Starting your first “real” job? A few pointers worth considering

Are you a millennial going to work full-time for the first time? Can I provide few pointers worth considering?
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted don’t come every week and your supervisor will see your patience and enthusiasm as virtues.
2. See people in person rather than text whenever possible. Especially the first time you begin a business relationship. Face to face contact is more important than ever in building trust. When you have big misunderstandings, get over to their office and work things out in person.
3. Try and take responsibility and calculated risks-resist the temptation to get every last instruction dictated by your boss via text or voice just because you can. The initiative you show to “handle things yourself” will set you apart from other millennials.
4. Join your trade association and network with alumni in your same industry. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage in social media connections to create or find insights or information on trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might explore for new products.
6. Tell the truth. Especially when good or bad things happen. Take responsibility for your actions and you will earn a sterling reputation for trustworthiness.

Opportunities abound when you find the pain points

I know something about monetizing ideas after twenty years studying and consulting others about innovation. As the dean of business at JU, I talk to a lot of start-up founders. I did research in why start-ups fail while earning a Ph.D. in entrepreneurism. I am a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur. I organically grew a start-up company, Above the Rim with my brother.

Above the Rim grew larger than I could have imagined. We sold it to Reebok at a time when my brother and I determined we could not wait any longer to see it become a global brand. Despite my best efforts to learn from others mistakes and my own, I now know how much good luck, timing, and capital it takes to successfully launch your own venture.
Reality over Rainbows is my message for entrepreneurs. We’ve all heard it before from your teachers and parents , “follow your passion”. If you want to work for the NFL or on Wall Street-go for it, you dream about being a brand manager for P & G –go get it. Want to be admitted to great MBA program, just apply. You want to write code for EA Video Games-do your own games and self-publish, do it. These “do gooders say everything you can dream can really happen if you only believe”.

Well, that “follow your passion” advice may be motivating for you, but following your passion is very expensive. The opportunity cost of following any of the “dreams” I described are considerable. The reality is you will need to get lucky and meet the right people or qualify in extrodinary ways. Following your passion means you will pass over other more lucrative opportunities waiting in line for any one of those “dream” jobs.

I prefer to live in a world of reality. Chasing rainbows is not always advisable, especially when you land in a crowded market. Alternatively, you can build something that is in a less crowded market, and be in position to gain valuable experience, clients and even more money is much less time. I have seen this over and over with my students at JU and elsewhere. So what is my advise when looking for a start-up opportunity? Find the pain points and you have opportunity. Of course you have to figure out a better way to relive that pain for the companies or individuals you serve, but the opportunity is yours. People don’t want to deal with getting rid of your garbage, hazardous materials, or moving large and awkward objects? These tasks cause pain or discomfort.

Where the pain is opportunity abounds. Pain is something difficult to deal with …Pain for a company or individual to do, or the task is outside the capabilities of most firms. When thinking about the idea for a new business… consider the inverse relationship between the monetization opportunities in a red ocean industry. What sounds the most fun or hip may not be your best option. Consider the competition and the likelihood od success. You decided for various reasons to come to JU rather than MIT or Berkley.  It’s analogous to choosing a less-sexy industry to venture into where the probability of succeeding with your start up soars.

