Last week was the first deadline for “activity points” in our career classes. Unlike other approaches to career development classes, the University of Central Florida’s College of Business uses an activity approach rather than a conceptual approach. Why? Well, from what I can tell, no one ever got a job because they knew the definition of a term or list of steps from a process. People get jobs, get promoted, and start businesses as a result of their action.
In the Career To-DO List assignment, students must submit Verification forms outlining their activity to receive points. The points are part of a list of over 60 activities. They can select any activity (like a menu) and most activities can be done repetitively. To audit and compile the forms I have a team of dedicated assistants who are actually Accounting grad students. In a sense, this is an accounting exercise. I will “pay” every student in the classes 60 points for their career development activity. To get paid, students must submit an invoice (Verification form) listing the details of their activity. The invoice is reviewed and if it’s legit, it gets paid. If more info is needed, the GTA reaches out. Because they are auditors, the GTA can also deny payment and make the student submit a new invoice.
It’s an unconventional approach that has reaped HUGE results. Attendance at College of Business, Career Services, and community events has blown up. Student organizations have standing room only meetings and some in the campus community have even asked me NOT to promote their events until they figure out how to handle the crowds. Though we haven’t started tracking it, anecdotal evidence is that more students are getting jobs and internships as a result of the connections they are making.
In some cases people will say that students are only attending an event, seeing a speaker, or doing an activity to get points. I say they are correct. However, we are a school, not a church. At church, people with shared values will meet to hear someone reinforce their shared values. This is preaching. In school we teach. That means there may be people doing something who’d rather be eating lunch, getting extra hours at work, or playing Call of Duty. If the speaker or event can make them realize that the time spent encountering this information or experience is valuable, then we are teaching. We are changing potential behavior by requiring everyone to participate, not just the willing.
Administratively, the assignment has another unique aspect. There is no partial credit. If students don’t reach a prescribed level of points (activity) by a certain date, they lose their accumulated points. In school there’s lots of partial credit. A couple points here for an essay that reflects the material but isn’t entirely right, maybe a point or two for showing your work. But in Engineering school there isn’t much partial credit. Why? Engineers build stuff and many times it’s an all or nothing problem. The building either stands or it falls. The circuit either triggers a switch or it doesn’t.
Business can be like that too. Before I was 30 I was responsible for laying off over 1500 people at three different employers. I even laid myself off once. Unlike a termination for cause where there’s misconduct, a layoff is usually outside of the control of the employee. You just happened to be the last one in, or at the store that’s being closed, or on the shift that’s eliminated. What was once yours (a job, a paycheck, health insurance, vacation time, colleagues) can be taken away. Sometimes without notice. Sometimes without much explanation. No partial credit.
But what isn’t taken away is the employee’s experience. If you are diligent, you can build competencies from the work you do. If you network, you can build connections and a circle of professional contacts. If you are trustworthy and industrious, you can build a reputation and possibly get referrals. All of those takeaways will help you get your next job. Maybe a better job. But only if you keep your head and focus on what was created, not what was destroyed.
For those employees who just show up and do the minimum, the recovery will take much longer. If at all. Doing the minimum at work without thinking about how you will grow in your career or add value to the company is like just doing activity to accumulate a set number of points. You’ll get a paycheck for a while, but how does it prepare you for the day when you need to earn a new paycheck?
Some students will think it’s unfair because I take away previously awarded points. Instead I see it as a simple lesson in the physics of business.