Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Value of Education--and How to Measure It

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal asks whether colleges are producing "career ready graduates".  

Some may debate whether this is the right question to be asking.  Form a traditional liberal arts point of view, the goal is (as the piece states at the end) to produce critical thinking adults.  In my mind, that translates into adults who can solve problems and think creatively and critically.  These individuals should be "ready for careers."  Or at least ready for the first job.

However, it is also reasonable to think that given what individuals are spending on college at this point in time that they might be prepared for careers and guided in important ways other than simply having a good liberal arts education and being critical and creative thinkers.

In business schools, students and administrators clearly recognize the value of the internship and how this can help to translate into job readiness.  Internships are just one way that individuals can help to prepare themselves besides rigorous coursework.  There are many other opportunities for work experiences while individuals are in an educational institutions.  

However, I believe that it is more than just an internship or a work experience.  

The article also discusses mentions mapping out a career plan.

If nothing else, colleges could present to their students a way to think about their careers in the long term.  Models for careers.  Models for transitioning to a first job or a next educational step with information on what the choices are, what they mean, and what the value propositions of the choices are?  Thinking ahead about next steps.  Thinking about what a lifetime of jobs and even careers might look like.  

Not to say that anyone can plan all of that out when he or she is an undergraduate.  But to expose students to the idea that there are opportunities to take multiple paths.  To take advantage of multiple directions in a career.  To change jobs.  To change careers.  To change directions.  And to do all of this with some sense of planning and some sense of where the person is going rather than simply being on a serendipitous random walk.  

Maybe a 22 year old can't even imagine all that can go on in a career and over a lifetime.  But I believe that even giving a hint of what a career might hold will make individuals better able to dream, plan, and consider how their careers and lives might evolve over time.  To position himself or herself to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves over time.  And to take hold of the opportunities and to run with them.  

That would make individuals ready for a career just as much having the skills for a first job.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exercise is a Lot Like Work--or is the Other Way Around?

A recent Wall Street Journal article commented on how little things can make what should otherwise seem like an easy workout into a hard one.  The simple message from this article reminds me of the 20 mile race I ran two days ago.  My goal was under 2:30.  I did it, running a 2:29:57.  Couldn't cut it much closer.  And it is not the fastest I have ever run 20 miles but with 12 weeks to go until my next marathon and the temperature being 75 degrees with very high humidity at 8 AM (race start time), I did just what I planned.  

That is the key.  For a workout to go well, we must control what we can control.  How much rest?  How hard was the last workout?  Are we varying our workouts?  Are we getting enough sleep?  Are we concentrating too much on other things?  (See the picture below to find out what happens when I concentrate on too many other things while running and take a fall leading to four weeks in a wrist brace.)  Can we focus on the workout itself and not on other stresses?

In any case, there are some things that we can control and some things that we can't.  I meticuluously trained for eight weeks leading up to the 20 mile race.  And despite the uncontrollable--weather--I succeeded.  Do I always succeed?  No.  Earlier this year despite equally meticulous training for a 5K on a course with which I am very familiar I didn't get the PR I was hoping for.  But I did what I could and still had a good showing.

So it is with our careers and business.  There are things we have control over.  Our appearance.  Our sleep (just as important for work as for exercise).  Our effort level.  Our continuing to learn.  If we take what we can control and make sure that we maximize our effort and maximize our attention, then we maximize our chances of success.  There will always be events we cannot control.  What we must hope for is that by maximizing our attention to detail on the things we can control that we get as close to success as possible.

So, I'm not quite sure if this is a lesson from exericse for work or the other way around, but it is an important lesson for both for me and for anyone trying to succeed in life. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Never Stop Learning

As I was skimming the Wall Street Journal, I noticed an article that had not caught my attention last week.  The article talked about not letting your education end at graduation.  This is a familiar them to me as I had mentioned to numerous groups of students in the orientation process that this is a key to a dynamic and exciting career in which many new doors will open as the career proceeds.

I can speak from experience on this one with several cases that point directly to the value of continuing to learn after I exited from formal education and how that has benefited me.  

First, in my health economics training we had minimal exposure to the concepts of cost-benefit and even less exposure to the concepts of cost-effectiveness analysis.  Yet, cost-effectiveness research became a key part of what I was known for as I proceeded through my career as I took the time to learn the methods and the nuances and then shared that with others.