Ask those familiar with the industry where the pain is. I wish we had done this with sports apparel industry where the barriers to entry are low and the margins are too. We succeeded by timing and luck more than choosing the right business. Find solutions for the pain points and you will be more likely to succeed. It is not just building a better mouse that makes a great new venture but balancing your venture’s product development, fund raising efforts, brand management, employee recruitment and sales activities into a coordinated bursts with burning yourself of key employees out before you can taste success. When I helped launch Netcentives we thought the pain was incenting consumers to buy books, music CD’s, and computers online. Although this was a challenge, the real pain for e-commerce platforms in 1998 and 1999 was attracting and retaining talent so our exclusive mileage contracts to distribute airline miles online was most successfully sold as employee bonuses and rewards for exceptional achievements. This market melted down when the IRS caught on to the opportunity to tax these mileage bonuses and the whole internet bubble imploded. But how many of you, would like to take your company public as I did with Netcentives? It was an exhilarating experience.
Building a better mousetrap or a new company is not an individual sport-you must find friends, mentors, advisors, and confidants that will be there when the credit cards are maxed out, the deadline to meet payroll is next week, and the new clients are slow to pay. When the storm is over and you can celebrate, you will not want to be little red hen with a fresh, warm loaf of bread to no worthy mates to share it with. Everyone here is talking about business opportunities or technology solutions to circumvent expensive processes or increase productivity, but without outside partners and good vendors your execution will suffer. The best sources help will go elsewhere if you are not patient or willing to learn from others; even those less smart or energetic. Maintain family relationships and you will not lose out on some big opportunities to expand your network and reach higher plateaus.
My story can be your story-but a career and reputation is built like a jigsaw puzzle, not a chronological or sequential line. How your colleagues, partners, and competitors will view you five years from now depend not only what you do, but who you choose to partner with, what communities you choose to embrace, the friends you make, and the mentoring and coaching you willingly offer to others. Imagine a puzzle coming together in sections and the true you is finally viewable to others and yourself (images for me include ATR stuff, Cape and I, USD basketball, Visa Check Card, Netcentives logo, Leo Burnett building in Chicago, Monmouth, and JU)
My dreams are to see your companies bring prosperity to millions. This process you’re engaged in, along with your peers all over the world will do more for positive change than any philosophy or political scheme imaginable. Entrepreneurism is the most powerful catalyst that lifts us out of hunger and allows us to create families, prosperous communities, and refine and improve educational systems. It allows us the time and energy to explore spirituality and greater meaning for all of our lives. The central characters are all of you. You are the star actors and actresses, not in a make-believe movie or play, but growing value your investors, communities, and making institutions like Jacksonville University or UNF possible. You are capable of providing a future for hundreds of families, and relieving or taking the “edge off” of the pain that every company experienced before your innovation make that industry or process just a little better. In my interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners I feature in my blog Southeast Entrepreneurs, I found the greatest thrill entrepreneurs experience is helping others become financially independent and prosperous. Sadly, the greatest frustration is the onerous governmental redtape thrown in front of entrepreneurs that is unproductive and time-consuming. They now complain about the prospects of even higher taxes.
What keeps me you up night? Well my entrepreneurial adventures are far from over, but I am risking only what others might call “play money”. I don’t tear through the mail for client checks like I used to or worry about making next month’s payroll. I have my hands full driving growth in the disruptive business education market as the head of the Davis College at JU. What about you? What keeps you awake at night? If you are working smart, sweating the little stuff, and recruiting friends, employees, and customers simultaneously then you’re likely to be on the right path.
Why I believe in all of you. I have been meeting with Jacksonville CEO’s as part of JU’s effort to engage with the business community. Theses CEO’s are concerned about their company’s future because new employees your age don’t care enough to sweat the details. They need to see you here, at Startup Weekend, seating all the details. That will give them the confidence that I have that you all are the reason to have faith and confidence that innovation will indeed grow and increase in meaningful ways. From your initial business plan to the SharkTank, this entrepreneurial journey can be a dream or a nightmare. I am privileged to have been around long enough to see both. The future is indeed bright when you combine your passion for venture concepts and business ideas, that relieve the pain and provide valuable solutions, meet actual needs and answer what the market demands I know you can do better than I by following some of my advice.

Afraid to launch off into your own start-up? Practice intrapreneurship

Afraid to launch off into your own start-up? Practice intrapreneurship in your current position.

Learn everything you can from your current employer and practice “intrapreneur” skills. while you have less risk of losing your own capital, you can try out your techniques, passion, and creativity on someone else’s dime.

Intrapreneurs make things happen with small and large companies and are often the champions of key projects and strategic initiatives in both small and large companies. Intrapreneurs don’t usually own the company or risk their own capital, but put their careers at risk everyday doing what they think will generate positive movement forward and achieve success.

Intrapreneurs drive the adoption and implementation of new ideas. Because the timing in starting your own small business is critical, you can always practice those skills while working for someone else. It is a much safer enviornment to prove your skills. Deciding to go out on your own should be based on market conditions, competitive intensity, the availability of capital (financial and human), and lastly your own personal preference, it is not always the best time to quit the day job and begin your start-up. Knowing when to launch a new venture is a combination of experience, smarts, and luck.

What is the difference between an intrapreneur and a entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs are skilled at listening carefully to their customers and readily take suggestions from any level employee. However, the entrepreneur thinks he can be part of the solution of practically any problem. Plus entrepreneurs are known to bring their idiosyncrasies into the workplace and be impossible to satisfy.

Conversely, when the intrapreneur is constantly aware he/she needs assistance, or lacks the necessary capital (financial or otherwise– under the control of others) to achieve his/her goal, they know how to reach out and engender confidence and trust with their colleagues. One title often heard associated with intrapreneurs is the word “champion.”

