The Case for Organizational Capacity


Already Restructured, Leveraged Technology, and Developed Hybrid Staffing Models – Now What?

Leading change in the past

Many leaders have experience restructuring offices, leveraging technology and developing hybrid staffing models. The majority of offices extend their reach with combination of volunteers, peer advisors, student and graduate assistants, executives in residence, employers and contract staff in addition to our own full time staff. Often these efforts are more than adequate to address the challenge of a new leadership team or role.

However, there are times when we are confronted with challenges so great, when we assess the situation, it becomes apparent that restructuring, doing more with less, and leveraging technology just won’t deliver the impact you’re being asked to lead. Now what?

Prepare yourself to lead the enterprise vs. leading career services

In this era of disruption, where new models of higher education are emerging, it is critical to develop the capacity to function as leader of the enterprise that is higher education vs. a leader of career services. Why? Senior leadership is all about understanding the complex challenges, common tension points, and making investments in strategic initiatives that move the organization forward.

To do so, it helps to develop a holistic view of higher education, and how career services is positioned within the enterprise.

It’s important to recognize career services units report up through a variety larger functional areas within higher education and how their position can influence strategic priorities. For example, I’ve worked for units residing in student affairs, academic affairs, and external affairs. These units have been charged with helping students across the university wide, within a single college, and in some cases only for specific subsets of student populations. At some institutions faculty and senior leaders have been very involved, helpful and collaborative. In other cases, they have been somewhere between hands off and not supportive.

I have collaborated with a wide range of stakeholders internally – faculty, staff, students, accreditation teams and externally – politicians, parents, employers, alumni, and foundations. Furthermore, I have taught classes, engaged in research and collaborated with faculty on scholarly and practitioner focused publications. These experiences have helped me gain a 360 degree view of the enterprise.

Communicating effectively with senior leaders regarding investments needed to build the organizations capacity to improve career outcomes and identify alignment to other broader enterprise wide goals is the key to securing support. As a result, it is helpful to develop an appreciation for how a President, Provost, Dean, accreditation or external review team views the enterprise that is higher education versus how an individual faculty, staff member, unit head, student or alum views their role, or the role of career services, within higher education will better position you to engage in enterprise level decision making.

The following are concrete ways you can develop a greater appreciation for the complex challenges senior leaders in higher education face:

  1. Already reading The Chronicle for Higher Education? Scan more broadly!

  • The Presidency - American Council on Education - The American Council on Education's flagship magazine, The Presidency is written for and by college and university presidents and chancellors.

  • AACSB – BizEd – the leading voice of Business Education

  1. Are you attending conferences outside of career services?

  1. Are you aware of unique models and partnerships emerging between online learning, employers and higher education?

Pivot to Building Organizational Capacity

Occasionally career services leaders find themselves in situations where they can proactively work with higher education leadership teams in transition. Pro-active efforts often include providing benchmarking data, suggesting the implementation of new software platforms, and launching new models of service delivery.

These changes often present an opportunity to elevate the conversation to a more strategic level. If you’ve developed a bold vision for the future, seeking to partner with faculty in new ways, then you may be prepared to have a substantive conversation with senior leadership regarding resources, new experiential learning models, and linking career outcomes to rankings, enrollment and development.

A few years ago, I was in this situation, and decided to take a different approach. After gathering input from faculty members and senior higher education leaders in my network, I thought pivoting away from doing a better job managing the resources we already had, and reframing the discussion around the value of building organizational capacity over the next several years would be a more effective approach.

What is Organizational Capacity?

Too often, career services leaders find themselves fighting for resources to address narrowly defined capacity building projects, such as improving student and employer participation in events or collecting outcomes data. As a result, It may be helpful to start by clearly define what organizational capacity building isn’t. Capacity building is not a one-time effort to improve short term effectiveness or address a narrow issue or need.

source of model: John Coxon

Organizational capacity building is a commitment to continuous improvement, typically over a multi-year basis, to build an effect organization capable of delivering on its mission now and in the future.

It includes developing strategic planning, goal setting in alignment with broader institutional objects. When successful, organizational capacity building results in a career services unit adding value to the enterprise by positively impacting its stakeholders on an ongoing basis.

Organization capacity building is multi-faceted. In includes interventions to enhance capacities at the individual, unit and organizational level. Investments in staffing, technology and operating budgets are certainly part of the process. However, alignment with enterprise wide strategic priorities, developing staff competencies, restructuring, process and systems improvements, and creating a culture of innovation are also important elements.

What does Innovation look like for Career Services?

A key component of organization capacity building is innovation, but we should be careful that innovation in career services is not only about implementing the latest technology. In fact, when you look at student adoption rates of new software platforms it becomes clear quickly that student engagement is actually a much bigger challenge.

