• Innovating in Times of Change: Career Center Processes

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    April 3, 2013

    by Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles
    Part 4 of 5 

    How many times a week do you attend a meeting in which you leave feeling unproductive or uninspired? For most of us, the answer is probably much more frequently than we would like.

    We tend to rely on meetings as sources of information and idea collection, only to leave the meetings having shot down each others' ideas or forgetting them one week later.

    What other methods can we use to more effectively share and collect ideas? And what do we do with those ideas once we've captured them? Where should we be looking for inspiration to create new ideas in the first place?

    These were some of the questions we sought to answer in the process section of our 2012 study about career center innovation.

    Our study found that the potential for innovation is more prevalent in career centers where:

    • Budget and/or time are available for employees to explore their own ideas.
    • Systems exist to capture ideas from staff members.
    • A variety of stakeholders/settings/resources serve as sources of information/inspiration or provide input into the development of innovative programs, services, or technologies.

    As we can see from the chart below, the “all affirmative” responses on process are considerably lower than the climate and leadership sections of our study. Specifically, just 22 percent answered all affirmatively within the process section, compared to 47 percent for climate and 30 percent for leadership. Keeping in mind that innovation is the implementation of creative solutions, it’s not enough for an organization to have an innovative climate or leadership. It’s also critical for it to have processes and tools in place to capture and act on ideas.
    All Affimative Responses
    Source: 2012 Study on Career Center Innovation, Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles  

    How do we overcome obstacles?
    It’s often difficult to implement the ideas we develop due to the obstacles that interfere. You may not be surprised to learn budget and time are the two biggest obstacles to innovation among career services professionals. In fact, 62 percent of survey respondents indicated that budget and time are not made available for employees to explore their own ideas. We also found that centers that make budget and/or time available for employees to explore their own ideas are much more innovative than those that do not. Eighty percent of respondents who self-identified as less innovative stated that budget and time are not made available, compared to only 42 percent of respondents who self-identified as more innovative. This difference indicates that while budget and time are most certainly two big hurdles to face, they are not impossible to overcome if given a supportive climate and leadership.

    Other obstacles are barriers established by others outside the office, facility constraints, and limited technological capabilities. The takeaway here is that we all face obstacles and, in order to move forward with innovation, we need to recognize and address these obstacles. We urge you to consider the obstacles your center faces and what steps you can take to minimize them in order to maximize innovation.

    How do we capture ideas?
    If you have systems in place to document ideas from staff members, your office is more likely to take steps to implement the ideas. Only 53 percent of survey respondents indicated that their office has a system for capturing ideas from staff members. Notably, 67 percent of those who self-identified as more innovative answered that their office has a system, compared to only 35 percent of those who self-identified as less innovative.

    The most common examples of systems used to capture ideas were meetings and suggestion boxes. While these systems are better than none, we wanted to dig a bit deeper to find other systems that may provide a new or more unique perspective. Other examples shared were: staff photo-journaling, staff white-boarding, mind mapping, and using a share document as an “idea parking lot.” A related example is one in which directors allow staff members to designate a percentage of their time to idea creation.

    Where do we look for inspiration?
    Based on our study, the top five most-used sources of inspiration and information by career centers are:

    1. Staff within the office
    2. Students
    3. Career services professionals at other institutions
    4. Professional association events
    5. Employers

    Social media and parents were two of the least used according to our study results. There appears to be a missed opportunity here, as we tend to replicate ideas from one another and be inspired by the most obvious sources of information. Instead, we should look to the unique and less obvious to point us to more creative solutions.

    Where do we go from here?
    Our data indicates that, as a field, we can greatly improve in establishing processes that support our efforts to put innovative ideas into practice. We need better methods of documenting ideas, as well as finding ways to set aside time and, where possible, money for testing these ideas. We can expand our influences to help us create more novel solutions to the problems we and our stakeholders face. For example, career centers could allow individual staff to take a “sabbatical” to learn best practices from another career field, or take the entire staff on field trip outside of the industry to explore how similar problems are solved.

    While the process questions in our study received the lowest affirmative responses, in some ways this is a positive thing. Comparatively, it is easier and viably faster to put processes into place than it is to change organizational culture or leadership. So, while it may take some intentionality and effort that has not been exerted in the past, establishing processes that support innovation should be an achievable goal.

    Note: Part 5 of this series will examine the number and types of career center innovations that we, as a field, have been implementing. 

    Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They will present a session at the NACE 2013 Conference titled “Innovation in Career Services: A Study and Dialog.” Results of their “2012 Study on Career Center Innovation” can be found online at http://innovation.web.unc.edu. 

Innovating in Times of Change: Career Center Processes