To champion something denotes an emotional attachment to a cause that the intrapreneur believes in and takes risks to achieve the goals laid out [to bring that product or service to market]. This trust operates both laterally and with top executives in the firm. Often the peer relationships are the most important resource the intrapreneur can depend on. To succeed, he/she must win over their peers and influence people to bend the rules. Empathy is also a critical skill entrepreneurs often lack with their internal staff thinking that “if I need to work 14 hours today, then my staff should too”.

Finding loyal customers

Trying to Build Your Brand? Don’t get stuck with your most flicked customers. Fickle-ed  means they will leave you for a $1 discount, a 2 for 1 promotion , or something a little prettier.

Your loyal customers are out there….you just need to lead them to areas where you can identify them. It likely where your brand shines….its on the continuum to loyalty. This segmentation process is what I call the loyalty continuum. Each step along the way is an opportunity to segment “where your customers are” and drive real brand momentum–maybe its an trial offer or the kind of actions or behavior that uncovers the best repeat customers or prospects.

Loyalty is the ultimate goal of marketers and it should be on the minds of anyone managing brand or new venture. It is often said that 80% of your company’s profits will likely come from the top 20% of your customer base. Another name for the top of that 20% is loyalists. Loyalists talk up their brand, actively engage in promotions or brand activities and rarely switch or  move even if discounts or incentives are offered. They give back in the form of spending more of their share of wallet and through referrals. In higher education, loyalists are the alums that go to homecoming and give back year after year. They go to the reunions and keep up with their former classmates even when it is years after they graduate.

Moving prospects from unaware to awareness is an advertising and social media challenge.

So at the end of the day, the success of your brand is still depended on making new prospects aware of your brand, and getting them to seriously consider a visit. The loyalty contiuum works for all companies and non-profits too-everyone needs new customers.

But to be truly successful you will need to move prospects down that continuum to the place where all of that marketing investment pays off– loyalty.

Trying to add value to the Jacksonville business community

Today before class with my executive MBA’s at Jacksonville Univ.,  one student asked, “What does a business Dean really do?” I tried to explain. For me, the job as dean comes out of the mission of JU. Most colleges were started by a church or  state government charter. JU is neither. Civic minded individuals got together and raised the money to Start JU as a catalyst for economic growth in Northeast Florida. That was eighty years ago this week. JU educates young students for sure, but increasing we are the hub for the most prepared non-traditional students doing a post doc in orthodontics, a master’s in nursing, or a doctorate in business.

As the dean of business my job focuses on removing barriers and hurdles for my business faculty colleagues. Without those barriers, they can do what they do best–helping our students prepare for careers of consequence.

I lead the discussions about our mission and values. We raise the topics of relevancy and how we can train and grow their human capital. Organically, we work with young high school graduates and help mold them into productive contributors. I try and explain the importance of what we are doing with business leaders and policy makers. Deans look forward to future challenges. The US Department of Statistics says that the top ten job functions ten years from now did not rate their consideration five years ago. What does that say about what we should be teaching our business students? At JU, we believe we are equipping our students to be successful in a global world with intense competition. Students expect the dean to be connected so my role requires connection and influence.

Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great, we need to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats. So I am concerned about the quality of the faculty and staff. It also means I lead the spirit-de-corps which translates into a positive work climate for everyone on the bus. So careful hiring, support, resourcing, encouragement and feedback help nurture the success of our students, and in turn, success of the college in feedback, hearsay, and rankings.

The second focus is making connections across the university. In practice, this means serving on a senior leadership team, where a group of people serve both as advocates for their own areas and as team members working together on behalf of JU students overall.

The third focus is outward. This means working with our Executive Advisory Board, serving as resource to media, a presenter in the community forums, and seeking out opportunities to network through JAXChamber and other forums. It also requires serious attention to the accreditation body, AACSB, that provides guidelines and holds us accountable to run a first-rate business program with measurable impact, innovation and high-levels of corporate engagement. We are constantly looking at ways to improve what we do and how we deliver it.

While the job is sometimes complex, it seems to involve those three areas: the greater business community; integration with the university as a whole; and the staff and faculty. It is a privilege and a challenge to serve all of you.

