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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2007

Автор: Новицкая Ю.В.

As we entered the twenty first century, the major forces of a larger societal environment are reshaping the nature of postsecondary education. Competition, which is primarily an element of business world, has become one of the major issues to consider while governing institutions of higher education. The major forces that shape the competition within postsecondary education industry are similar to those that influence competition in a business world and as follows: the threat of entry into industry by new organizations, the bargaining power of suppliers (students clientele), the bargaining power of customers (employers, funding sources), and the threat of substitute services (Peterson & Dill, 1997). A very important role in competing with other universities in terms of attracting best faculty and quality applicants is assigned to university image.

What is organizational image? Organizational image or reputation is a reflection of an organization over time as seen through the eyes of its stakeholders such as customers, investors, employees and the media, among others, who consider such factors as: product quality, management, financial performance, social responsibility and market leadership. It is similar to organizational identity, which can be described as “shared understanding of what the organization is all about and how it should operate” (Berg, 1985. p. 296).

Kotler (1975) positions image somewhere between a belief and attitude. He says: “Image is power. Few would deny having a positive image in the marketplace is an asset. Of course image, by itself is useless unless backed up with reality of quality products and service.” Bob Topor in his “Institutional Image: How to Define, Improve, Market It” says that an institutional image “consists of many individual sets of perceptions in the minds of its constituents. Your constituents, of course, are many – the alumni, faculty, students, donors, legislators, staff members, and the general public, etc. Each of these constituents – past, present, future –has formed, or will form, an image based on many stimuli.”

Why is it so important to know what your school’s image is? There are many possible answers to this question. The immediate response to this question may be to help in recruitment and retention. Understanding how your university is perceived by the key audiences such as potential students, parents, counselors and alumni and internally by admission advisors, faculty, staff and key administrators can supply you with the powerful information to assist in recruitment program. This information can help to make more effective matches between provider (the school) and user (student). That means the expectations are better met, contributing to satisfaction of the user (student). Image research can reveal new strategies in addressing internal and external audiences; it can be used to position the university amongst the others that compete with that institution.

Image analysis can confirm the strengths and weaknesses of an institution. Strengths can then be projected to build even stronger image directed to the key constituencies. Weaknesses can be improved to become strengths.

Image analysis information can be used to develop curricular to guide the institutions to best educational opportunities, and to identify activities that are not productive to users and providers.

Image analysis information can be applied to develop public relations plan suggesting strategies to advance the institution on many fronts: potential students, faculty attitudes, public perceptions, potential employers, current employers or graduates, alumni, local, national and international media representatives, internal staff and Board members.

A responsive institution has a strong interest in how its publics perceive the school and its programs and services, since we know people often respond to an institution's image, not necessarily its reality. A public holding negative image of a school will avoid or criticize it, even if the institution is of high quality and those holding a positive image will be drawn to it. Images can change as a result of circumstances, events and developments (Topor, 1998)

It often happens that a school is considered responsive by some groups and unresponsive by others. It is very important to know why it occurs and if anything can be done about it. People tend to form images of institutions based on often limited information, sometimes even inaccurate information. And these images can affect the success of the school. This may include attendance, donations, and media perceptions, joining faculty and staff and other tangible and intangible results.

It is important to understand what image your institution has in the marketplace to make sure that this image reflects accurately and favorably your realities.

An institution's actual quality is often less important than its prestige, or reputation for quality, because it is the university's perceived excellence, which, in fact, guides the decisions of prospective students and scholars considering offers of employment, and federal agencies awarding grants. (Topor, 1998)

What is the way to manage you university image? One of the tools to deal with it is to perform the reputation audit. The reputation audit determines the gap between your organization's desired reputation and the actual reputation. Desired reputation is determined through a strategic process involving institutional senior management. The actual reputation is determined through an intensive review with stakeholders (the alumni, faculty, students, staff members, and the general public) which may involve one-on-one interviews, quantified research, studies of communication materials and media content analysis. The reputation audit sets out four components for your organization:

- What is your desired state of reputation?

