Image Credit: Marco Antonio Torres
Image Credit: Marco Antonio Torres

How can you keep your journal’s editorial team motivated and on task when everyone is stretched thin with countless obligations vying for their time? According to Bruce Baum, senior editor of Oral Diseases, leading with empathy is the best approach to take. In his time as an editor, Baum has found that anticipating and recognizing the needs of fellow editors and, above all, expressing appreciation for their efforts goes a long way.

Baum, who became a co-senior editor at Oral Diseases with Crispian Scully in 2005, has spoken about effective editorial team management in the past, including at a 2016 International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE) conference. We caught up with him for an interview to learn more. Below are five tips Baum has for keeping editorial teams motivated even at the busiest of times.

Further reading: For more tips on keeping editorial teams motivated and aligned, check out Scholastica’s free eBook Academic Journal Management Best Practices: Tales from the Trenches.

Acknowledge the value team members contribute

In order to keep your editorial board motivated, according to Baum, the most important place to start is showing appreciation for each team member’s specific contributions. Baum is always cognizant of the fact that his editorial team is primarily made up of volunteers and he makes a point to regularly thank them for the time and expertise they bring to the journal, especially when associate editors go additional lengths to help ensure timely manuscript decisions are made.

Baum offered an example of showing thanks to one of his associate editors for stepping in to help make a final call on a manuscript that had conflicting reviewer recommendations.

“There were three reviewers for the manuscript: one said accept, one said reject, and one said something in between major and minor revisions - so all over the board. The associate editor read and re-read the manuscript and all of the reviewer recommendations and stepped in to say that the comments were in fact really minor and that the person who rejected it was (my words) being sort of harsh,” Baum explained.

The associate editor helped Baum tailor an “acceptance with minor revisions” letter to the author. “I agreed with the associate editor because I thought the things she said and her logic were excellent. Once I sent a letter to the author, I wrote the associate editor a letter thanking her for her considerable help.”

Baum said he makes a point to write thank you letters whenever he can to associate editors for helping to take charge and teaching members of the team more about a discipline about which they may be less familiar.

“I’ll tell them simply ‘thanks for teaching me more about this, it’s something I didn’t know. Thanks for taking the time to step in.’ And I think that can really mean a lot,” he said.

Help your team stay on task and be sure not to overburden editors

The majority of editorial board members are stretched to the max with obligations so it’s inevitable that some will fall behind on journal duties periodically. In order to keep your whole team motivated and forging forward, Baum says having a plan in place to help everyone stay on task is a must. Baum said often the best way to achieve this is to make sure you are not overburdening your editors as team members rarely fall behind on journal duties without good reason.

“Everyone’s busy. Everyone has tons of things to do. We just don’t want to add to their burdens in a significant way,” said Baum.

According to Baum the only surefire way to avoid overworking editors is to build a sizable editorial team. “For a specialty journal in a fairly small specialty we have a good sized editorial board. We have something like 70+ members on the board at this point. With a large editorial board at any given time we have plenty of people to review manuscripts and the distribution to associate editors is not excessive.”

Baum and his co-senior editor also make a point to guard each other’s time by alternating weeks as journal lead. In order to give each other a break, Baum will manage the journal one week, and Scully will take over the next.

In addition to spreading out the workload, Baum said having processes in place to remind editors of their manuscript assignments is always a good idea. In this area he said journal management software with features that allow teams to have automated editor assignment reminders and quick ways to check for overdue reviews to help editors manage manuscripts can be a big help.

Baum said it’s important that your journal management software give lead editors the ability to check the status of assignments across the team so they can personally reach out to editors if a manuscript appears to be blocked.

“When folks are late in inviting reviewers I will initially give leeway, but then if needed I will write a personal note to the associate editor saying that I noticed they were a week late and asking if they are having trouble finding reviewers and, if so, to please let me know so I can help.”

Baum said he finds editors appreciate this approach and that often editors will ask for help where they are stuck or his email will be the nudge they needed to make an assignment and keep the submission moving.

Appoint deserving team members to higher journal positions

Everyone likes to work towards an incentive and at academic journals it’s often no different. When it comes to motivating your team, Baum said giving members at all levels the opportunity for advancement can make a big difference.

At Oral Diseases team members at all levels are given the opportunity to rise to a higher position and Baum said this both serves as an incentive to those involved with the journal and establishes a valuable track record for those entering new positions that ensures they’re up for the job. The journal gives all members a chance to get more involved, from ad hoc reviewers becoming reviewing editors to reviewing editors becoming associate editors.

“In general, the transition to associate editor has worked quite well. Because the people on the board are familiar with doing reviews, they’re familiar with how our website works, and things like that,” said Baum. “It’s also nice because it’s kind of rare for someone to turn an invitation down. We take people who show an interest and we have evidence of that because they’ve done five of five reviews or something like that as ad hocs, and we want to reward them.”

Keep communication open among your team and seek input from all

At any organization, especially an academic journal, communication is key! You’ll of course want to have communication channels in place and regular check-ins and meetings. Beyond day-to-day discussions of journal work, Baum said it’s also important to encourage the communication of ideas among the entire group.

“At various times during the year we will solicit advice from the associate editors (most common) and also from reviewing editors. We’ll send out emails saying we’re noticing this sort of issue or challenge and asking if they have any recommendations for how to deal with it. We’ll also reach out for things like suggestions for invited topical reviews and recommendations for new board members or to see if anyone has any questions or needs support in any way.”

Baum said this gives his editors a greater sense of involvement in the publication as a whole and bringing together everyone’s ideas leads to better outcomes. He also recommends scheduling regular conference calls when possible to give everyone the opportunity to discuss new ideas and plans as a group.

Always follow the “Golden Rule”

Ultimately, Baum says keeping your editorial team motivated comes down to one simple practice - “follow the Golden Rule” - by treating others in each journal position as you would like to be treated. You can take all of the above suggestions and fold them into this old adage.

“It’s pretty simple stuff and it may sound silly,” said Baum. “But it’s really about remembering the Golden Rule. If we’re doing something and we’re working hard, we all want to have that acknowledged in some way. I am sincerely appreciative of my editors, they help me look good in what I convey and they should know that.”

Baum said journal leaders should consider motivation and appreciation to be closely linked at all times.

Have you given any of these suggestions a try at your journal or do you have additional advice for keeping team members motivated? We’d love to hear more! Please post in the comments section or tweet your thoughts to us at @scholasticahq!

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
Tales from the Trenches