What really drives job creation

There is a secret policy makers and bureaucrats have not learned. Entrepreneurs look at offering that next job and growing their team as investments. They consider it in the same way any individual would invest in a stock or start-up when they might have little discretionary money to risk. What is the likely result of that incremental hire? What can that new hire do to create more value and deliver bottom-line results? What is the likelihood of success for that individual? The more risk and extra costs (such as anti at-will employment laws or mandated benefits) the less likely that job will be created. Bottom line? Entrepreneurs at companies from 10-100 employees create the most jobs of any other category. But regulation, higher taxes, and government intervention hurts job creation. See


Developing Loyalists

Loyalty is the ultimate goal of marketers and it should be on the minds of anyone managing brand. You’ve heard 80% of your company’s profits will likely come from the top 20% of your customer base. Another name for the top of that 20% is loyalists. Loyalists talk up their brand, actively engage in your promotions or brand activities and rarely switch or move even if competitive discounts or incentives are offered. Quality reinforces their choice. These loyalists give back to your brand franchise in many ways; they spend more than their share of wallet and provide referrals. In higher education, loyalists are the alums that come to homecoming and give back in the form of time, treasure, and talent. They keep up with their alma-mater and former classmates even years after they graduate.

Moving your prospects from unaware to awareness is an advertising and social media challenge. In marketing your brand, coupons, advertising, and promotional events are the traditional route for generating awareness, but today most product research is done online by your prospects themselves.

Once more prospects are aware of your brand, you consider the best strategies and tactics for getting into their consideration frame. The consideration frame is the “short list” of schools the prospective graduate student wants to apply to. Another way to describe consideration frame are the finalists in drop down list of competitive products online or on a shelf at Sam’s Club.

The next step in creating loyalists is generating trial. Trial could be a visit to your store or company web site. With universities it is the video or virtual tour before the in-person visit. At this point you will begin to reap the benefits of your marketing investment. But before you achieve loyalty, you need to gain brand preference. Many loyalty programs are built on the premise that this phase is the most important link to loyalty. When I lead marketing programs at Visa, we called this next stage the “repeat” phase.

Repeat might mean coming up with retention strategies if you are an institution of higher learning. The objective is loyalty. Using the example of marketing Jacksonville University, loyalty is retaining a current student or getting alum to recommend JU to someone else’s son or daughter.

Helping brands plan promotions and incentives for each step in this continuum, let alone planning how to handle challenges is challenging. Each company must distinguish its marketing programs or its methods to get attention. In graduate and executive education,   a common practice is to copy or patterns oneself after an aspirational peer.

Another proven marketing principle is that a high perceived value translates into brand preference and goodwill in higher education. The brand value equation provides a meaningful model that helps us understand how to build that goodwill. Ultimately the marketing plan, amount of man hours or resources available, execution and learning from past results determine the success of your marketing program. Driving growth of loyalists and establishing a reputation for high quality is the ideal  recipe for brand momentum and success.

I applaud your efforts today to get together as industry leaders in your categories, share strategies, and focusing on quality. This effort to open up and share goals and objectives represents a seismic shift in how your customers, broadly speaking, will judge your performance. It is the epitome of high quality. Its a move away from the traditional focus on transactions and quarterly earnings.

But at the end of the day, the success of your company is still depended on getting new customers and developing loyalists. To be truly successful you will need to demonstrate both quality and value to move customers down the continuum towards loyalty.

Leadership at JU

Today I spent my entire day talking to prospective employers and companies looking for talent. Are they particular? Yes. They want agile, flexible, skilled thinkers who are problem solvers. They want talent that can work in a team setting too. In this economy, these employers can afford to be picky. They want it all and the top talent at JU can be their answer to getting it all.

I’ve heard a lot from these employers about social cues and listening skills. But the most important factor in the future success of a manager is their willingness to gather opinions and feedback from their teams, apply problem solving skills to the tasks at hand, and work well with a wide variety of people when markets go topsy turby.

Some graduates can write succulently and clearly, thereby successfully persuading others to consider their evidence, viewpoint, or recommendations. Others can deftly compile, manipulate, and analyze quantitative data to create a data-rich argument. With these two skills under your belt, a little creativity and emotional intelligence can take your career to an even higher plateau. Combining these skills are critical to becoming prepared for leadership opportunities. In interviews with 21 Jacksonville entrepreneurs and employers, every company highly valued these skills in choosing their successors.

What makes something meaningful to learn in college? When the information or tools you learn help you develop a process by which you can efficiently solve problems or tackle important issues. If you are not practicing these skills with experienced and highly credentialed faculty mentors, you are selling yourself short. You will not have the necessary skills and traits to be an effective leader.

