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Scaling Career Services (Part 1 of 7): What's the big deal?

Let me start with a global reality check that might be perceived as bad news: for the past couple decades, the university career services field has flat out stunk at scaling. It hasn't really been in our DNA, and many might say, it hasn't really needed to be (a few others would beg to differ).

Don't get me wrong, our field has had a few home run moments with scale: no one can argue the amazing feats near the turn of the century when we automated some core services like job postings and on-campus interviews with new technology. Today we are also experiencing new tech wins with the surge in events apps and connections platforms (tech is far from the only answer to scale). And of course there have definitely been some innovative individual leaders in recent years, who have used principles of high quality scaling to substantially improve engagement and outcomes. But we don't talk about scale, we don't report on it, there is not a best practices guide (it's almost done, hold tight), and we don't have too many examples.

Ok, we stink at scale, why is this not bad news?

Well, this is good news because we are acknowledging that we have not been good at scale in the past, and there is a growing mass desire to be great at it. In fact, I think we are seeing an uprising of sorts. The Career Leadership Collective has seen 135 diverse career services leaders from 5 countries sign-up for and engage in our Think Tanks on 'How can we Scale Career Services'. Held in Boston (July 13, 2017), Denver (July 20), and San Francisco (this coming week), these three facilitated innovation sessions have been dialogue-based deep dives getting us to the heart of how we can be sophisticated in our approaches to scale. It has been unbelievable to experience the passion in these discussions for leading change and scaling our operations. If you want to know more, you can see a plethora of comments on twitter at #CareerThinkTank2017.

We asked participants to take a pre-think tank survey to help us crowdsource some insights about why scale is a big deal right now. The number one repeated answer from the question, 'what keeps career centers from scaling career services?' was 'we are not sure how to scale, but we would like to do it better.' So good! (Part 2 of this series will address other answers that question, as well as the problems we face and how to overcome them).

Here are some key questions from our survey that will help your staff teams initially discuss the idea of scaling. The themes below are from survey answers and face-to-face insights from many career leaders and outside influencers:

What is Scale?

A myth that a large amount of staff seem to have is that scale means, just do more. A fear that many seem to have is that quality and personalization will go down as you scale. A blind spot that many had prior to discussions was they didn't know that scale can happen without staff being involved. Related, here are the three dimensions of scale that have formed our growing definition:

  1. GREATER IMPACT WITHIN CONSTRAINTS: Achieving far greater output, outcomes, and improved performance with the same or less staff time and resources.

  2. RETAINED QUALITY: Operating more efficiently and effectively without losing quality.

  3. ANYTIME AND WITHOUT US: Many customers are getting served, even in the middle of the night when none of us are working.

We've noted that non-scaled approaches take a lot of ongoing work, and produce small to medium results and stressed staff teams, whereas scaled approaches take a good amount of upfront work, but less ongoing work, and yield larger impact and more focused staff teams. See the below non-exhaustive comparison chart that helps to illuminate the difference in approaches.

Here are some quoted answers from our survey to the following questions that may help you understand the 'why' of scale.

Why Scale?

  1. College ROI puts Career Services under the microscope with outcomes

  2. Increased pressure to reach all students

  3. One on one career advising is way too expensive

  4. Users are demanding better access to career education; We need to listen

  5. Students have information overload

  6. We need to continue to prove our value and worth to upper administration

  7. We can no longer be the career services of yesterday.

What Pressures are we facing that Scale will help with?

  1. Underprepared students; career readiness

  2. Less resources

  3. Small staff teams with less time

  4. College President’s are paying attention; putting us in strategic plans

  5. Negative feedback from students

What is the experience a Career Office that scales well?

This is perhaps the pinnacle question for career offices that want to deal with the pressures of today and scale their operations. Here is the fruit of scaling well:

  1. Staff have capacity for what is important

  2. Large numerical increase in career engagement and career education

  3. Increased customer satisfaction

  4. Staff do not feel overworked or stressed by volume

  5. Increased outcomes

All this data begs a few questions, like what barriers are keeping us from scaling, should we scale everything, is there a magic bullet, why do we fail at scale, and perhaps most importantly, what services should we scale, and how do we actually do it? I hope you will read along in the rest of this 7 part series as we unpack those questions and look at some real examples of scale in the field.

Scale is becoming a buzz word - which is fantastic! Yet, in my opinion, the worst thing that could happen would be for the concept of scale to only be a buzz word, i.e. we all start saying the word scale a lot and talking it up, but not actually doing it. Let's lean in and do the hard work up front to bring greater substantive career impact to masses of people everywhere. Stay tuned!

Jeremy Podany is an innovation, leadership, and organization growth connoisseur who has helped nearly 1,000 organizations and 500 leaders, having nearly 40 leadership roles in the last 20 years. Jeremy has enjoyed a career in higher education, has helped build six unique start-ups, and is currently the Founder, CEO, and Senior Consultant of The Career Leadership Collective and the Co-Founder and CEO of The Fairs App. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn

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