3 Ways to Motivate High-Performing Marketing Teams

Managing our small-but-mighty higher ed teams by balancing results and humanity can prevent burnout and lead to measurable success.

3 minutes
By: Shane Baglini

Can we be real for a moment? Managing people is hard. One of the biggest challenges is keeping your team engaged and motivated while avoiding burnout, especially when managing a small but mighty team. Consistently high performance can lead to unrealistic expectations and additional responsibilities, taking away from that high performance. It’s challenging to pull back on workloads or task lists given the weight of responsibility marketing teams face in today’s higher ed landscape. But there are some small things you can do to ensure your team feels connected, appreciated and motivated. 

Higher ed is not immune to the great resignation. People are leaving our profession for better-paying, more flexible positions. A big reason is the need for a feeling of value in their work, the feeling that higher ed is moving closer to being a results-only business, especially for enrollment management professionals. 

A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review outlined seven ways leaders can make their employees feel respected. One particularly resonated with me when thinking of higher ed: Balancing “Getting Results” with a Concern for Others, essentially, balancing the bottom line with the human beings responsible for meeting it. 

Below, I explore three ways higher-ed marketing leaders can help their teams avoid burnout.

1. Take the time to check-in.

It’s not uncommon for employees to feel separated from a leader because of their position on an org chart. As a leader, it can be a graceful balancing act when weighing how to separate work and personal friendships with team members. It may be a case-by-case approach for you, but I have generally found that knowing about an employee as a human being ultimately helps you understand them as an employee. 

Behind every employee’s interactions, performance issues, successes or failures is a complex, busy, stressful and sometimes messy life. We’re not living in an episode of Severance, where our work and personal lives are completely dissociated. The stress of life mixes with the stress of work, and often that combination can inform much of what we observe as leaders. 

Tip #1 is to check-in. Once per quarter, I shift our biweekly marketing team meeting to a “How we are doing in general?” meeting. During those 90 minutes, we don’t discuss anything related to our daily jobs. We can do that anytime via email, a chat or a knock on the office door. 

You don’t have to be this formal. Every once in a while, check in with your team. Ask them how they’re feeling. Like really feeling, not just asking them about their weekend. Ask them how life is going outside of work. Is there anything you can help with? Is anything adding stress that you might be able to take off their plate? These little gestures can go a long way in creating meaningful connections with your team. 

2. Say “I appreciate you” and mean it. 

We’re often quick to point out failures and bypass success. As Charles Schwab once said, “There is nothing else that so kills a person’s ambitions as the criticisms from superiors.” But that is so often what we do. We pick out the areas for improvement and completely ignore the successes our teams achieve. 

Tip #2 challenges leaders to do the opposite. I’m a proponent of the idea that it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. I’d rather see my team try something ambitious and have a misstep or two than not come to me with ideas or innovations. Even if the idea doesn’t work, conveying appreciation for the initiative is essential. 

“There is nothing else that so kills a person's ambitions as the criticisms from superiors.” - Charles Schwab

As in tip #1, some low-hanging fruit can be found in tip #2. Take your team to lunch after completing a big project. Email stakeholders praising a team member’s work. Tell them you appreciate it, and mean it when you say it. 

3. Align passions with job duties.

People put forth their best efforts when they find passion in their work. That’s why many of us got into higher ed in the first place. We’re passionate about helping others achieve their dream. Think of a time when you felt burned out. Were you working on something you cared deeply about, or was the work a bit mundane and routine? If you’re like me, you get an extra burst of energy when the project(s) you’re working on light a fire within you. 

Tip #3 is to learn what lights a fire within your team. I recently revised and realigned each team member’s role, title and duties. The new job descriptions and titles directly reflected not only my employees’ strengths but also what they were passionate about, with a mix of areas they told me they’d like to develop further. We’ve done more work over the past year than I thought was possible with a four-person team. A big reason for that is my team is working on projects they enjoy, and they have the space to grow in areas they have always wanted to do so.

Managing people is a complex, challenging task for which we’re often unprepared when first entering a leadership role. I hope these three tips will help new (and experienced) leaders motivate their teams to reach new heights.

Shane Baglini

Shane Baglini


Shane Baglini is the senior director of marketing and recruitment for the division of graduate and continuing education at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, where he is responsible for all marketing and recruitment strategy for the division, overseeing the overall marketing budget, strategic planning, communications and branding. Before joining Muhlenberg, Shane was the director of marketing and publications at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, PA. A first-generation college graduate, Shane is passionate about connecting students to the life-changing possibilities of education through authentic storytelling and brand building.

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