Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Habits Needed for Success in Business School

Successful students don't come by success without working at it. There are a lot of smart people in college, so just being smart is not much of a distinguishing trait. Successful students have habits that that contribute much to their success. Many of these habits are behaviors that any student can adopt. Here are a few of them.

Successful students go to class. Most college classes do not have an attendance requirement, so many students simply choose to skip class when they don't feel like going.

Successful students read the assigned material before class. Many students have told me they don't read the assigned material until after it has been covered in class. They reason that they will understand it better if they read it after the professor has explained. That may be true, but they would understand the material even better if they read it before class so they could (1) pay particular attention to the parts they didn't understand when they read it and (2) ask the professor questions about the parts they didn't understand. When students read the assigned material before class, they are seeing it for a second time in class.

Successful students do homework even when it is not assigned. Many professors will not assign homework. So, many students will not do homework. When the textbook has problems or questions at the end of chapter, successful students work the problems and answer the questions. Afterward, they seek out the solutions (from a professor or a teaching assistant) for any solution / answer that they are not 100% confident about.

Successful students join student groups. If your major has a student group, join it and become an active member. It's the best way to build a community of students to study with and it is also key to navigating the recruiting process when you are searching for a job in your senior year.

Successful students lead balanced lives. Successful students make time to eat, sleep, study, and play. They eat at least one healthy meal a day. They get an appropriate amount of sleep. They play intramural sports or work out (even if it is a casual routine) at the recreation center. And, they do the other academic things listed above.

Even if you are working to help pay for your college expenses, you can incorporate these success factors into your life. You must do it to maximize your likelihood of success.

If you have a question or a suggestion for a post topic, please email it to bizedthoughts@gmail.com.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Choosing a Major

A common issue that arises is the process of choosing a major. Many business students come to a business school with a major already in mind. In many cases their choice has been determined by some familiarity with a relative who has already succeeded in that field. For example, a student chooses to major in accounting because her father majored in accounting. Or, the choice of major may be influenced by some perception that comes from the popular media. For example, a student chooses to major in finance because he believes finance graduates automatically make a lot of money.

I encourage all business students to shop around.

There are many majors in a business school that a student has never heard of prior to arriving. Depending on the business school, these include majors like business analytics, entrepreneurship, information systems, insurance, logistics, operations management, production management, real estate, risk management, and supply chain management. A student should investigate all of these.

Most majors have a student group that meets regularly. I encourage students to attend a range of student group meetings during the first year on campus so that they can learn something about their options.

There are faculty who will explain job opportunities in fields to students. If a student will go to the department office and ask, she will be directed to a faculty member who will be happy to discuss the industry.

I also encourage students to go to any lecture given by a successful alumnus of the school. These people often provide a perspective of a career path that is not expected.

More than anything, though, the most important thing is for a student to find a major that s/he finds interesting. I believe that people are most productive when they are in a job they enjoy. Productivity leads to success, both personally and professionally.

If you have a question or a suggestion for a post topic, please email it to bizedthoughts@gmail.com.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A New Focus for BizEdThoughts


I'm back and looking forward to reviving this blog. This time the focus of the blog will be a little different, however.

This blog was originally constructed as a way for me to post some of my thoughts about business school education. I felt like I had enough experience in various roles at a couple of large business schools that I might have something worthwhile to share. At that time, my goal was to become a dean in a business school. So, the blog posts were as much a way for me to explore my own thoughts about business education as it was to get some feedback on them.

In a nutshell, I've abandoned the goal of becoming a dean. I've moved to a great institution, the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University, and I'm busy serving as the Harbert Eminent Scholar in Business Analytics and Chair of a department that currently has programs in Aviation Management, Business Analytics, Information Systems Management, Professional Flight Management, and Supply Chain Management.

Now, I'd like to draw on my experiences to help others navigate the business school environment. If you have any connection to a business school, or you are thinking about making a connection to a business school, send me a note at bizedthoughts@gmail.com with a comment or a question that you would like to see addressed.

If you are a student or the parent of a student with a question about admissions, academics, or anything else related to the business school experience, send me a note. I've dealt with admissions, dismissals, grade appeals, and a lot more. I've dealt with families whose student had significant medical, criminal, and family issues.

