A Culture Chasm: Education and Business

Why is there such a chasm between academia and the business world to address the organizational culture phenomena? The following article covers 3 main points relative to organizational culture. First, organizational culture is defined and put into context for better reader perspective. Second, the contextual problem facing business schools along with the disconnect between internal organizational culture and what is actually taught to graduates. Third, the solution that focuses on internal dynamics at the business school, borrowing academia research and business world practice. Ultimately, once internal organizational strategy is bridged with the classroom strategy, graduates move on to incubate more prosperous entities and shunt the growing trend of health cost drivers.

Organizational culture: It’s not a new idea in business schools or in enterprise. lowly but surely researchers and industry experts alike are putting together a mounting body of evidence on the importance of organizational culture. Organizational culture is not simply about managing a healthcare trend, productivity indicator, injury trend or insurance premium cost drivers or touchy feely things. Organizational culture refers to the overall leadership quality and impact on the workforce, surrounding community and connection between workforce job duties and company mission. Ask yourself: Is worksite wellness and organizational culture written (formally or informally) into the mission statement of the company? Are managers supporting workers appropriately? How does the workforce perceive the company culture and the support from the manager? How do you know the answer to any of these questions? In 2002 Accenture and Wirthlin Worldwide, found that 35% of the companies surveyed said the workforce neither knew the company strategy, nor knew how their day-to-day responsibilities aligned with the strategy. While businesses must address their own problems with people strategy and organizational culture, I’m convinced that one of the roots of the problem exists in colleges and universities.

A workforce that understands the organizational mission and perceives their company’s culture to be largely supportive will be more productive than their peers at a competing company. A supported workforce will also demonstrate a stronger sense of connection to the company, the company mission, and how each individual job responsibility is tied into the company mission. According to a Gallup survey, at least 22 million American workers are extremely negative or “actively disengaged” – this loss of productivity is estimated to be worth $250-$300 billion annually. Are business schools insulated? Of course the answer is no.

Since the first MBA program started between 1900 and 1908 (depending on whether you give credit to Harvard University or Dartmouth College), business schools have likely not demonstrated the same environmental enterprise knowledge they teach their graduates about organizational culture, productivity and communications. Schools are naturally good at reacting to what the consumer wants. Good business move, but they don’t graduate leaders adept at building organizational culture, nor are they themselves great examples of organizational culture. Just doing a quick search of US and International business schools’ courses, I found a number of courses covering organizational culture and case studies dating back over 30 years. So why is the news of a curriculum change at Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley (Haas) so revolutionary?

The problem: Business schools aren’t practicing what they preach, or maybe they’re preaching the wrong strategy. According to Robert Kaplan and David Norton, developers of the Balanced Scorecard, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy. If the course work is in place and case studies available to provide evidence that organizational culture is a foundation to build a lasting business, why have business schools not acted similarly? Why have so many business leaders treated organizational culture as a line item of employee benefits? This leads me to believe that either the world of Business School education is flat or the navigational instruments need calibrating for the 21st century. Either way the proverbial ship that incubates leadership and innovation is traveling aimlessly at sea. The single most important foundational point to correct course is to learn, teach, live and support organizational culture.

Again, while business schools are accommodating consumer’s requests for shorter, intensive programs in order to return to work quicker and offering seminar driven learning and even specialty degrees in executive management, few are looking at their own philosophy of organizational culture and how it translates into developing leaders and thinkers who will then cultivate their own organizational culture. However, a couple of institutions seem to be trending along the paradigm shift of course correction. Haas School of Business recently announced a new curriculum that focuses the business school’s attention on organizational culture and the Columbia Business School (CBS) which utilizes lecturers with Indian background and philosophy to teach some of its courses. In general, Indian philosophy stresses controllable actions and processes instead of focusing solely on outcomes that are not within our control. Interesting side note: these two institutions also have a joint Executive MBA programs (EMBA). Since they both have similar outlooks and mission, it’s no wonder they’ve partnered.

In contrast to business schools on the whole, large businesses like General Electric, Proctor & Gamble and Southwest have started scratching the surface of organizational culture and producing tremendous case studies to learn from. If the business world can address organizational culture by borrowing the research from universities and colleges that indicate its importance, why is there such a chasm between academia and the business world to address the culture phenomena? The answer may lie somewhere in the vast sea of humility.

I recognize that academic institutions and businesses don’t operate in a vacuum, nor is every business leader doing better than their counterpart at every Business School. That said, innovators in the business world tend to recognize when they are not the smartest person in the room, need help leading and consequently remove themselves as obstacles to the process of progression. Look no further than General Motors or Ford Motor Company when both top executives stepped aside, in favor of new leadership to drive a new business model. Historically, Business Schools tend to get tunnel vision on solely producing graduates and not evaluating internal culture. Leaders have held themselves out to be the smartest person in the room and lead via authoritative means. In a working paper, Jean-Pierre BenoĆ®t and Juan Dubra cited, “…Dozens of studies show that people…are generally overconfident about their relative skills.”

The solution: Remind your workers and team daily why their work is important. Woody Johnson (owner of the New York Jets football organization), borrowed the example his family used to build Johnson & Johnson. When building their new facility, the team owners designed nearly every office to look out onto the practice fields, to remind everyone, everyday, that they were in the football business. Business schools may not have their own literal practice field, but within their own design models, business schools can utilize a set of three solutions in 2011 to change course and affect organizational culture at the root as learned from my experience in worksite wellness solutions and organizational culture analysis.

#1: Lose the job description and think amalgamated business model. Every person in America, who holds a job, knows they do more than is in their job description. Job descriptions isolate groups of workers and fail to allow for effective communication flow. Whether you’re working with new hires or existing employees, the process of shifting from a job description business model to one that more closely resembles an amalgamated model leans on communication.

#2: Produce an organizational audit. Audits take on many different forms. However, they don’t have to be complex or lengthy. Simple employee surveys, for example, can provide necessary black and white commentary about a litany of issues including: workforce morale, teamwork, worker perceptions of the company, worker understanding of their own job responsibilities as well as workforce strategy and business strategy.

#3: Emphasize the organizational culture within the school and the classroom. Organizations with a lengthy business history often mistake reputation for culture. Colleges and Universities are certainly no exception. A business school with a great reputation for graduating innovative business leaders may not have a great internal culture that incubates good communication flow, worker understanding of the greater mission, etc. This reinforces the need to perform some type of audit (see #2). The future of organizations lies in the ability not only to innovate, but for decision makers to understand the worksite culture and to over communicate the business strategy to its workforce. To be certain that each individual worker understands the affect their responsibilities have on the success of the company. The time to chart a better course is now. For if not now, when?