Revisit: 1999 article on “imperatives for career services”

I was looking up some mid-year reading in our library here at UNC and came across a piece from 1999 by Jack Rayman titled “Career Services Imperatives for the Next Millennium.”  This article was a follow up on a 1993 entry in the Jossey-Bass New Directions for Student Services Series titled “The Changing Role of Career Services.”  I thought it would be interesting to post his 10 imperatives and see if anyone has thoughts to share via comments.  I’ll add a few of my thoughts after each imperative.

Imperative 1:  We must acknowledge the lifelong nature of career development and initiate programs and services that enable and encourage students to take responsibility for their own career destiny.

This stands true for me now as it did in 1993 and 1999.

Imperative 2:  We must accept and embrace technology as our ally and shape its use to free staff time for those tasks that require human sensitivity.

Certainly embracing technology continues to be important, but I sense less of a desire to do so to offload certain tasks.  It seems more “with” and “and” these days than “either/or.”

Imperative 3:  We must continue to refine and strengthen our professional identity and that of career services within the academy.

I think we’re feeling this strongly right now with the conversations taking place about the value of education, but I don’t know that our voices were strong in shaping the discussion in the years leading up to now.

Imperative 4:  We must acknowledge and accept that individual career counseling is at the core of our profession and endeavor to maintain and enhance the centrality of individual career counseling in the career development process.

My personal opinion is that while this is still true, it feels a little too narrow for where I think we need to be headed as a field.

Imperative 5:  We must forge cooperative relationships with faculty, advising professionals, other student affairs professionals, administrators, parents, and student groups to take advantage of the “multiplier effect” that such collaborative relationships can have in furthering our goal of enhanced student career development.

Absolutely.  The only shame here is that perhaps we’ve not done enough between 1993, 1999 and now!

Imperative 6:  We must redouble our efforts to meet the changing career development needs of an increasingly diverse student body.

Maybe it’s now time to triple our efforts. 🙂

Imperative 7:  We must accept our position as the most obvious and continuing link between corporate America and the academy, but we must also maintain our focus on career development and not allow ourselves to be seduced into institutional fundraising at the expense of quality career services.

I’m not so sure here.Most universities have well-trained fundraising facilitators in their advancement/development offices.  We have a role to play, but I certainly haven’t seen us sliding toward doing too much of this.

Imperative 8:  We must acknowledge and accept that on-campus recruiting as we have known it is a thing of the past and develop alternative means of facilitating the transition from college to work.

Not so fast!  20 years after the 1993 piece, we’re still doing OCR and career fairs.  We certainly can’t *only* rely on these efforts, and that’s truer now than ever.  So, the core of the argument in Imperative 8 is a good one.  But, they’ve not yet disappeared either.

Imperative 9:  We must resolve the ambiguities that exist about our role in delivering alumni career services and solicit from our alumni associations the resource support necessary to provide these services.

This seems a bit more campus-to-campus than field-wide, as far as problems go.

Imperative 10:  We must advocate more effectively for resources to maintain and increase our role in facilitating student career development within the academy, and we must become more efficient and innovative in our use of existing resources.

Some things never change, right?

What are your reactions to these imperatives?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Is “customer” still a bad word in higher education?

In a meeting earlier this week someone referred to our students as “customers,” but then, realizing what had been done, quickly walked the statement back by saying something like, “not that we think of our students as customers.”  That’s been a long-held student/academic affairs mentality — students are not customers.

There are certainly parts of this sentiment that I understand.  The implication is that a student has different responsibilities in the educational experience than a customer would in a commercial experience.  And I believe that to be true.  But, I also believe that too often we lean on the idea that students aren’t customers as a way to comfort ourselves for providing less-than-stellar service.

Sometimes this less-than-stellar service is beyond our control.  We don’t make all the policies, and we don’t control the bureaucracy.  But, dang it, we say we’re here for the students.  So, when it makes sense to pick up a phone and make a call rather than send a student traipsing across campus, we should do that (as one of my colleagues did this afternoon, I’m happy to say).  That’s not hand-holding or coddling, that’s just good service, and our students deserve it.

