• Innovating In Times of Change: Career Center Climate

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    February 6, 2013

    by Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles 

    Part 2 of 5 

    How much does a career center’s climate contribute to the innovation that can be achieved there? When the center incorporates several key elements of an innovative climate, it can be one of the principal drivers of innovation.

    Our 2012 study on career services innovation used a model that establishes that there are three primary factors that affect an organization’s potential for innovation—climate, leadership, and process.

    Based on our research, we found that an innovative climate is one in which:

    • Most members of the staff welcome change.
    • Many different viewpoints are shared during discussion.
    • New ideas are encouraged from those higher in the organization.
    • People feel they can take bold action, even if the outcome is unclear.

    In fact, career services offices where directors agreed or strongly agreed with all of these statements produced 30 percent more innovative services, programs, or technologies over 2010-11 and 2011-12 than those that did not.

    Are career services practitioners actually working in innovative climates? While majorities answered each individual climate question affirmatively, only 47 percent of respondents answered all the climate statements affirmatively. That is to say, nearly all respondents identify some positive traits in their climate, but less than half claimed all these characteristics.

    It is also valuable to note that 62 percent of those who indicated their career centers produce “more innovation” than other career centers responded affirmatively to all the climate questions, whereas only 21 percent of those who indicated their career centers produce “less innovation” than other career centers did so.

    The climate statement with the fewest affirmative responses was “People here feel they can take bold action, even if the outcome is unclear.” Our study found that career services professionals generally feel that they are able to share their ideas and be heard, but they ultimately do not feel empowered to turn those ideas into action.

    We found a striking difference here between directors and staff members, with 72 percent of directors believing that people in their offices can take bold action with unclear outcomes. However, only 53 percent of staff members share that belief.

    This difference represents an opportunity for the career services field. One key to unleashing innovation is for directors to better convey their comfort with this kind of uncertainty and work to develop a climate that is equally open.

    How else can we make career center climates more conducive to innovation? We asked this question to attendees of our session at the Southern Association of Colleges and Employers annual conference in December 2012. They responded with an insightful list of ideas (see http://innovation.web.unc.edu for the entire list).

    Their suggestions included:

    • Dedicating time to sharing articles that highlight new ideas.
    • Setting clear expectations related to climate.
    • Minimizing consequences for failed initiatives.
    • Allowing for brainstorming without judgment.
    • Celebrating and rewarding innovations.
    • Encouraging open dialogue from all (not just those who like to talk).

    How you address the climate at your center is obviously a more individualized endeavor, and there are certainly connections and overlaps between climate, leadership, processes, and other factors.

    For example, based on our research, we found that 84 percent of respondents who answered all climate questions affirmatively also commonly answered that new or novel approaches to their work are a part of their office’s strategic plan.

    Note: Part 3 of this series will focus on how leadership influences career center innovation. 

    Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They will host a webinar for NACE on their study titled “Innovation Trends in Career Services” on February 21, 2013, at 1 p.m. EST. 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 Climate