Applying Quality Management Concepts To Managing Business Schools.
The University of Southern Colorado's Hasan School of Business (HSB) is now attempting to learn and benefit from the tremendous successes accruing to so many business organizations that have abandoned the command and control structure while embracing quality. Accordingly, the HSB is transforming its own organization. The HSB has shed the traditional departmental organization structure approach to focus instead on the processes of curriculum development, faculty development, and student success in order to become more student-centered, outcome-oriented, and learning-based. Some background and a look at what we have done to date follow.
Strategy and Structure in Universities
Henry Mintzberg characterizes the university as "a professional bureaucracy," noting that organizations can be bureaucratic without being centralized. The key part of this type of organization is its operating core of professionals, highly trained and with considerable authority over their own work activities. The prime mechanism of coordination in a professional bureaucracy is the standardization of skills. Significant parts of the management process are characterized by self-governance and collegial behavior. In universities, the operating core is the faculty, skills are standardized by the requisite terminal degrees, and self-governance is seen in the activities of the faculty senate and the proliferation of university and college committees (Mintzberg, 1983; Hardy and others, 1984).
Even with the considerable autonomy of the operating core, the organization is still also hierarchical. Decision-making authority regarding many vital issues flows downward from a CEO through a chief academic officer to a college dean to a department chair to the faculty. In a traditional hierarchy, each level of management as a class is responsible for the control of lower levels and is charged with making decisions and enforcing them with those lower levels as "commanded" from above. Higher levels in an organizational hierarchy are generally seen as being more concerned with long-range strategic issues, middle levels with more tactical issues, and lower levels with operating issues (Anthony, 1970). Our focus in this paper is on the flow articulation, and study of concepts rather than just the methodologies of business practices. Business educators have tinkered with topics and coverage but have done little to assure relevancy with the current business environment.
The paradigm of the sixties focuses on achieving professional opportunities for students through their "mastery" of a discipline. Mastery involves learning a technique or skill and understanding the contexts within which it is most effective. The typical response to this perceived need is to organize the business school by discipline, so that accounting may be taught by accounting specialists, marketing by marketing specialists, etc. Each discipline becomes an academic department, chaired by an appropriate certified professional specialist. The curriculum of the departments and the school is monitored by a curriculum committee that strives to achieve equity and balance among the departments with course content that is discipline-specific. This organizational structure, based on functional speciality, correlates with the functional organization of U.S. industry during the "smokestack" era of the fifties and sixties.
Since the Porter and McKibbin report in the late '80s remarkable efforts have been undertaken to reexamine curriculum. The goals of such reexaminations include product differentiation, market acceptance, and improved outcomes for students and employers.
The Dynamics of Change
In some ways, the relationship between business and higher education demonstrates a unique kind of role reversal. In most academic disciplines, the advances in knowledge that are the product of scholarly university work drive innovations. Typically, new business practices originate in the field as one organization seeks some kind of sustainable advantages over others. Eventually, knowledge of the new practice becomes public, and many firms adopt the innovation. When enough organizations are involved in variations of the new practice, it finally becomes an object of business research. Over time, the practice is studied and analyzed and restudied and reanalyzed, eventually working its way into the appropriate functional educational materials and becoming a part of the business curriculum. It is then presented to students in classrooms as new information. Frequently, of course, the commercial world has moved onto still newer approaches, and we in higher education find ourselves working hard to equip our students for the world of yesterday.
One such practice adopted successfully by some firms (a notable failure in others) but taught in business schools everywhere is total quality management (TQM). Where it has worked well, this approach to producing high quality goods and services has wrought a philosophical and cultural change that has involved a clear focus on customer and client needs, careful attention to the processes by which output is generated, and empowered workers willing to coordinate activities through mutual adjustment rather than traditional hierarchical organization structures. In those firms where the adversarial traditions of "us" and "them" cannot be replaced by a "we and our allies" orientation. TQM has generally failed. Recognizing that cultural changes are difficult to make, the HSB is committed to doing so.
Developing a Kinetic Curriculum
Historically, the paradigm of the sixties, operating within a "smokestack" technical environment, focuses on achieving professional opportunities for students through their mastery of a discipline. Subsequently, as a novice professional, the new graduate practices to gain efficient perfection. Through exercise of the mastered discipline, he or she has value to an organization and is appropriately rewarded. A graduate becoming an entry-level staff accountant would be a typical example.