Here are questions you should be asking everyday: Does the knowledge or skill she is teaching me add purpose or direction to my life? Are the subjects I am working on getting me closer to finding a calling or life work? Is the coursework something that will help me be successful? Or is it just “busywork”? As Dean, I continue to teach every term to stay closely connected with our students. I consistently challenge myself to find new methods of helping students met our alumni, gain knowledge of entrepreneurial methods, and apply that knowledge so it will stick. These activities involve follow-up discussions, activities, assignments or tasks related to solving problems. Examine some of the student comments on this blog as an example of the student work in my courses.

Below is a recent comment from JU business major Martin Sturgess, “Dealing with one problem at a time and dedicating time to loved ones can keep you from quitting. Family is there for you to fall back on, maybe not financially, but emotionally. It is a proven fact that those who take time for family become more successful than those who chose to do it all themselves. So take time to have a beer or a cup of tea because the problem will be there on Monday”.

Applying knowledge is a skill; it takes time and practice to develop. All of us make mistakes and get tired or hearing “no” or “do it again”. Most of us fear failure even though it is by failure that we learn the most meaningful lessons. Ed Burr, Landmark CEO recently said, “Be careful what you dream for, you may get it”. Future leaders hear this repeated over and over and believe it can happen.

Can the lessons learned from these guest entrepreneurs really help students successfully apply the skills they honed while here at the Davis College? For most of these students the answer is a resounding “yes”. These students don’t even have to graduate in May and start a new company to appreciate this gift.

Humans have two types of memory: spatial and rote. From my experience, the difference between today’s graduates and the average 22 year-old is the future leader can apply their knowledge to solve problems–even when the relevant facts are embedded into a complex problem or challenge. It is analogous to the ability to solve a quantitative word problem instead of a straight computation.

It is also the reason JU’s graduates so many successful of President’s and SVP’s such as Mike Shad (Automotive Dealerships), Carole Poindexter (Baker), Jim Dalton (Advertising), Kathleen Brandt (CSX), Tom Peterson (LPS), Earnie Franklin (Incepture), Bob Brigham (Mayo), and Tony Park (Fidelity), and Matt Kane (Greenshades Software) to name just a few.

The Davis College’s primary goal is building thoughtful, engaged leaders prepared for tomorrow’s challenges in local businesses, government, and international commerce. The main purpose of a JU undergraduate business education is for students to gain knowledge and construct meaning from facts or figures, not just memorize the “right” answers (or regurgitates someone else’s meaning). The focus is on the why, rather than how something is done a certain way. Why? Because the methods and practices will change, but the ability to analyze and solve problems is something we practice continually….no we drill it into our graduates.

How is our leadership training different from any other system? “Normal” students are taught at a young age that education or a degree is a means to a better job.

How many times have you heard from friends or family, “do what you have got to do”. If you have to cut corners or cram for an exam, that is just is fine as long as you pass, right? At most colleges that type of thinking is reinforced and rationalized because the end of graduating or achieving an “A” grade justifies almost any short-cuts to success. The end for “normal” students is a higher paying job or valuable skill, not the acquisition of problem solving skills.

A degree is just a degree, right? I believe JU can be radically different. It is ironic that parents and even instructors at some colleges encourage their children to skip steps, cut corners, or be unethical if it gets you from A to Z faster. This kind of behavior is justified/rationalized in their minds–even though these graduates will need real skills and capabilities to become successful leaders.

The places offering an “easy route” to a college degree become a counterfeit business education. These institutions are spreading like wildfire around our country. Real problem solving skills and leadership skills come from hard work. The leadership tools students’ gain at JU come through practice. It isn’t always fun.

Do you join clubs or volunteer to lead? It costs a lot to attend any college or university, but leadership opportunities are all around you. Many students start college by dreaming big but are tripped up by natural barriers to gaining useful knowledge and experience. Many run out of money or loan capacity. Others are academically dismissed for poor performance because they lacked the skills or role models in their darkest hours. The “going got tough and they quit” principle applies to every college student enrolled today.

Why is it so difficult to make one’s education meaningful and worthwhile? It is hard to accumulate problem solving skills and resilience. Another answer is it is easy for students to lose hope in a better future. Or the student lacks sufficient aspirations.

Remember the story of young man who wanted the wisdom and knowledge of Socrates? Without a thirst for knowledge, the greatest technology cannot make up for a student or instructors’ sloppiness or laziness. As a teacher, I talk about not cutting corners, and being a life-time learner.