- What is your actual reputation?

- Where are the gaps?

- How do you bridge those gaps?

The reputation audit enables managers to establish management consensus about the desired state of reputation, understand stakeholders' perceptions about your organization, develop a results-oriented plan to move your organization towards its desired state of reputation and communicate key messages across stakeholder groups effectively and consistently.

It sometimes happens that, as a result of reputation audit, university managers find out that the institution has a bad image, which can be both deserved and not deserved. Repairing organizational reputation then becomes one of the greatest challenges. Image is built by years of hard work, and it can be damaged or destroyed in the blink of an eye. Thus, efforts should be taken not only to build an image but also to maintain it.

Let's first examine the reasons why an organization's reputation may be tarnished. There are typically four variables in the equation: attitude, alienation, lack of communication, and poor service.

The first reason is attitude. Attitudes are evaluative statements-either favorable or unfavorable-concerning objects, people, or events. They reflect how one feels about something (Schuler, 2000). Reputation-damaging attitude problems generally include perceived arrogance, lack of respect for others, judgmentalism, and dictatorialism.

The next reason is alienation. By alienation I mean living outside the culture of the institutional community, knowing very little about organizational culture or perhaps being indifferent to it, and taking little part in the activities of the institution. How many of your students know who the Provost is or what she does? How many of your faculty are on any kind of institutional committee or are active in an organization? Do you know any of your constituents as people, or are they all just “students”, “faculty” or “staff”?

The third reason for acquiring a bad reputation is poor communication. Communication is one of the most difficult of human activities. It takes time to communicate; it takes work to develop the skills; it takes empathy to translate “TQM” or “benchmarking” to a language people understand; and there is the perennial problem of how to reach people where they will read what you write or listen to what you say. How did you notify the campus about your last intranet upgrades? How do you tell the campus about your accomplishments and plans? If you don't reach them by the method you choose, how can they find these things out?

Finally, there is poor service. The focal service the university renders is sharing knowledge and training the students’ skills, and serving the society through making research on vital contemporary issues. There may be complaints from multiple institutional stakeholders. These may be real problems or they may be problems of perception, but complaints generally revolve around failure to communicate the criteria for the students to be met, failure to organize the learning process effectively, ambiguity in the way the organization works and slow response to changing environment. What do you do if someone makes a request for a service that you cannot or will not provide? How do you make sure a request gets routed to a person who is qualified to respond?

What should a manger do about all these?

The first step is to take stock of attitudes - yours and that of your organization. Clearly, organizations don't have attitudes; people do. But every person in the organization represents the organization, and an individual's attitude becomes the organizational attitude as far as that person's contacts are concerned. As a result, if you have staff members with inappropriate attitudes who are meeting your public, they need to adjust their attitudes.

The attitudes you need to bring to the table are not consistent with ego hunger or insecurity. You need to feel needed and appreciated, and so does your staff. One of the jobs of a manager is to affirm the staff and address their concerns appropriately, so they are working in a safe and comfortable culture.

Here's a suggested set of factors that will combine to form an attitude supportive of progress:

- Be service oriented. There is obviously nothing new about this statement, but it's primary. You need to walk in others' shoes; to see the world from their perspective as nearly as you can; then serve them at least as well as you would expect to be served. At the same time, this does not mean catering to their every whim; you need to act in the best interests of the institution as a whole.

- Be steady. The manager needs to learn how to compromise where that makes sense, but be firm in adherence to overarching principles. The manager needs to treat the organization constituents fairly and consistently, applying the same standards to all. Playing favorites may win temporary approval, but is pretty sure to gain the disrespect of many and may cause operational problems as well.

- Be respectful. The manager needs to value others' background and experience, even though it may not be directly related to your own. It is necessary to respect their opinions by listening and not disparaging, respect their time by being on time to meetings and appointments, and by being concise and to the point in conversations and written communications, respect their intelligence by admitting when you're wrong and by being willing to take corrective action. The manager should learn to respect their feelings by praising in public and criticizing in private.

