Vince Hernandez, University of Texas at San Antonio
Jackie Loden, University of Texas at San Antonio
Bradley Chandler, University of Texas at San Antonio
Finally! You completed the process to fill a vacancy. The candidate accepted the job offer and they will be joining the team in a matter of weeks. Now all you need to do is ensure that your onboarding plan is in place to help your new advisor feel prepared and confident to begin their job duties ASAP—right? When it comes to welcoming a new advisor to the team, the onboarding process is just the beginning. While onboarding is a very important part of the new advisor’s journey, there is so much more within a supervisor’s responsibility.
The onboarding process can easily focus on policies, protocols, and procedures. It is natural for supervisors to also wish it were a simple and stress-free process that was done in 5–10 business days. However, onboarding new advisors takes time and covers a wide spectrum of information that can also go beyond the typical day-to-day expectations. This can seem daunting to both a supervisor and a new hire. Yet with a strong, intentional, and developmental onboarding process, a new advisor can feel empowered, welcomed, and confident in not only what is expected of them, but also that they are a part of a supportive team.
The foundation of the onboarding process needs to start with the critical elements that a new advisor needs to not only be effective in their role, but also to be a valuable and contributing member of the team. That foundation starts with the NACADA Core Competencies. It is critical for any new advisor to gain an understanding of the three major content categories of the competencies as they provide an advisor “the knowledge and skills to be effective guides for their students” (NACADA, 2017). Building on the categories of Conceptual, Informational, and Relational components, an effective onboarding program helps a new advisor to begin to understand:
- Advising as a profession
- Policies, protocols, and procedures
- Expectations of a supervisor
- Historical knowledge of the unit, department, college, and institution
- Importance of valuing and appreciating others
- Team dynamics
- Opportunities for professional growth
As supervisors, it is important to understand how to build on the onboarding process. For instance, a strong supervisor can help a new advisor become acclimated through team building activities and mentorship opportunities. These actions are not only the role of the supervisor, but they are also directly impacted by the actions and mindset of a supervisor. It is important to note that the tone of those actions are set by providing clear expectations and leading by example.
There are also various leadership frameworks that can be a great resource for supervisors for building rapport with and expressing empathy to their new advisors. For example, situational leadership can provide a useful framework for supervisors to assess and adjust the level of directiveness or support that an individual needs based on the individual’s level of competence with a task and their own personal development within their duties. Incorporating strengths-based approaches can also allow supervisors to extend a situational leadership approach from an individual to the team with the goal of most effectively leveraging the team’s overall productivity and success.
Proactive leadership also anticipates pain points and redirects to optimism and opportunity. In doing so, an effective supervisor can help a team feel confident in navigating challenges and times of change. Clear and specific communication is essential. Combining effective communication with active listening can be a highly effective way to check for the team’s tracking of instructions, goals, and objectives. This approach can also be underscored with continuous and transparent operations with frequent opportunities for feedback.
To provide some theoretical framework, there are two student developmental theories that translate well into the supervisor’s role. Schlossberg’s (1989) theory of mattering and marginality discussed the value of individuals feeling that they matter, rather than feeling marginalized. In the lens of new advisors, effective supervisors strive to help our new hires understand not only the role they play in the team, but also how they add value to the team itself. Kuh (2001) also discussed the process of an individual becoming a cultural insider instead of an outsider. When a new advisor joins the team, it can be easy to feel like an outsider when everyone else may already know their students, policies, procedures or even inside stories/jokes.
When strategically planning or making important decisions, the supervisor should consider these developmental theories by keeping the following questions at the forefront:
- How do I help new and current employees assimilate to the team and university culture?
- How do I show new and current employees that they matter?
- What feelings and thoughts are generated when our employees think about work?
By consistently considering the answers to these questions, supervisors can build employee engagement. Employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and choose to put discretionary effort into their work. However, employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction, which indicates only how happy or content your employees are. Rather, engagement signifies true commitment and personal investment.
Building a strong foundation and consistent cultivation can then lead to effective team building and mentorship. Balancing individual and team needs will also build and strengthen community and a sense of belonging. An effective supervisor will find ways to promote retention and unity by fostering that sense of belonging, mattering, and engagement. Through intentional strategies that are professionally robust and demonstrate an understanding of the team’s needs, a supervisor may also commit to strategic, ongoing, and targeted development of each member of the team.
Once a new advisor is onboard and fulfilling their day-to-day duties, the role of a supervisor shifts into the next gear. A supervisor plays a crucial role in guiding and supporting advisors throughout their professional journey. Effective supervisors are responsible for cultivating a welcoming and respectful work environment, providing mentorship and guidance, and helping advisors identify their career goals with a roadmap to achieve them. Supervisors can also offer valuable insights into the profession, share their own experiences, and provide advice on potential career paths.
Mindfulness is a powerful practice for supervisors, enabling them to enhance their effectiveness, build stronger relationships with their team, and foster a more productive and harmonious work environment. Mindful supervisors can be fully engaged and attentive to their advisors' needs and concerns by being able to listen actively, empathize with their team members, and create a supportive and compassionate work environment (Haberlin, 2020). Mindfulness also helps supervisors to establish a positive work culture by encouraging open communication, promoting work-life balance, and prioritizing the well-being of their advisors.
Supervisors also aid in creating formal and informal mentoring programs within the advising unit. These relationships pair advisors with more experienced individuals who serve as a sounding board, providing guidance, advice, and support. Through regular meetings, mentoring sessions can focus on setting goals, developing skills, and discussing career progression. By facilitating mentoring opportunities, supervisors can foster a culture of learning and development, while also creating a sense of belonging among the broader advising community.
In addition to formal mentoring programs, supervisors can actively engage in one-on-one meetings within their teams. They can provide regular feedback, offer coaching sessions, and nudge advisors to take on new challenges. By taking a proactive approach to advisor’s development, directors can identify and address individual needs, provide timely support, and help advisors reach their full potential. The use of modern electronic communication tools allows for immediate and personalized connections that continue to build relationships, even in remote work environments.
Supervisors also play a crucial role in developing advisors professionally. An effective supervisor can identify each advisor's strengths, weaknesses, and career goals to create individualized development plans. The professional development opportunities are often offered by institutional training and development programs but can also be created within the advising center. This can be achieved through identifying additional projects, promoting collaboration, or delegating additional responsibilities. Exposing advisors to new experiences can broaden their skill sets and help them explore their potential. Regular coaching and mentoring sessions can also be organized to support advisors in their professional development journey.
When supervisors welcome a new advisor to the team, they not only strive to ensure a positive and in-depth onboarding process, but also create and cultivate opportunities for a new hire to feel a sense of belonging within their team. The investing time and effort by a supervisor towards the new advisor's growth and development demonstrates the supervisor’s commitment to the long-term success of their team members. In doing so, the new advisor not only feels like they can be a contributing and valued member of the team, but they have the belief that their supervisor will do everything they can to help them grow and develop both professionally and holistically. Such an environment can lead to every member of the unit feeling comfortable and confident in bringing valuable contributions in their roles each and every day.
Haberlin, S. (2020). Mindfulness-based supervision: Awakening to new possibilities. Journal of Educational Supervision, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.31045/jes.3.3.6
Kuh, G. D. (2001). Organizational culture and student persistence: Prospects and puzzles. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 3(1), 23–39. https://doi.org/10.2190/U1RN-C0UU-WXRV-0E3M
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New
Directions for Student Services, 1989(48), 5–15. https://doi.org/10.1002/ss.37119894803