In the past, a student studied and learned about accountancy's body of knowledge in a business school demonstrating their mastery, preferably through an objective exam (CPA, CMA, etc). Professional mastery led to employment, where the new employer worked to increase one's efficiency, i.e., produce more output in less time. Efficient performance led to promotion for the student. Further, clients were attracted to firms who could provide the requites services efficiently and a minimum cost, to the benefit of the graduate's employers. The process provided generations of effective customer service and satisfied clients in the field.
About 20 years ago, competition intruded. The more progressive accounting firms became valued not only for their ability to provide requisite services but also for their ability to "add value" to the business outcomes of the client firm and contribute to the financial benefit of the firm's investors. Accountants began to ask client firms about the problems they had and opportunities they perceived to provide other value-adding activities. The field quickly moved from customer service to customer orientation.
More recently, the proactive firms in the industry have been actively scanning for other consulting opportunities. They have selectively developed in-depth industry expertise, organizing it, sometimes electronically, into global data warehouses and knowledge bases, (McLeod, 1998). Using their multinational knowledge of industry-specific services, products, processes, problems, methods, and solutions, they are able to help clients achieve an early awareness of tomorrow's challenges and use their skills and knowledge in achieving early and creative solution. The aim is to go beyond customer orientation into a venue of "customer delight." These firms have become "learning organizations" in terms of specific industries and classes of problems. Business schools today labor earnestly at producing graduates prepared to compete in an arena of customer service, while the best practices of the real work are two generations ahead.
Organizing to create graduates prepared to work in learning organizations and focused on enabling clients and employers to provide "customer delight" led the HSB to a decision to simply abandon departments per se. Expertise within a narrowly defined discipline is seen as mostly dysfunctional in the continuous improvement of curriculum. An overemphasis on technical penetration becomes an open invitation to obsolescence and a barrier to communication (Boulding, 1956). The half-life of knowledge is steadily growing shorter in a world where knowing things is increasingly less important than well-developed skills in accessing, developing, and managing knowledge. The emphasis has moved from knowledge held just-in-case to appropriate knowledge available just-in-time.
The student success process is intensive in that its activities necessarily provide much of the information needed to drive the other core processes of the school. If they are to transcend the lip service frequently encountered regarding student needs, they will require the expenditure of substantial resources.
There are two other support processes, subordinate to the critical core processes but important if the organization is to succeed in its environment. Both involve boundary-spanning executive activities, frequently coordinated through an executive committee of faculty members involved in the core processes.
Institutional Resource Management Processes represent a set of activities generally achieved through the efforts of the Faculty Chair. These activities frequently involve operating budgets and their administration, establishing professional schedules, and tactical resource allocation.
Stakeholder Development Processes are generally the responsibility of the Academic Dean, involving relationships with stakeholders outside the HSB. Important external stakeholders include the hierarchical organization of the university, potential employers of business school graduates, potential donor firms and individuals, area institutions and residents, professional agencies such as AACSB for accreditation, other regional universities and colleges. Much of the effort with the external business community is directed to alliance building, fund raising, and support and linkage. Much of the activity with other regional colleges and universities is to develop complementary rather than competitive positions, identify value market differentiators, and work for seamless transfer and credit validation processes.
We are using the means described above to transform the Hasan School of Business of the University of Southern Colorado into a learning organization. As a result, we are beginning to transform the way our students learn. We believe that our graduates will soon be remarkably well prepared to prosper in any business setting as learners capable of creating opportunities as well as seizing and taking advantage of them.
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Dr. Ward, Dean of the Hasan School of Business at the University of Southern Colorado, has served in leadership roles in several professional organizations, including the AICPA and the Financial Executive Institute. He has also consulted with international and regional professional services firms. The late Dr. Chandler was director of MBA programs at the University of Southern Colorado. His special interest in management information systems and business policy stemmed from a successful career as a senior executive in the chemicals industry.
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|Author:||Ward, Bart; Chandler, William D.|
|Publication:||SAM Advanced Management Journal|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1999|
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