By Paula Yoder
What “assumptions” do educational institutions make about corporate business leaders? What “assumptions” do corporate business leaders make about educators? Why should we be interested in the assumptions that one makes about the other? And what do assumptions have to do with problem solving? The reason we should care is because we need each other to solve problems. When we engage in personal and professional relationships based on assumptions, we are making decisions based on a lack of information. Never, in the existence of mankind, has it been more imperative for leaders to make good decisions; decisions that affect our families, our corporations, our communities and our educators. The types of decisions that are made with as much information as possible are the types of decisions that are going to save jobs and save our schools.
The Tandy Center for Executive Education at TCU engaged educators and business leaders in one-on-one discussions about assumptions in order to gain a deeper understanding of how relationships are built and their importance in the bigger scheme of academic and business life. The interviews were conducted in order to assess not only the assumptions made, but how problem solving models were being used to create collaborative and innovative relationships between educators and business leaders. Here we share a few insights into those conversations.
Dr. Bonnie Melhart, Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at TCU, said there are differences and similarities in the way education systems and corporations function. “The differences are the power behind the relationships,” explained Dr. Melhart. “For example, corporations are bottom line driven to market the product. This is valuable for obvious economic reasons, but just as important is the research behind understanding how the product will change the life of individuals.”
Dr. Melhart said it is essential to have business and education in the same room. “Business is so focused. Education is research based. Educators look for the question that has not been answered whereas business leaders look for the discovery from the question.” From the questions that educators pose, she said, businesses will discover and create new products which make life better, richer and easier.
Dr. Melhart added that when looking at the imagined business person or organization, educators may see a driven individual or a driven corporation only interested in the bottom line. The assumption is that those individuals are not really interested in knowledge for knowledge sake. “This is not true,” she said, “when you really get to know them. Those same individuals and corporations are usually much broader in forward thinking, they are interested in lots of other things.
“From an educator’s perspective, people outside the academy may think we practice academic snobbery, intellectual snobbery, even elitism,” Melhart said. “We [in academia] know that we do not know everything. It is what you do with the credentials on a day-to-day basis that makes the difference, not necessarily that you have those credentials.”
Judy Hoberman, National Sales Director, CEO and author of “Selling in a Skirt” shared her perspective on assumptions that business leaders make about education systems. “I believe that businesses believe the book ‘Everything I Need To Learn, I Learned In Kindergarten’ and that graduates come out of institutions having learned work ethics, strategy and time management, just to name a few skills.” Educators, she said, believe their job is to give students the foundation they need, and the only way to get real training is to get it on the job. “While there are more and more classes offered that are entrepreneurial in scope,” she said, “there still aren’t courses giving the basics of being in business.”
Hoberman’s idea for overcoming assumptions would be to have everyone in the same room at the same time. “When we were building product training for insurance, we would meet with every department that would have their stamp of approval on the training—separately. You can only imagine what happened once you were onto the third or fourth department—department number one would need to make changes that number three had made, etc. We came up with this novel idea to have everyone in the room at the same time and just basically ‘duke it out’ but once it was done it was complete.” She suggests that having business leaders helping to contribute to the curriculum of business courses might help to get both sides on the same page.
Gina McKenzie, senior officer in organizational development at Freese and Nichols Incorporated, summed up how corporate business leaders and educators should partner, bypass the assumptions and solve problems; “Educators act on their assumptions by providing timely, reasonably-priced, valuable informational sessions to businesses. In addition, by becoming personally interactive and informative, educators enable business leaders to realize the value of ongoing development.” This collaborative, informative partnering is how critical problems affecting our educators, politicians and the planet will be solved.
Paula Yoder, M.S., is Director of Executive Education and Leadership at TCU’s Neeley School of Business in Ft. Worth. Ms. Yoder is an Educational Human Resources Development Ph.D candidate at Texas A&M.
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