Students become discouraged easily. It is not unusual for them to be discouraged when they fail an exam or do poorly on an assignment. How do they know they are really learning something of future value? It is not as easy as it sounds. Instructors like me have a difficult time creating exams that truly sift the wheat (quality learning) from the chaff (route memorization). Creating open ended/essay oriented tests or grading presentations are time-consuming and more difficult to grade. I use these type of exams but rarely is there one right answer after graduation-just good, better, and best answers.

For our competitors who do not want to do the hard work to customize their feedback to the learner, it is easy to create an exam with a series of true/false questions or multiple choice from a test bank and run it through a “scan-tron” machine that will automatically grade the results.

On graduation day, you will be grateful JU held up a higher standard and expected you to combine learning with the best theories from one discipline to another and demonstrate an ability to understand and solve complex problems.

When these 21 entrepreneurs and business leaders engaged students and answered their questions, something magical happens. The students see the value of the knowledge and understand it for what it is–a gift. They gain the desire to withstand any necessary struggle to solve problems and meet new challenges. It is why I love what I do.


Chris Turner, International Marketing CEO

Chris Turner is a big success in the international business arena as the CEO of Business Advantage on the outskirts of London England, but it didn’t come easy. Starting as a marketing manager and researcher, Chris knew more about how CAD drawings were done before the advent of software than most industry insiders. He witnessed each subsequent development in engineering and computer technology from the vantage point of working with those tasked with implementing the next generation of tech design tools. His client list is a who’s who of that industry with Auto desk, HP, Intel, and many european competitors too. With 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in marketing consulting under his belt,  Turner lives in the material world of feast or famine with a long-term perspective. He believes and lives his creed that integrity and delivering more than what is expected turns into more business and referrals. His turnover of employees is minimal and many of his staff have grown with him over the last 10-15 years.

Changing subjects, we recently joined Cowork JAX and sponsored their largest conference room and secured 30 memberships as JU’s new downtown incubator. I was there last week and I spoke with a young entrepreneur that asked to be anonymous. He asked about borrowing his seed money to hire his first two employees. I told him the standard advice I give others, that securing funding for your first start up venture is more difficult than landing that first job. It takes good credentials, great timing, and some connections that will vouch for you.

When you need to borrow money, it is not available since you likely have little to no revenue. When you are flush with revenue and customers, you will receive unsolicited offers from angel investors, banks, or venture capitalists, you are not likely to need it. A FORMER STUDENT of mine (and first-time entrepreneur) HAS A GREAT E-COMMERCE business model. Yet he cannot find the $100,000 in seed capital for his early stage venture. This international student is smart but not well connected.  He has secured some good development/programming talent at a bargain rate and has a solid plan. But few like the industry he has chosen since it is difficult to see how the business will scale.

Another successful entrepreneur I know “snapped his fingers” at a few venture firms and secured preferential terms on his seed financing and a $22 Million Dollar first round valuation without having to shop his business plan/model. In the world of venture financing, it really pays to have a track record. Who you know matters and what you have done in the recent past matters most. Is that so different from succeeding in the corporate world? I have been out that environment for a few years.

Senge and Keller predict portent storms in higher education

Peter Senge wrote a classic called The Fifth Discipline. Senge explained that silos will kill a company. How? It creates barriers to free and open communication. It prevents the organization’s learning culture from growing and flourishing. Silos hamper the institutions ability to address market opportunities or problems. Silos cripple the organization’s ability to adapt to change, work as cross-functional teams,  or holistically address strong competition. The ironic thing is the smartest and most successful organizations are the most susceptible to this malady.

Senge used a fictitious academic institution (he hails from MIT) as the classic example for how difficult it is to maintain success and be a learning organization. Learning organizations pride themselves on sharing significant learning in an efficient fashion while effectively managing the process by which change is introduced and sold in to employees, customers and other stakeholders (Senge, 1990). Senge is best known for stressing the value that is derived from cross department knowledge sharing and alignment of goals across department lines (Senge, 1990). As universities pushed for greater and greater specialization the gaps between departments became wider and the ability to share knowledge was trumped by the creation of new discoveries. With all of the specialization, higher education now functions as a disparate group of independent departments and individual contractors. In other words, scientists don’t believe or share their work with philosophers and artists distrust business management types since they do not speak the same language.

