• Innovating in Times of Change: Career Center Leadership

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    March 6, 2013

    by Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles
    Part 3 of 5

    In a keynote talk about innovation, noted British author and speaker Paul Sloane said, “Every system you are using today is going to be replaced by something better, and it's your job to find it." He also said that the skills leaders need to employ to create this future are not the same as are needed to manage day-to-day operations.

    While our study did not delve into specific skill sets for leading innovation, we did examine select characteristics and approaches. Specifically, our study found that the innovative career center is one where:

    • The implementation of new and novel approaches is part of the strategic plan.
    • Leaders of the organization have a vision for the future of career services.
    • Leaders of the organization are quick to adapt to changing circumstances.

    How are our leaders performing?
    In particular, the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances is a meaningful characteristic as it relates to our tendency to innovate. More than half of the respondents to our survey (55 percent) either disagreed or strongly disagreed that this characteristic was present in their leaders. Of these, only 20 percent described their offices as producing more innovation than other centers. Comparatively, those who responded affirmatively about their leaders’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances were more likely (43 percent) to self-identify as more innovative.

    We also found that 85 percent of those self-identifying as producing more innovation than other centers worked in career centers where the strategic plan specifically includes new or novel approaches to their work, whereas this is true for only 50 percent of those who self-identify as producing less innovation. In this area we identified a disconnect between directors and staff members—specifically, directors more commonly responded that new or novel approaches were included in a strategic plan than did staff members. This suggests an opportunity to correct an exposure or communication problem between directors and staff members, making sure that all understand the content and context of the document.

    Our inquiry into leaders having a vision for the future of career services produced unexpected, but understandable results. In this question, staff members more commonly agreed or strongly agreed with this statement than directors (61 percent vs. 51 percent). Our analysis of this difference is likely that some directors were referring to their superiors who are perhaps outside of the career services realm, such as a vice president for student affairs.

    How can leaders improve in the realm of innovation?
    It could go without saying that leadership has a significant impact on every aspect of a career center, and innovation is no exception. For example, our study showed that even career centers that self-identified as producing less innovation than other centers demonstrated an increase in innovative output when they answered all the leadership questions in the affirmative. So, how can leaders improve in the realm of innovation?

    In our group discussions at the Southern Association of Colleges and Employers session, we challenged attendees to consider practical and meaningful steps that could be taken by both formal and informal leaders within a career center to lead on innovation. (See http://innovation.web.unc.edu for the entire list from the brainstorming session.) A few key takeaways from the session were:

    • Make the tough decisions to discontinue programs and services that have become outdated and ineffective.
    • Provide opportunities for and encourage staff members to experiment.
    • Understand what innovation is and is not. (Hint: it’s not chasing the latest technology!)

    Note: Part 4 of this series will examine career center processes that support and encourage innovation, as well as the obstacles we all face when trying to innovate.

    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 March 14, 2013, at 1 p.m. ET. Miller and Nobles will also present a session at the 2013 NACE Conference titled “Innovation in Career Services: A Study and Dialog.” 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 Leadership