Second, while my training was in research and not in teaching, as my career continued on, I learned more and more about best practices for teaching.  That helped me to make the case for my expertise in this area and that opened up new opportunities when I was promoted to full professor.

Third, I had not taken a course in management and organizations since I was an undergraduate.  But was time went on, it became ever more clear that I was interested in having a larger administrative role.  I spent a year in a leadership development class.  Even after I was given a much larger administrative role, I have continued to take the time to learn more about managing and administration.  There is as much to study in this area as there is in any other field of study.

Fourth, since moving from the Bloomberg School of Public Health to the Carey Business School within Johns Hopkins University, I have had the opportunity to continue to learn about business.  How it is conducted.  How things are negotiated.  How to maintain the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between collaboration with peers, answering to research funders, leading those on the organizational chart, and answering up.  How to lead committees from a position of authority rather than only from a peer position.  

Fifth, I have continued to learn about myself.  Just this morning, I was discussing with a colleague I had not seen in ages the concept of whether Myers-Briggs category is a state or trait.  We both think it is more state than trait and that it evolves over time.  Assessing how what I learn about myself informs and is informed by what I am learning and need to learn in other situations is key.

All of this is to say that what one of the faculty at Michigan told me on my last day there is true.  The PhD education was complete but my education was not.  If the dissertation work was the best I ever did there would be a serious problem.  The remainder of my career is a time in which I continue to learn and continue to improve.

The same goes for our MBA and MS students.  By the third time I delivered my welcoming comments, I had them honed to talk about the education being like a puzzle that students put together and our approach at Carey making the finished puzzle look different for our students than for other business school students.  The key that I will add next year is that the rest of life is like finding out that there is an even larger superstructure into which the first puzzle fits.  Sort of like the first puzzle was just designed to fill the donut hole and the rest of life is the donut around it.Continuing to learn gives me options for what I want the donut to look like.  Stopping learning leaves the the donut either incomplete or with a much more limited set of outcomes.  It is forced to be glazed when I really wanted chocolate with sprinkles.  I can have the chocolate with sprinkles--or at least do my best to attain the chocolate with sprinkles--if I continue to work and learn and produce and improve.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sister School Efficiency

After 5 weeks of orientation-related activities and the first week of class at the business school where I work, today was the day on which I helped move my oldest son into the dormitories at the conservatory at the same university.  I had been involved in moving him into a dormitory space once before--for the Philadelphia International Music Festival in the summer of 2013.  I don't recall the details of that registration experience.  It seemed a little slow and chaotic, but at the time, I had just moved to become a member of the Dean's office at the business school--whereas now I have been at the business school for nearly one and one-half years.

What I saw was an inefficiency.  My son was asked at each of three adjacent tables for his name or his last name.  He was almost the only one there at the time and it seemed like the student helping at the next table would have heard what the student at the last table asked.  Regardless of whether the next student had heard, I thought it was silly to ask the same question three times and have my son answer it three times.  He took it in good spirit, and there were only a relatively small number of new students at the conservatory, so this was by no means the rate limiting step in the process of getting my son moved in this morning.

However, at the third table, I said, "You should give out name tags next time."  The student behind the desk agreed and said that was a good idea.

I'm honestly not sure I would have thought of that a year ago.  But today, after going through two years of orientation activities in the past 18 months, five intense weeks of orientation activities this summer, and more than a year on the leadership team and faculty at a business school, I have figured out ways to make processes more efficient.  And it is how I think in general at this point.  

But it also reflects how different leaders and organizers look at things.  My goal as an organizer and leader at a business school is to make the students' experience the most positive experience possible.  And, importatnly, to make my staff members' lives the best they can be.  Giving each student a stick on tag at the start of the check-in process would remove all need to ask the question, "What is your name?"

Now, you could say that having the opportunity to do a simple question and answer with a student helping with check-in is not a bad thing but starts conversation.  But it would seem far easier to me to have the sticker, greet the new student by name and ask how he or she is doing, and move on from there.

Maybe addressing the person by name is something that I focus on even more than I would have in the past based on my learning of the Mandarin names for graduation and new students.  Or maybe that was just my nature anyway.  

But the key is how to conduct business to make students (the customers) and staff as happy as possible.  What a difference a name tag might make.  Sometimes it is the simplest, little things that we do in business that make a difference in others' experiences.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What is Difficult to Include in Cost-Benefit Analysis?