- Be positive. Look for the good in any situation - something can be gained out of even the worst events. Compliment others often. Regard mistakes as inevitable consequences of taking action, and use them as learning experiences. Focus on solving problems, not assigning blame.

The next thing to do is to diminish the alienation of the campus community. You, as a manager, are the “them” in the “us against them” game. To change that, it is essential to become a part of the community; and to succeed in that, you need to be invited in. Here’s what can be done about this problem:

- Be loyal. Loyalty of a manager to the faculty, staff and co-workers means that he stands by them, even when they err. Loyalty to the institution means that the manager gives his best to his work, looks for ways to help build the institutional reputation, and represents his institution in a positive light to those outside it. Being loyal to the institution also means not disparaging the predecessors or anyone else: in the long run, it was your institution that hired them, too. Loyalty leads toward inclusion in any community; disloyalty breeds alienation.

- Be involved. Know who's who in your institution. Attend athletic events, student performances and committee meetings. Act as an advisor to a student organization. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. You don't need to step far outside your comfort range, but stretch yourself a bit and feel a part of the culture of the place. In return, you'll be seen as a part of it.

The third step to be taken is to improve communication. Billions of dollars are spent on communication annually, and millions of people dedicate their careers to it. Yet it remains one of the most difficult of human activities. You first need to get a person's attention; then you need to hold it. Your competition is intense.

The following does not presume to be a course in communication, but nevertheless these are a few pointers that have proven effective.

- Listen. How often, in meetings and conversations, are we so preoccupied with what we're going to say next that we miss what someone else is saying? It's part of the human condition. But unless you hear what others are saying, you cannot know what to say to them. You need to give others a chance to have their say; you need to hear what they say; you need to understand what they say; and you need to let them know you understand.

One of the most difficult communication situations is when someone is criticizing you. You need to start out with the assumption the criticism is legitimate, and you need to avoid being, or even seeming, defensive. Find out what solutions the critic has in mind. You may or may not agree with your critic, but you need to hear what is being said. "You may be right" is one of the most powerful antidotes for rage, by the way.

- Let people know what is going on, and do it often. Nobody likes to feel left out. Communication does sometimes take a lot of time, but the time isn't wasted. It just seems like it sometimes. One-on-one, face-to-face communication is best. Meetings can be productive means of communication, even if less satisfactory than individual (and in some cases, the side conversations are the most important part of the meeting - as is often the case with the conferences). Personal contacts by phone or e-mail are still effective. Less effective, though still legitimate in some circumstances, are general methods such as broadcast e-mail or phone mail, or newsletters.

- Acknowledge problems. If there are problems of any kind, the campus knows it. If you try to minimize the problems or, worse, ignore them, you'll alienate yourself from the campus community. Your constituents need to know that you're aware of the problems and that you understand how the problems affect their work and their life. They also need to know what you are doing and plan to do to correct the problems or work around them.

- Let people know where you stand. Your constituents (and your co-workers) need to have a clear understanding of your positions and expectations; otherwise, how can they know whether to agree or disagree? Even in cases when there are reasons to believe your position may be unpopular, the university community will respect the fact that you've made it clear and opened the door for discussion. Just stating your position isn't enough, though; particularly those who disagree deserve to know your reasoning. If you can't state that clearly, you need to rethink your position. Policies and procedures are best written down and placed in an appropriately accessible location (such as, perhaps, an institutional intranet).

Building an image or repairing a damaged reputation takes more than good works, but it does take good works. All the good attitude, community spirit, and superb communication in the world won't rebuild your reputation if there's no substance to your work. Here’s what a manager should do to ensure high quality service:

- Strive for Excellence – personal and organizational. What image does the word "excellent" conjure up for you? For your constituents? A few words and phrases that come to mind are responsive, effective (doing the right things), quality-conscious, proactive. Regardless of what may be said anywhere else, your institutional culture is the final authority in your case. However excellence may be defined in your context, it needs the yardstick against which you and your co-workers need to measure your efforts. If you clearly and consistently exceed institutional expectations, and if you are providing responsible technology leadership, you have achieved excellence - at least, in any institution worth working for.