Recently a person that I respect posted, jokingly, on Facebook the old adage “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”  We know students put things off, and we know they don’t always take action when they should.  But, the very tone of that statement belies our often-stated mantra that we’re here to help students.  Does that mean we shouldn’t discuss consequences and better planning and better decision making?  Of course not.  But, we shouldn’t be afraid of “service” just because we think it is for customers and not for students.

We should be focusing on how to give the best service we can, and we should be learning from those commercial sectors to which we don’t like to be compared.  Whether you like it or not, those are the standards to which we are being held.  The experiences students have with us are contextualized not against other university offices or offices similar to ours on other campuses (which is why benchmarking is such a flawed concept sometimes), but rather against service in all settings.

What are you doing to provide absolutely top-notch service to your students?  I’d love to hear about it.  I’m sure it’s happening!

 

 

 

Iterative, evolutionary and revolutionary innovations

In my last post I focused on different types of innovators.  In this post I want to share some thoughts on different types of innovation.  But, I’d like to start with a quick mention of the Wikipedia entry on innovation, which states (with some minor editing):

“Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.”

All of those things — innovation, invention, improvement — tend to jumble together in my day-to-day conversations and thinking.  For example, I have a hard time saying something is simultaneously the creation of something better, but then also saying it’s not an improvement.  So, for the purpose of this post, I’m really not going to treat them any differently.

Now onto the heart of the actual discussion:  types of innovation.  There really are no set types, per se, and there are a lot of sources that discuss types of innovation (here and here for example).  But, I tend to think of innovations on a spectrum that looks like this:


Incremental innovation involves small adjustments to existing services or approaches, and I feel like this is what we see the most of in higher education.  A few examples:  in the career services field, where I currently work, this would be something like putting QR codes on the table tents at a career fair.  In admissions it might be using a new way to reserve spaces for campus visits.  These types of innovation, although small, still matter a lot.  So, please don’t interpret the spectrum as a substitute for bad-to-good or less-meaningful-to-more-meaningful.  Iterative innovations are vital.   But, on the downside, they typically do not bring about larger changes.  So, in instances where large-scale changes in not only style but substance is needed, you typically won’t get there through iteration.

Evolutionary innovation can seem like a large-scale change.  But, at its heart, the “new thing” is still strongly grounded in the “old thing.”   Again using the career fair example, this would be like hosting a “virtual career fair.”  It’s a new medium and environment, but is basically the same otherwise.  An academic advising office that begins to have digital signage to notify students where they are on the list of those to be seen (like Apple’s Genius Bar) is an evolutionary innovation.  These are a little more dramatic and noticeable than iterative innovations.   Evolutionary innovations have the potential to lead to larger-scale changes.  But, with hindsight, they tend to be an intermediary step along the way to something different.

Revolutionary innovation, as one might deduce, truly involves something different that leaves much of the old behind.   Continuing the career fair thread, whatever replaces fairs entirely (whenever that may occur) will be a revolutionary innovation.   When career services offices stopped doing “placement” and converted to “career education,” it was a revolutionary innovation.   Again, that’s not always to say these have more value, nor am I trying to imply that everyone is in a situation that demands or even needs to consider revolutionary innovation.   But, some of us may be.

Here is where I’d like to involve you in the conversation more purposefully.  How many truly revolutionary innovations can you think of in student affairs?  Some, no doubt, would have occurred around various civil rights movements.  Also, in what areas do you think there is a need for revolutionary innovation?  I’d love your thoughts.

What’s Your Innovation Type?

There has been conversation on the SA Collaborative Blog and in other places about “radical practitioners” and innovation in the student affairs space.  The dialogs have been spirited and thought provoking.  But, I think we’ve missed exploring more deeply at least one piece of the conversation, and that is that there isn’t just one way to be innovative or only one type of innovator.  There are a lot of books and articles that discuss types of innovators.  But, my go-to guide on the subject is Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley at IDEO (in fact, I might be just a little too into the book, because I’ve developed a self-assessment tool around the types he presents!).