If you are a doctoral student in business facing an issue you want some guidance on, send me a note. I've been on over 50 dissertation committees.

If you are a faculty member facing a problem and you want another professor's perspective on it, send me a note. I've been in the business for over 30 years. .

If you are an administrator, send me a note. I've been responsible for over two dozen academic programs. I've dealt with accreditation issues. I've been in a unionized environment and a non-unionized environment. I've handled difficult promotion and tenure cases, instances of faculty behaving badly, and students disrupting classrooms.

If you work at a corporation interested in a relationship with a business program, send me a note. I was center director for 4 years. Corporate relationships are critical for business schools.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, February 25, 2013

How Much Better is Best Compared to Average?

I recently watched a “lost interview” of Steve Jobs. The interview was done in 1995, when Mr. Jobs was busy with his company NeXT. This is one year before Apple purchased NeXT and Mr. Jobs returned to Apple to run the company. It is before the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad.

Mr. Jobs was asked about Apple and his vision of the future. In the interview I could see some of the natural charisma of Mr. Jobs. I could begin to understand his focus on “content,” as he put it. I think he would say his company and his products had to have a soul; they had to bring the best of what humans have to offer to the table.

One comment he made that really got my attention was about the difference between “average” and “best.” In most cases, he observed, the difference between “average” and “best” makes at most a 2-to-1 impact. As examples, he noted that the difference between an average taxi cab experience and the best taxi cab experience might only get you to your destination 20% faster. The same was true for airplane flights. Moving away from travel, we can imagine that the “best” medical examination or treatment might increase our life span by a few percent (excluding the times we catch something serious early). In fact, it can be difficult to think of a true 2-to-1 multiplier experience. Maybe when we think of retail transactions, the “best” retail transaction experience might make us twice as likely to return to a particular store.

However, one thing that drew Mr. Jobs to software development was the fact that software absolutely shatters this 2-to-1 constraint. The best software, he noted, is 50 or maybe even 100 times better than average software. Anyone who has wrestled with a bad user interface and also experienced a good one will probably agree with this assessment. I know I do.

But this made me think, what about higher education? Is higher education constrained by the 2-to-1 limit?

I don’t think so. I have had an average teacher in a subject and a "best" teacher (i.e., a teaching award winner) in the same subject; and the experience with the "best" teacher was far, far more than two times better than the experience with the "average" teacher. It was better in terms of my learning and retention of the subject matter, it was better in terms of my subsequent engagement with that topic, and it was better in terms of my ability to apply what I had learned later (in some cases, much later) in life. The same holds at the institutional level. I’ve been to average schools and “best” schools. The experience at the “average” schools was largely forgettable. The experience at the “best” schools shaped my life.

So, we have this opportunity every day to be “average” or strive to be “best” at what we do. Which will you choose? Which would you rather be known for?

Monday, February 18, 2013

How to Survive as Senior Associate Dean

In my last post, I listed a number of experiences that would benefit anyone moving into this job I currently occupy. Those experiences are too many and too varied to realistically expect anyone to have them before taking on the job. Of course, I wrote that to give readers a sense of the breadth of issues that come through my office.

So, if adequate experience is not realistic, what is a more realistic expectation? I’m not sure, but here are some things I try to keep in mind.

I try very hard to be fair. Sometimes students think I am biased toward faculty and sometimes faculty think I am biased toward students. When I was as soccer referee, I learned that half of the people at each match generally disagreed with every decision I made. That doesn’t make the decision wrong.

When I make a decision that is particularly upsetting to someone, I try to communicate why I have decided the way I have. If possible, I will let the person know about it before it becomes public.

When necessary, I use the network of friends and colleagues I have built across the campus. Universities are full of very intelligent people. These people are a huge asset.

I try to listen to people. Even when I feel like I know what the person is going to say, I try to listen. Sometimes, just listening resolves an issue. All that the person wanted was to be heard. If you are forming an answer in your head before the person stops talking, you probably aren’t listening as closely as you should be.