Innovation is all about crossing traditional boundaries to come up with new and better ways to address challenges. After you identify your most complex challenges, consider looking beyond your own experiences, staff members, conferences and traditional vendors to identify new ideas, different feedback and information about disruption that maybe occurring outside the bounds of higher education.

Almost all of the high impact programs I’ve been involved with included partnering with faculty, student organizations, alumni, employers or software vendors in a new way. The common thread is that we identified a common challenge and had open dialogue that was not just collaborative, but incorporated learning and insights from other disciplines that were weaved together in order to develop a new approach to the common challenge we faced.

If you are stuck, do not wait for a lightning bolt to strike. Share your complex challenges with others outside your traditional network to seek input from new sources.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Build an advisory board (formal or informal) that includes all our major stakeholders

  • Lead a multi-unit benchmarking visit to a peer or aspirational school

  • Offer to bring a senior leader to a career services conference and vice versa

  • Talk to the disruptors – for profits, online education, and technology vendors

  • Position yourself as a convener of discussions across boundaries to address complex challenges

Shift from Benchmarking to an Organization Capacity Assessment Model

Traditional benchmarking in career services often compares students to staff ratios, staff salaries, operation budgets, and space allocation compared to peer and aspirational schools.

To support your strategy, pivot to a discussion of organizational capacity building, consider adding data that speaks to these elements and consider showing how your career services organizational capacity compares to other service units within your own school to highlight any imbalances. Here is an example:

Make Your Case - How does building Organizational Capacity translate to Career Services?

As previously stated, senior leadership is all about understanding the complex challenges, common tension points, and making investments in strategic initiatives that move the organization forward. However, before you approach your new leadership team with details about your new model of organization capacity building, and share with them your assessment model, I suggest you position yourself as a fellow senior leader by asking questions that help you:

  • Identify the most relevant enterprise wide objectives

  • Align with strategic initiatives

  • Share aspirational benchmarks and describe how they made enhanced their organizational capacity to move to the next level

During these initial conversations, it is wise to provide some history and context to help them gain a better understanding of current state, but rather than defend the past, simply described the history, how decisions were made, and be candid about what has and has not worked well.

Once you establish a mutual understanding of the organizations past, current state, complex challenges, and strategic objectives you have the opportunity to frame the conversation as a multi-year journey to building organizational capacity.

Taking this approach typically creates an opportunity to engage senior leaders in a more generative discussion. By discussion with senior leaders how all the key elements of organizational capacity building need to come together and linking an investment in career services you can create space to think together about how to accomplish enterprise wide strategic initiatives. Here are some interesting questions to consider as you prepare for this type of conversation:

  • What is Career Services role in meeting enterprise wide goals and objectives?

  • How can Career Services contribute to enterprise wide strategic initiatives in innovative ways?

  • How can we make 1+1=3 – might an investment in several units around a larger strategic initiative yield greater outcomes?

  • What kind of organizational capacity building would we need to do in order to contribute to enterprise wide strategic initiatives?

Throughout my career, when I’ve had the opportunity to engage senior leaders in a dialogue about building the organizations capacity to achieve strategic objectives and initiatives innovative solutions to complex challenges have emerged. Working closely with Robinson’s Dean, Richard Phillips during the past three years we re-positioned our office to be more externally focused by restructuring our office, adding staff, and collaborating closely on several innovative experiential programs that combine curricular, co-curricular activities with a strong professional and career development focus. In addition, we’ve added a new Director of Business Partnership Development role to accelerate our strategic partnership building efforts to benefit all aspects of the College.

This external focus aligned well with the college’s vision – "No one gets closer to business". And, it supports several strategic initiatives designed to engage the alumni, employers, and community organizations in order to enhanced enrollment, immersive and experiential programs, alumni engagement, and development and career outcomes.

There is no finish line!

Yet we are making great strides, including a two million dollar gift from Delta Airlines to fund the Delta Student Success Center that will bring the Career Advancement Center together with our Office of Undergraduate Academic Advising, and Signature Programs in a new location on campus.

How can you grow your organizational capacity?

Jason Aldrich Ed.D. serves as Assistant Dean for Strategic Partnerships and Career Advancement at Georgia State University’s, J. Mack Robinson College of Business in Atlanta. Prior to joining GSU, Aldrich served in similar roles at Vanderbilt University and the University of Georgia. In addition, he regularly presents at regional, national and global professional association conferences, consults with universities, vendors, and Fortune 500 firms on innovative approaches to career services and university relations. Aldrich also served as President of the Georgia Association of Colleges and Employers (GACE) in 2004 and earned his Ed.D. from the University of Georgia in 2013. The title of his dissertation is Career Rock Climbing - Facilitating the Career Adaptability of Graduate Business Students. LinkedIn.

#OrganizationalDev #Leadership #StaffDevelopment

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