- Plan strategically. Make sure you understand institutional objectives (ideally, as reflected in your institution's strategic plan), then craft departmental strategic plans that support them. Know - or learn - what resources are at hand, and project what you need (in a generic sense). Plan for the ideal. Strangely, most well-conceived plans seem to become reality in 3-5 years, even if you have no idea where the funding can come from. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and trackable (SMART).

- Translate planning into accomplishment. You'll lose credibility if all you ever do is plan, and nobody sees any results from the planning. You need to show progress. One method of focusing is to create a tactical plan each year, based on the strategic plan. The tactical plan will not only contain steps for achieving strategic objectives, but also provide for resolving problems that have cropped up.

You'll also need to establish priorities. Documenting procedures helps, too. And you need effective means of handling the endless stream of day-to-day requests that can easily choke progress if allowed to consume all the resources they could. We all operate in reactive mode much of the time, but we need to set aside time for proactive effort.

- Review/evaluate progress. Finally, you need to take stock of your results. Feedback from constituents is critically important: are their needs being met? Are their expectations being met or, better, exceeded? Are they excited about your plans for the future?

The important thing is that your efforts have a purpose that is understood and supported by students, faculty, staff, and administration of the institution.

Another significant part of the institutional image is its web site. World Wide Web becomes a very important source of information and contributes a lot to building a school image.

The World Wide Web is viewed as a desirable medium for public relations in many organizations. The most often mentioned reasons for developing an organizational web site are to provide information, for advertising and marketing, and for customer communication and feedback (two way symmetrical communications). In addition to all these web sites project the image the institution wants to portray.

There are several principles to be considered to create an effective web site. The first among them is creating a dialogical loop that allows publics to query organizations and what is more important allows organizations to respond to questions, concerns and problems. The next principle is the usefulness of the information. Sites should make an effort to include the information of general value to all publics, even if a site contains primary industry or user specific information. Sites should also contain features that make it attractive for repeat visits such as updated information, changing issues, special forums, new commentaries, on-line question and answer sessions and so on. Sites that contain limited and unchanging information are no longer useful after one visit and do not encourage repeat visits. Visitors who come to the web site for informational purposes and those who come for curiosity should find it easy to understand and figure out. And finally, the web site should contain useful links, which easily connect the user to the source of information given or to similar sites, but we should be very careful about the links that lead visitors astray. There should be clearly marked paths to return to your site.

In the conclusion I would like to come over the main points again. Since beginning of 1990s the establishment of a unique institutional image, the “aura” about the institution and its programs has become a part of marketing in higher education. This image allows the institution to occupy a particular niche in the local marketplace. Institutional image may affect the quality and number of students that an institution can attract; it also affects the future of the students themselves. Institutional image spreads through every aspect of the educational institution. Everything from admissions to athletics can be affected by and affects intuitional image.

Presence on the WWW would benefit any higher education institution. Web sites for institutions and programs give colleges and universities competitive advantage in a marketplace with no barriers to entry. Web sites allow organizations to target specific information to specific groups, and to change and update information easily and inexpensively.

Building an image is not an easy process – this is something that cannot be done overnight. Reputation audit is a tool to find out what various university constituents think of it, a tool to find out institutional internal and external image. Repairing tarnished organizational reputation may turn to be one of the greatest challenges.

The reasons why an organization's reputation may be damaged are attitude, alienation, lack of communication, and poor service. These four variables need to be revised on a regular basis.

REFERENCES

1. Haedrich, G., 1993. Images and Strategic Corporate Marketing Planning.

2. Kent, M. 1998. Building dialogic Relationship through the World Wide Web.

3. Leicht, J. J., Strategic Communications: Working with Technology to Communicate the Single Message.

4. Treadwell, D. & Harrison, T., 1994. Conceptualizing and Assessing Organizational Image: Model Image, Commitment, and Communication.

5. White, C. & Raman, N., 1999. The World Wide Web as a Public Relation Medium: the Use of Research, Planning, and Evaluation in Web Site Development.



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2007


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