I try to distinguish between urgent and important. Not all important things are urgent and not all urgent things are important.

I try to visit the offices I manage at least once a week just to see how people are doing. When I am not delegating a task to someone, it gives that person an opportunity to dictate where the conversation goes. Over time, people learn to take advantage of that opportunity and sometimes that allows me to address issues before they become problems.

I especially try to be honest with myself. If something doesn’t feel right, I try to take the time to re-examine the issue.

I mentioned humor in the last post. I try to retain a sense of humor and be pleasant. I’m not always successful, but being pleasant costs nothing and occasionally pays big dividends.

Finally, I try to remember that there are many things I have done in the past that I didn’t know how to do before I did them. In other words, we all have things to learn when we move into a new position with new responsibilities. It is important to learn and not repeat your mistakes. I feel if you do this and try each day to make your environment a little better than you found it, things have a way of working out.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wanted: Senior Associate Dean – Experience Preferred

I have been thinking recently about the many aspects of my job. Here is a list of the experiences / education that I think are relevant. It helps to have:

A reasonable research record so that you understand what is involved in publishing research in a widely recognized, high-quality academic journal. This is critical in evaluating faculty needs.

A teaching award so that you understand what is involved in innovative teaching. This is also critical in evaluating faculty needs.

Some background in organizational behavior, so that you can manage the personalities in an academic environment. You deal with a wide range of faculty types (from the adjunct to the eminent scholar) and a wide range of staff (from the student worker to the accomplished veteran who has been with the college for decades).

You also need some understanding of leadership – at least some notion of various leadership styles.

Some knowledge of accounting, so that you can understand budgets.

Some knowledge of communications or advertising, so that you have some facility with persuasion. A popular misconception is that a dean has the power that a CEO has. This is not true.

You need to be able to create decision models and conduct analyses of many types.

It is good to understand public administration, so that you can understand legislative processes and how a legislative agenda is likely to affect your college.

You need some understanding of the law. FERPA only begins to scratch the surface of what you should understand.

Medical training would be good, so that you can evaluate a student’s request to drop a course for medical reasons.

Some of the students I see have significant troubles. An education in social work will help you deal better with the ones who struggle with dysfunctional families. An education in mental health will help you identify the ones who are depressed or schizophrenic (more common than you might think).  

An education in criminology or forensic accounting will help you identify the ones who are executing a financial aid fraud.

An education in religious studies would help you understand the importance of the many religious holy days that you must evaluate when students request excused absences from exams.

Education in at least one humanity discipline and one science discipline will help you interact with your colleagues on campus.

You should have training in project management.

A study of systems would be good, so that you appreciate how the research, teaching, outreach, and administrative subsystems interact.

One thing is certain: you don’t stop learning when you take this position. Also, you need to have a good sense of humor, because some days you just have to laugh to keep your sanity!

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Parents Didn’t Go to College

I’ve dealt with students this week whose primary excuse for bad behavior or poor performance seems to be that they are the first generation in their family to go to college. Their argument: they don’t know any better.

My brother and I were also the first generation in our family to go to college. While I got a few tips from my older brother, the age difference (seven years) was such that he was out beginning his career by the time I started college, so we really didn’t talk much about it. That really doesn’t matter.

My parents didn’t need a college degree to teach me that I’m expected to do my own work.

They didn’t need a college degree to teach me that my education was my responsibility.

The fact that they didn’t have college degrees never stopped me from going to the library in those pre-Internet days to seek additional sources of information on a topic with which I was struggling.

My parents never had the opportunity to ask a college professor a question when they were growing up, but that didn’t prevent me from determining that office hours are a good time to get clarification on issues that are confusing.

My parents never completed a term paper, but that didn’t keep them from teaching me that putting off work until the last minute is not a good idea.

My parents never had a college course where different components of the course were weighed differently, but I learned how to compute my grade so that I could always know where I stood in a course.

We certainly should recognize that being the first in a family to go to college may mean that a student has a unique experience. We may need to help that student get off to a good start by making our expectations clear and providing accessible resources. In the long run, however, we do not help the student who turns this opportunity into an excuse for bad behavior or poor performance.