The ‘Gotta Wanna’ Principle

Quick: How do you motivate someone you don’t often see? Sound like the opening of a bad joke? Not at all. Therein lies the fundamental challenge of managing professionals whose very career choice rests on the simultaneous hunger for freedom and dignity. Freedom translates as being independent of rigid constraints that govern an individual’s approach to fulfilling his responsibility. Dignity rests in being viewed as a professional whose skills and knowledge serve a higher purpose.

Absent college peers doing in-class evaluations; the adjunct professor works independently. Quality standards, performance expectations, and learning outcomes depend on the “gotta wanna” principle. These individuals simply must want to perform at their best. They must be motivated, not managed–led, not driven.

In my experience, most professionals are capable of managing themselves. But motivation? Ah, that’s the job of a contemporary leader. But how do you raise quality standards when the adjunct isn’t connected with the day-to-day goings-on in the department?

First, build an atmosphere of trust. The prof wants to trust her leader, to be reassured whether her own pleasure in a job well done equals expectations even when you’re not there to observe it–maybe especially then.

Establishing trust sets the stage for discussing specific behaviors critical to enhanced performance. Develop shared reasons for dissatisfaction with the status quo. Encourage the professor to commit to the new objectives. Meld your vision with her values as you mutually–and the key word is mutually–set clear, realistic goals. Establish rewards based on behavioral reinforcements.

It’s a conundrum. How does the leader determine the right reinforcers if the professor isn’t present? The answer is simple and complex. Get to know him. Learn from her what she values. Literally and figuratively, be where they are. Visit the classroom. Drop by the adjunct lounge. Reach out via email. Offer to meet for coffee or a sandwich. All of these require relentless consistent two-way communication.

To create a new platform for shared behavioral expectations, try introducing the notion of the customer into the equation. As heretical as it may sound, a student is a customer. Academic institutions regularly administer student evaluations of pedagogy. Effective leaders use this feedback to orchestrate one-on-one discussions. You can count on the professor to give you his impressions. Listen to what he says. Applaud the positive. Discover why the negative comments sting. It’s critical information the leader can use to identify values. Values lead to reinforcers.

Given the quest for dignity, studies have shown that professionals act according to their own enlightened self-interest. With apologies to B.F. Skinner, when all you have is the opportunity for random reinforcement, aversive stimuli won’t work. Academic leaders must recognize the right reinforcers and use them to reward preferred behaviors.

Research tells us that peer approval is a mighty reinforcer. Engage the adjuncts in peer relationships. Establish a program based on sharing best practices. Invite an adjunct to do peer evaluations to observe her colleagues in action. Solicit descriptions of approaches that work; collect outstanding case studies. Distribute the submissions to the adjunct team. Give part-time faculty members each other’s telephone numbers and email addresses. Encourage them to communicate, too.

An adjunct wants to teach an additional course? Tie in to his need to be viewed as an intellectual. Ask him to develop a new one. A professor with deep experience in a particular field of endeavor wants another course? Invite her to moderate a forum where she can showcase her work. An adjunct recently published his fifth book? Host a book signing; invite students and faculty. You are limited only by your own and each adjunct’s creativity in developing actions and attitudes that reinforce preferred behavior.

The question becomes: can so-called bad behavior be extinguished? Yes, but only if the effective leader replaces existing standards with mutually established performance principles. In an environment built on the expectation of positive reinforcement and trust that it will be more than merely intermittent, a guiding word about off-beam performance will help eradicate negative behavior. In a relationship built on trust, the highest priority in interactions with adjuncts must be to reinforce the “gotta wanna” principle.

Sandra Allen is the director of public relation studies and a full-time marketing communication faculty member at Columbia College Chicago. Allen’s professional experience includes stints in the business world, including serving as a senior executive at a Fortune 500 corporation. In addition to teaching, she now consults and serves on not-for-profit boards.