A couple weeks back, I discussed what size and type of investment might be appropriate in response to the current Ebola outbreak.  I also discussed how the answer might vary between the United States and other locations around the world.  And I tried to place the discussion in the context of just how big a problem Ebola is (or is not) in comparison with other public health problems.  

There are two interesting thoughts that follow this coming out of a recent Wall Street Journal piece. The first, is that it is somewhat ironic that in a part of the world that is home to the natural resource that produces rubber, a number of health care providers have had incident cases of Ebola for a lack of rubber gloves.  This is a public health problem.  But it is also a problem that demonstrates just how important the many inter-linkages between different parts of an economic system are.  And how having the natural resources doesn't guarantee that without a production facility, a supply chain, or an export (and re-import) opportunity anything will be done with the resource to help to solve the public health problem.  For this, a cost-benefit analysis could be conducted, analyzing the cost of improving the system of moving the natural resource into production, the implications of any threats to the permanent viability of the natural resource (anyone who has ever read The Lorax knows what can happen with overuse of a resource), and the benefit of reducing the Ebola transmission.  There are markets.  We can infer values.  We can conduct the analysis.

But even this analysis would not capture the other aspect that was brought out in the WSJ piece.  What is that?  The article talks about health care workers going on strike to demand improved protection, higher "risk-based" pay, and life insurance.  Then the article states
"In the meantime, because doctors aren't at work, other diseases besides Ebola are going untreated. As a result, those ailments—chiefly typhoid and dysentery—may be killing more West Africans than Ebola, according to the United Nations Children's Fund."
This, is something that most cost-benefit analyses do not include and would honestly have a difficult time predicting.  This, is where the cost of an uncontrolled Ebola outbreak really begins to grow--and potentially exponentially.  

To some degree it is the difference between a partial equilibrium analysis (looking just at Ebola treatment) and a general equilibrium analysis (asking how treating Ebola will impact the rest of the health care system and ultimately the rest of the economy).  

What it demonstrates is how hard it can be to make a complete analysis using the tools we have when there are unpredictable outcomes.  And how policy makers and business leaders must still make decisions with the best information available.  And reassess the information and update the decisions frequently.

This is one case in which the economic argument for incremental spending to control the disease is much clearer in light of the information about the breakdown of usual work and social roles.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Planning My Day Around My Meyer-Briggs Type

The last time I officially took the Myers-Briggs test, I was INFP.  I had a career coach through my place of employment one time who was so interested in the Myers-Briggs hat she had a little "sculpture" with her type in four wooden blocks.  She was an E--not surprising given the stereotype of an extrovert as being "outgoing".  

One thing that I recall from taking the Meyrs-Briggs and learning about some of the nuances is that the whole introvert-extrovert question is not just about whether you are outgoing or a wallflower but where you "go to get your recharge."  In other words, after being in a highly externally focused  social setting do I come home exhausted needing just to be alone or with a very small group or do I feel on top of the world.  Do I look to spend my time in groups or do I need alone time?

As I train for a marathon this November, I am finding that I am a little of both.  And it is interesting for me to think about how my energy use and rechraging fits into my daily work schedule and my workout schedule--and whether I could structure my day any better to really facilitate being on top of my game and being "on" whenever I am at work.

One example, last night, I had a reception from 6:30-8:30 (which ended up going from 6:30-9).  I would have expected it to take all my effort to go meet 20+ new students whom I had only met virtually and carry on conversation for 2 hours.  Particularly after earlier in the day having a large meal with family and having--for an hour prior--spoken with two colleagues about a research project.  (Yes, we had a research call from 5:30-6:30 on a Saturday evening).  

When all was said and done it felt completely natural and I was able to carry on conversation with no trouble.  Every one in a while I would go into listening mode, but it didn't happen very often.  And, as I drove home, despite having walked the dog twice, walked from my building to the Inner Harbor with family, eaten a big meal, gone to the grocery store, and done a few other things, I was on top of the world.

Of course, this morning, when I woke up I began the day with 12 miles run in a little over 1:36 by myself and that was recharging too.  Or the other day when I had an afternoon full of exteranlly focused activity but I ran a very strong workout alone on the track in the morning.  

My main lesson is that I am neither pure introvert nor pure extrovert.  Both types of activities can be taxing.  Both can be recharging.  

