Monday, March 13, 2017

Success Happens at the Arrows

My association has been working on the workforce challenge facing the industry we represent for longer than the ten years that I've been its chief staff executive. In all that time, we have invested a lot of time and money in programs designed either to bring awareness about our industry to young people, or to educate students at various education levels in the knowledge and skill sets relevant to it.

Recently, we've started connecting several of these awareness and education programs into discrete workforce development pathways. Students in our high school programs, for example, are encouraged to continue their education in one of the tech school programs we support, and then to move into a position at one of the companies in our industry.

That's not rocket science. Once the programs were in place, it only seemed logical to connect them in such a fashion. The end goal, after all, is neither educating high school students nor employing tech school instructors, but to produce educated employees for our member companies. But it wasn't until we started constructing these pathways, and more specifically, started drawing them as flowcharts in our strategy agenda materials, that a critical understanding occurred.

Success happens not at the flowchart boxes, each representing one of the programs in the chain, but at the arrows that connect them. Educating students is an important part of the process, but what matters most is moving students from one program to the next. In this example, from high school to tech school and then into a job.

It's difficult to exaggerate the importance of this insight. Only after it was made, I think, were we able to look back on the decade or more of activity that we have been engaged in and realize that we have probably been measuring the wrong thing.

Growing the number of high school students we educate seems critical as long the justification we have for that activity is a strategic objective that aims to increase the number of high school students who know about our industry. Once we realized that the metric that matters is not how many high school students we teach, but how many we teach that then go on to study our technology in tech school with the intent of making a career out of it -- only then did we begin to realize how useful all those years of activity might have actually been.

That’s currently where we are on this long journey. We're beginning the difficult work of understanding not just what's happening in the boxes of our flowcharted strategy, but what's happening at the arrows. We fully expect that analysis will produce a different evaluation of our success than the one we have been using.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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