In this blog I want to give a quick overview of the ten types and why recognizing that different types exist (even if you don’t agree with this specific list) is an important step in being able to involve others, or maybe involve yourself if you don’t think you’re an innovator, in this conversation.

A quick note that below I’m going to use the word “customer,” knowing that it can be problematic to call students customers.  But, substitute that word for your own preference: student, client, resident, guest, etc. as you see fit.

Kelley splits the ten types into three categories:

1. The Learning Personas
2. The Organizing Personas
3. The Building Personas

There are three types in the Learning Personas category.   The Anthropologist is the keen “eye witness.”  These people innovate by getting a deep understanding of interactions through observation.  The Experimenter is constantly in prototype mode.  These people innovate through “enlightened trial and error.”  The Cross-Pollinator is driven to pull from disconnected sources.  These people innovate by seeing something work in one context and applying it to another.

There are three types in the Organizing Personas category, as well.  The Hurdler is an expert at navigating obstacles.  These people innovate by pushing projects through roadblocks and overcoming bureaucracy.  The Collaborator thrives on bringing people together.  These people innovate by finding synergies and “multidisciplinary solutions.”  The Director also brings people together, but these people innovate by on leading these groups and sparking their talents.

There are four types in the Building Personas category.  The Experience Architect is concerned with creating “deeper” experiences.  These people innovate by looking beyond the basic needs of a customer or functions of a situation to create something special.  The Set Designer focuses on physical environments.  These people innovate through an understanding of how these environments impact behavior and attitude.  The Caregiver is one who provides truly great, personalized service. These people innovate by truly caring about customers and anticipating their needs.  The Storyteller is a developer of compelling narratives.  These people innovate by finding, and helping others find, meaning in the stories embedded in organizational culture and customer experience.

It’s difficult to convey these types in a few short sentences.  But, hopefully this quick overview will help you see that even if you don’t say to yourself, “I am an innovator,” that doesn’t mean you are not contributing to an environment that can be innovative.  Innovation is the application of new ideas and solutions.  But, the source of those can and do come from a variety of perspectives.  So, I encourage you to consider (or reconsider) how you are pushing your office, your field and our profession forward.

After doing the self-assessment that I created with my office, it was enlightening to discuss how we might approach different problems or situations through the different type lenses.  I don’t think that we are all only one type, and I don’t think that was Kelley’s intention.   But, I find it incredibly useful to try to see things with these types’ perspectives.  So, next time you’re in a meeting and find yourself wanting to say “can I play devil’s advocate for a minute.”  Instead say “can I play The Anthropologist for a minute” or “can I play The Set Designer for a minute” and see if you get better results!

Cross-posted on the Student Affairs Collaborative Blog

The easiest professional renewal

This past Friday afternoon, I experienced one of the easiest professional renewals imaginable.   A few months back Jeff Lail and I posited on Twitter that we should get some like-minded folks together this summer.  He and I had a quick G+ hangout and over the course of that 20-minute dialog chose a date and set a loose agenda.  After a bit of nail-biting on promotion and registration volume, we settled into a nice event called the NC EDU Innovation Meetup (see this site).

By the end of the afternoon, I found myself thinking, “why don’t people do things like this more often?”   It was essentially a mix of a meetup, an unconference and an idea generation session.  And it was a lot of fun.  And easy.  And renewing.

Some really interesting ideas were formed — everything from student affairs leaders having a “new professionals advisory board” to creating an online “collaboration generator” to help student affairs offices look for successful cross-departmental collaborations from across the country.  It remains to be seen if anything will come of any of these ideas.  But, that’s beside the point.  Folks left inspired and energized (or so they said on their facebook pages after the fact!).

So, don’t wait around for your annual professional association conference.  Do something like this event or Baylor’s quickSAND event for student activities pros.  Go make something interesting!

We need fewer experts

It would be too strong of a statement to say that expertise kills innovation.  However, experts certainly can.. and do!