Change becomes a particularly difficult process without trust or the willingness to be curious about things you know little about. Faculty are used to be the smartest women (or men) in the room, so admitting you know nothing or very little is humbling. In academia, increased expectations from students and parents in the area of services (make me great food, put me in a hotel-like living quarters, provide me physiological help, find me a job) have put pressure on universities to hire more staff.

Increasing the size and scope of the university staff services and building expensive facilities for student entertainment are problematic. Why? Because both factors drive up the cost of higher education. Some pundits like Clayton Christensen have advocated change. Christensen believes the learning goals and outcomes should be priority one.  Return on investment should be the key element students, parents, and employers use when evaluating a university. How does the university refocus on the return on investment its students gain from their experience at an institution? How does the university realign its goals with these priorities?

Until 1985, there was very limited management thinking “allowed” in higher education according to George Keller, who wrote Academic Strategy.  Outside of the university’s trustees who came from industry, the provosts, deans and department chairs battled to maintain the status quo. According to Keller, there was distrust and distain for management thinking and analysis in the halls of academia.

Another problem was the “Harvardization” of higher education. Clayton Christensen, who coined the term, disruptive technologies, and wrote the “Innovator’s Dilemma, described “Harvardization” as another institution trying to copy the Harvard model of building excellence in a discipline. Few could match the resources of Harvard, yet they all adopted similar missions and values to those espoused by Harvard. Most had a fraction of the resources, yet they pursued similar methods of curriculum, program development, faculty evaluation, and doctoral training of their new faculty. Christensen observed that these institutions lacked Harvard’s faculty resources or breadth of programs, yet they would attempt to follow similar paths and teach similar classes.

The Harvard method of evaluating quality based on faculty discipline peer review, worked with world class resources and faculty, because it was validated by industry and peer institutions. These peer institutions admired Harvard’s thorough approach to academic rigor. But Harvard’s methods were born of a system with little to no scarcity and few constraints. Harvard’s methods and procedures were copied because they were considered to be the best, but these processes became more cost and time intensive as the expectations for student services increased. Harvard success in the creation of new knowledge, demonstrated by their track-record in publishing quality research and famous “case-method” Socratic training lead to many copy-cat universities. But as expectations for better and better services and technology strained the universities, the perfect financial storm was created. These universities found they could not accomplish both academic quality and state of the art student services without Harvard level income from donations and tuition increases.

The homogenization of colleges and universities is a result of every major university trying to copy the Harvard model. This trend stifled innovation and uniqueness in higher education since institutions feared anything that was not like Harvard; any deviation was suspect. Accredit-ors tended to graduate from Harvard or other similar universities so they believed in this elite learning model. These opinion leaders perpetuated the fear of new approaches and reinforced the “safe harbor” of doing things the way Harvard does.

Without an awareness of what it takes to address technological changes and market needs, some universities struggled to adapt and raise money from their government leaders or alumni who saw their institution as less and less in touch with reality. Ironically most university faculty and administrators tried to insulate themselves from the outside world. In the past, all senior administrators were previously faculty leaders. They lacked an outside perspective or understanding of market forces.

Even some business schools  ignored competitive factors and changes in employment expectations from companies that financially supported their universities in favor of academic freedom. Senge, George Keller (Academic Strategy, 1983), and others believed administrative leaders lacked the strategic planning experience to guide schools into areas where demand was growing. University presidents continued to do their best to follow Harvard. Since state governments increased support for virtually every state institution in the 1980′s, few major changes were needed. Until 2008, university presidents and most faculty did not realize how quickly they needed to adapt to a world of constraints and scarcity.

Prophetically, Senge saw academic departments as the classic silos within the larger university setting. At the vast majority of colleges, academic disciplines are fiercely independent. They fight to establish a culture of superiority over other departments. They rarely meet outside of the faculty assemblies.

These departments rarely shared their knowledge, best practices or resources with other departments in their colleges. In order to compete for limited donors and public funding, they shunned other academic departments to gain the approval of outside stakeholders. Departments competed for scarce resources, notoriety, students, and presidential attention by advancing their personal goals and agenda (and not for the overall good of the university) according to Senge.

Unfortunately this silo mentality severely damaged many academic organizations. As fewer and fewer resources were available, the squabbles between departments became petty arguments.   Resources dwindled sharply starting in 2008, so the pace of change increased. Scarcity accelerated change as states cut funding for higher education and reduced payments to subsidize student loans. The For-profit institutions such as University of Phoenix excelled at sales and marketing. With online learning and a myriad of graduate offerings, they attracted many non-traditional students and the majority of those in the military.

