There are two common operational pain points that usually stand out in neon lights as I interact with career center teams. In fact they have been around for quite some time, but in this era of change and growth, they are becoming more prominent.
Our volume of work is high - often overwhelming
We stink at saying no - this perpetuates #1
If this is you, don't feel guilty, feel normal. But the time is now for a new normal. And many are figuring out the amazing benefits of courageously iterating or eliminating on their services, programs, and events.
Operationally, the above mentioned pain points beg two extremely important questions?
When and why should we ITERATE on a program or service to make it better?
When and why should we ELIMINATE a program or service?
Here are some important items to consider for career services teams who are seeking a courageous and fresh manner to go about the continuous growth process.
What is your Current Status?
Let's start with a simple assessment I have used with multiple teams in the last 5 years. Take each of your programs and services and operational focus areas and do the hard work of trying to agree together on how you would categorize them based on the below buckets. Also plot out services you don't have but believe you need to have. You should have about 25-50 different items to analyze. Plot them into the following buckets:
START-UP: We don't do this at all, we need to start doing it
TURN-AROUND: Needs to be re-imagined, but we are not currently doing anything about it
CHANGE-MODE: We are currently in the process of changing this
GROWTH-MODE: This is growing like crazy and we are leaning into it
SUSTAIN-SUCCESS-MODE: Maintaining a good thing - no iteration needed
RETIREMENT: This has to go. It is simply not working; demand is low
This exercise may bring a bit of conflict, but in the end will bring much needed clarity.
So what do you do with all of this information?
Be Crystal Clear about your Top 3 Big Operational Goals
If everyone one of your staff team can't clearly articulate your top three operational goals, you might be in danger of being overwhelmed, over-worked, and lacking the focus needed to achieve greater student engagement, education, readiness, and success outcomes. I am not talking about vision and mission. I am talking about your your operational priorities. If you ask each other if your work fits under your mission, then the answers will always be yes, in which case you can return to the beginning of this post about being overwhelmed and having trouble saying no. But if you ask each other if certain tasks fit under your top three big operational goals, then there will be a more clear yes or no.
Example of a Mission Statement: Quality Career Education to all Students and Alumni - this defines your domain, not your priorities.
Example of a Big Operational Goal: Train Every Faculty and Academic Advisor on Career Competencies - this defines your priorities, and helps you choose to iterate or eliminate.
Do you have a clear top 3 operational goals?
You must have a reason to consider iteration or elimination.
Focus on Customer Demand, not on Internal Staff Fear
Here are some questions that might help you get to the heart of a reason to take the time to assess whether you want to iterate or eliminate. All are focused on your customers:
What is the demand? Is it growing or the contrary?
What is the energy around this service?
If your customers are questioning this service, are they questioning HOW you deliver it or WHAT you are delivering?
Does this services or program yield or empower multiple additional engagements?
Are a large volume of stakeholders attending/involved?
Be wary of these questions. Run from them. They are usually unspoken and more like thoughts. They rarely help with continuous improvement - only in very few circumstances. All of them are about you and not about your customers:
Have we always done it that way?
Will it hurt someone's feelings if we cancel it?
What will others on campus think of us if we change it?
Will a 'loud voice' or 'prominent person' complain about it if we change it or cancel it?
Is it popular on other campuses around the country?
Perform an Effort vs. Impact Study
Another dimension that may be helpful in assessing the priority and future need for your programs and services is to perform an effort versus impact study of all of your services. This can be done by:
identifying each service
defining how much of your teams' effort is involved in performing each service
defining the impact that each service has on your intended audience for that service
You'll need to discuss how you define each. For example, effort could be defined in hours or political challenges, or type of task. Impact could be defined by pre-post student confidence, by numerical engagement increase, and/or in other ways. But here is the deal my friends, if you have programs that take effort from multiple staff members and yield very small impact on your students, then you might need to consider eliminating them.
Pilot Eliminating Programs
People hate to fail. And eliminating feels like failure. And, no, we don't always learn from failure. And, no, we don't always 'fail fast and fail forward'. But we always learn from learning that we design. This is why a culture of piloting new things is so powerful. A pilot is an experiment over a short period of time to learn why or why not to extend that period of time. When we pilot a new event, everyone is curious and learning about what happened. The same is true if we pilot getting rid of a program. Everyone is curious about what we lost or gained in the process of eliminating. If there is a substantial loss, we will bring it back, but if not, we can all feel great about eliminating it, because we didn't fail, we learned what was best together.
Bonus Topic: Career Fairs
Remember in like 2001—and every year since—people said Career Fairs were dying. Yep, they have died about as fast as the television and as fast as the resume. Employers have certainly complained about them in some form or another. Yet still, they are around in mass, and in many cases, thriving. Many universities have iterated on the user experience of career fairs to produce incredible events. Some of ya'll still need to iterate. (Get a good app, BTW :))
What is the lesson in this persistent existence of career fairs that are currently thriving? Wait for a good economy? No. Keep things that pay the bills? Maybe. But seriously, in big stakeholder engagements, be slow to eliminate and quick to iterate! Listen to feedback on a deeper level. Employers and students definitely complained over the years, and will still, but both groups respond extremely well when you create energy and create demand. Iterate to that end!
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 Co-Owner of The Fairs App.