What I have to think about as I schedule my day is how to balance the down time in small meetings with the need to be totally on as I meet others.  I don't need most of one and little of the other.  What I need is a healthy balance.  Between activities during the day.  From one day to the next.  Even from one week to the next.  

There may be other parts of my Meyrs-Briggs where I don't need so much balance and I just have to be aware rather than using them to think about how I would structure my meetings during the course of the day.

But as the Dean at my school talks about the rhythm of the day and the rhythm of a decision making process, I can think about the rhythm of activities and how it fits or doesn't fit with my needs as defined, in part, by my personality.

That would be a very powerful way to use personality--particularly if an entire office could work together on joint scheduling to optimize the energy use-recharge cycle that this represents.  

Something to ponder--as I take care of business, take care of my family, and take care of myself. I never would have thought I'd think about the work-life-me balance in the context of the I-E dimension of the Meyrs-Briggs personality type but there really might be something there to ponder. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why to Show People I Care?

On Thursday of this past week, my job as Vice Dean for Education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School included reading all the names for graduation.  The Vice Dean for Faculty and Research officially runs the graduation ceremony.  The Dean makes comments and shakes hands.  We hear from an alumnus, a student, and a keynote speaker.  Then, I read.

This year, we had a very large number of Chinese names—as we will for the foreseeable future.  More in August than May given the timing of different programs. In May, for the Chinese names that I did encounter, I simply used the phonetic pronunciation that had been supplied.  I found it somewhat confusing given where the real and phonetic spellings were on the cards that were handed to me to read.  I found it confusing because the same real spelling was represented by different phonetic interpretations. And I found it confusing because I had not taken the time to have a conversation with a native Mandarin speaker to help understand the nuances of the pronunciation for the names I was reading.

So, this time, six days before graduation, I took the list of names and phonetic interpretations and met with a staff member who is a native Mandarin speaker.  We spent two hours going through the names with my attempts at pronunciation, her guidance, and my rewriting a lot of phonetic interpretations.

Then two days before graduation, I rewrote the phonetics again—this time so that my colleague who was preparing the name cards could read them.  And on the day of graduation I spent about 30 minutes reading all the names quickly.  I found a few rules of thumb that if I would remember would make a big difference in my ability to read the names in a way that would make it sound like I was confident and that I had paid some attention to their actual pronunciation. 

So, the graduation ceremony arrived on Thursday.  I didn’t hear directly from any of the students afterwards (this is a group that I did not know very well), but I heard a number of comments that made me quite pleased.  One person said that I had been volunteered to help with translation (I don’t know any Mandarin other than the names).  One of the English as a Second Language instructors told me that the students were definitely impressed.  The director of our MS Finance program told me that the students were happy.  Was I perfect?  No.  But the key is that I was credible and that students noticed.

Making the people I serve as a leader (or business-person in the business of higher education) feel that I care about them is critical.  Even using the phrase—people that I serve—shows how I think about my leadership and the business of higher education.  It carries over to other situations.  For example, why do my wife and I go to small retailers that charge us more?  Because the employees make us feel like we matter.

So, do I think the school will get more students because I read the names well?  Not necessarily.  Or that is not necessarily the direct effect.  But it can’t hurt.  If students leave graduation happier, they are likely to make a first donation as alumni that is bigger.  A bigger starting point puts them in line to be bigger donors later.  If they are bigger donors they are more likely to promote the program.  The more they promote the program the more students we get in the future.  That could take years to play out.  But it sets the foundation for a strong and healthy relationship with these individuals over time that can certainly benefit the school.  That is why I will make a similar or greater effort next time.  And if I do this five or six times, I should be able to manage without having to spend quite so much time in advance as I’ll know all the rules of thumb for reading the pinyin spellings of the Chinese characters.

Of course, today I had another opportunity to make an impression and it worked.  We were greeting new students in our one year programs.  I was speaking with three women.  One of them introduced herself as Ashley.  Her named spelled using the pinyin interpretation was Xueting.  She asked if I could pronounce it and I got pretty much right.  She and her two fellow students looked very happy and impressed.  So it was great to make such a positive impression on the finishing students last week and on incoming students this week.  This will help me in my position moving forward.  It is a new people skill for me.  And while my academic talents have been important in becoming a full professor my people skills have also been critical in my career.