All of the changes in technological platforms supporting most academic programs lead to an explosion in massive online networks and better delivery for online learners. Change created disruption, and by 2012, higher education was truly a disruptive market. Disruption even impacted the top 50 academic institutions. Many departments closed at the best land grant universities. Elite small colleges like Antioch failed. The historical business model of price discrimination in higher education was finally challenged by the $10,000 degree initiative from Western Governors University. The media responded by questioning the return on tuition investment for those seeking a college degree. Was it still worthwhile?

To make matters worse, most larger universities maintain 100+ separate departments/divisions operating semi-autonomously with their own set of rules and distinctive culture. At most universities, it is a classic fiefdom with department chairs who ruled their department for 10+ years with little or no challenge from busy Deans or Provosts. It is difficult to create a desire to adapt to the new economic realities when these leaders have no incentive to change.

Without more effort and sacrifice from both administers and faculty leaders, the change will be very painful. Often it helps to understand the compensation philosophy when searching for the values of an institution.

The way faculty at UNF or the University of Florida are evaluated gives us a clue. Peer review, research and publishing results are the most critical factors to obtaining tenure and a salary increase or competitive job offer. Teaching excellence, number of students under management, or being efficient and effective with advisees doesn’t count very much or at all. The department chair and key members of the department, as opposed to the dean or president define the compensation culture. Usually the key opinion leaders of a department are the senior faculty who are tenured. Faculty promotion decisions, tenure and raises are primarily determined by the senior academics in a peer review process.

Senge’s view of the declining academic enterprise places blame on faculty who remain “bunkered” in a department silo. These faculty keep their “blinders on” because they have no incentive to change.  They could adapt to market forces by changing their compensation systems, evaluation methods, adapting more interdisciplinary learning, or embracing the overall university goals. But there is no clear catalyst.

Faculty will not lead this change. They do not see the clear advantage of breaking down the silos and embracing the needs of the institution. Why?  Because faculty goals are not aligned with the goals of overall university.  Faculty will not sacrifice or even empathize with the goals of the staff or administration if it conflicts in any way with their professional aspirations. Until the philosophy underpinning faculty compensation changes, big changes are not possible. This is especially true at elite institutions, where the priority is always the faculty research production.  Publishing is the gateway to individual prosperity and department prestige in the faculty world.

In terms of the overall objectives and goals of the institution, many faculty have the attitude that the university should align with their vision and value set. Based on research I did for a thesis in 2011, an alarming percentage of faculty believe they could run the institution as well or better than their current president or top administrator.

In summary, institutions get “out of alignment” because discipline-specific department goals trump the goals of the entire institution. With so many entrenched faculty, change is unlikely or very slow.

What is the result of reinforcing these silos on university leaders? The department or administrator responsible for implementing university-wide change, say the Dean or Provost, must exhibit an authoritative style to get things done. The provost or president becomes unpopular for not being collaborative. It is a no-win situation when change is mandated by the trustees or the president, yet the administrators have no authority to force tenured colleagues to join the cause.

This was the case in 2013 when President Sternberg of the University of Wyoming left after only five months. What happened to President Sternberg? He came into conflict with senior faculty and a dean of the college of law who resented President’s Sternberg’s “aggressive” agenda of change. When the objectives of the university are out of alignment with the goals of senior members of the faculty, problems arise.

The dysfunctional behavior of faculty leaders in many institutions rule the day because the process for change is controlled by the faculty themselves. In other words, the faculty created the process for change in curriculum, programs, and many student services. Faculty are overwhelmingly against rapid change under the guise of faculty governance. This predisposition protects the status quo at universities and makes change more laborious and expensive. “Let’s send that proposal back to committee” phrase was invented by faculty as method to control and slow down the pace of change.

Most senior faculty won’t understand or agree with the need for change because they are engrossed in their own silo. These cultural fights for the “soul” of an institution tax the universities resources and time. Initiatives such as: 1. more student advising from faculty vs. staff advising   2. a reduction in a general education requirement,  3. greater inter-disciplinary integration (for the betterment of student learning and employment preparation) become a battlefield for the heart of the institution.

Why does this happen so frequently in higher education?

Answer: Most universities are out of alignment.

Senge and Keller believe a “not-invented-here” syndrome or misalignment between the goals of departments and the overall university can be successfully addressed with incorporating a business-like approach to the management of the university and more cross department collaberation. But change in higher education will take committed leaders working closely with faculty members who must be willing to bring departments in alignment with the overall good of the university.