nothing-to-talk-about” situations. Skills building activities can include role playing and case scenarios related to topics pertaining to your staffers’ positions. Using this time for brainstorming can also create productive ideas for the entire team.

One such example of a “one-on-one” activity is the Supervisory Discussion Cards activity developed by Student Life Consultants. These handy cards contain multiple questions that are conversation starters related to personal development and teamwork. Each set of 25 double-sided cards contains 50 questions and comes complete with a four-page PDF activity handout that is downloaded immediately upon purchase.

Use the SLG032013 code to receive $3.99 off of your entire order.

What are some practices that you use with your employees to facilitate great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings? What advice can you offer to your colleagues related to what works and does not work for “one-on-one” supervisory meetings?

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