High achieving student affairs organizations are efficient, have high quality services and can demonstrate learning outcomes with the best of them.  We can become experts in our fields over time.  But, I am writing today to have you consider the relative importance of naiveté.  A recent post on Innovation Excellence discussed the importance of having a “naive challenger” on your team:

This person will either be completely ignorant about your business or at least be classed as a non-expert. They can ask the really dumb questions, such as “why do customers do that?” and “why do we do it this way?”. The answers to these often basic questions often prove to be revelations. They help you dig beneath the legends and received wisdom that can be insecure foundations for defining innovation.

In my post, I’d simply like to encourage you to seek, find and hold on dearly to your own potential for naiveté.  I recently gained an incredibly bright new colleague here at UNC (props Katherine Nobles), and in some of my conversations with her I’ve realized that she has a freshness of perspective on our office that I’ve already started to lose — and I’ve only been here for 3.5 years.  (And in case Katherine reads this — I’m not suggesting you have no expertise!).

The previously mentioned article notes that a “naive challenger” should possess these traits:

They need the self-confidence to ask stupid questions in front of an influential and strong group. An ability to challenge strongly held points of view goes with the willingness to listen. They should have a natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. Of course they need to be creative, and good lateral thinkers. They should possess the “T-profile”; a breadth of experience in a number of areas coupled with a deep knowledge of a couple.

We should all be active in cultivating these traits in our own daily behaviors.  Our offices, our programs, our services and our impact on students would all be positively influenced if we could all become even 25% more naive.

 

Service lessons from Duke Hospital

As a UNC basketball fan, it always pains me a bit to talk positively about Duke.  But, in the realm of service design, Duke Hospital is doing some nice things.   Between my son’s asthma and my sleep apnea, I’ve found myself visiting one particular facility a half dozen times in the past year.   Prior to these experiences and my son’s birth a few years back, I simply hadn’t spent much time in hospitals.  So, I may be giving them credit for things that are quite standard in hospital settings. But, that said, they have some nice service design features. And I’ve often felt student affairs professionals can mimic some of the better practices of health care, since we share some similarities in the way we provide services.

For example:

  • At Duke you can check-in online prior to your arrival then use a kiosk at your clinic to notify the staff of your arrival.
  • The various elevators are color coded, making the  maze-like halls easier to navigate.
  • Nearly each time I’ve found myself in a line, a worker comes from behind the desk area to begin checking in with me before I get to the front of the line.

Each of the above experiences has been positive and impressive.

That’s not to say things are perfect.  I do find that often our medical records, which one would think would be easily retrieved, don’t seem to follow us from meeting to meeting easily.  We in student affairs share this problem — how much of our work would be improved by knowing more about our students past experiences across our various divisions and units prior to our engagement with them?   Some schools have pursued a co-currcular transcript model.  But is anyone doing anything to make sure that we on the student affairs staff are better informed about our engagements across offices?

This is a fairly unfocused post.  But, I’m wondering if anyone else has considered parallels between health care service and student affair service.  Have you noticed anything interesting we should steal, or problems that might parallel potential improvements we’ve not even considered?

Lateral thinking for student affairs

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sources of inspiration for student affairs services and programs and in surveying the field think we would benefit from more lateral thinking. The folks at Wikipedia provide this definition for lateral thinking: “Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.” But my primary introduction to the concept is through a book by Paul Sloane, called “The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlocking the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team.” It’s a good read that you should check out.

In Sloane’s book he tells the story of how at one point (think early 1900s), most retailers had a counter at the very front of the store. Customers walked in the front door and were met quickly by staff behind the counter. All the merchandise was kept behind the counter and customers told the staff what items they would like. These items were retrieved by the clerk. But one shop owner had an idea: what if the counter was in the back and all the merchandise was available to allow the customers to select their own items? Thus was created the modern retail experience, paving the way for how we shop today.

What can we do to “flip the store,” metaphorically speaking?   While the core of what we do is strong, there’s nothing preventing us from reinventing the way we “do business.”  Our approaches, our technologies, our processes, our programs, and how we think about what we do are all fair game for innovation and improvements.  We owe it to ourselves and to our students to do it.  So, I’m on the lookout.  How we can question everything and look for inspiration in places we might not normally consider? What have you seen other service industries or sectors doing that inspire you?

I’d love to hear from you.

Cross posted on the Student Affairs Collaborative Blog