by Eugene A. Razzetti
In 1964, I listened in awe as Dr. Lillian Gilbreth described to a group of business majors how the management of science became the science of management. Now, every morning, the newspapers remind me of how poorly some businesses and governments are managed in the United States. It’s as if none of what Dr. Gilbreth described had ever happened. Academics (sadly) seem to have only limited knowledge of auditing or self-measurement. Sadder still, business schools have only limited knowledge of structured, measurement-intensive standards (e.g., ISO 9001) and their potential role for good in management.
As a result, auditing, setting goals and objectives, and continuous improvement have not realized the same benefits for academia that they routinely realize for other organizations. Many of the largest and most expensive undergraduate and graduate business textbooks just gloss over these staples. If the business professors don’t understand auditing and continuous improvement, they can’t impart them to students or stress them in course curricula.
In the face of this, forward-looking business schools are undergoing external certifications, some of which look a little like first-generation International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications. By “first generation” I mean perfunctory and redundant, and leaving a great deal of responsibility for audit success on the auditor.
The schools of business of the two universities of which I am on the advisory boards are (coincidentally) preparing for external certifications by two different outside certification bodies, and I am assisting them. This article describes my approach and how in academia (like everywhere else) the establishment of a continuous improvement mindset will result in optimal implementation of corrective actions and a clear path to uninterrupted enhancement of the excellence of business education in the United States—at a time when the need has never been greater.
Here are ten areas in which auditors (e.g., from advisory boards) can create a capability and mindset for continuous improvement in academia in general and business schools in particular, while still responding to the requirements of an outside certification authority. Figure 1 describes the relationship of key auditing areas to organizations, to business schools, and to continuous improvement. Each of the ten audit areas is a building block for the next, leading to a comprehensive and robust assessment of a comprehensive and robust academic structure.
Figure 1: Continuous improvement–Audit areas
|No.||Audit areas||Required in organizations||Required in business schools||Required for continuous improvement|
|1||Strategic planning—mission and goals||X||X||X|
|2.||Policies and standards||X||X||X|
|4.||Self-auditing and monitoring||X||X||X|
|5.||Staff, faculty, and student input||X||X||X|
|6.||Competence, training, and awareness||X||X||X|
|8.||Prioritization of limited resources||X||X||X|
|9.||Key performance indicators—measuring outcomes against expectations||X||X||X|
|10.||Steering committees and advisory boards||X||X||X|
Figure 2 shows pertinent segments from a checklist that I developed to help prepare one business school for certification. The addition of the last three columns to the checklist changes a one-time report or snapshot into a dynamic management tool for continuous improvement.
Strategic planning—missions and goals
Strategic planning is an essential part of any forward-looking organization and an essential focus of any audit. Academic certification bodies expect business schools to reach a continuous improvement mindset by setting a strategic direction for the school, and, from there, developing measurable missions and goals. The checklist segment in figure 2 shows one way in which auditors can assess missions and goals in academia.
Figure 2: Continuous improvement–Business school checklist
|1.||Does the school publish a mission statement and does the statement:a. Reflect the view points of the stakeholdersb. Appropriately fit the school
c. Reflect periodic review and update as appropriate
d. Include the stakeholders in the review and revision processes
|2.||Do the mission statement and supporting documents specify the student populations the school intends to serve?|
|3.||Do the action items stemming from the mission statement represent high-priority continuous improvement efforts?|
The business school must determine its own best approach to strategic planning, ensuring that:
- It has a clearly defined mission for the school.
- It has a vision of how it wants the school to look to the outside world in general and to the stakeholders in particular.
- It has identified and quantified all the gaps between the current and desired situation
- It has identified long-term and short-term objectives.
In short, the school needs to know what it wants and have measurable and continuous approaches for achievement. Moreover, the school’s leadership should encourage measurable creativity and innovation in the people it relies upon.
Policies and standards
The strategic plan must successfully transition into a set of consistent policies and standards. All stakeholders must understand these policies and standards and adhere to them. Auditors need to assess the school’s ability to implement and sustain the policies and standards, as shown in figure 3.
Figure 3: Continuous improvement–Policies and standards
|1.||Are the policies for admission to business degree programs offered by the school clear and consistent with the school’s mission?|
|2.||Is the school’s faculty sufficient to support:a. Stabilityb. Ongoing quality improvement for the instructional programs offered?|
|3.||Does the school’s faculty maintain sufficient and current expertise to accomplish and sustain the school’s mission?|
With strategies and attendant policies determined, business school programs must next describe the delivery and management of educational programs and offerings, methods of making curricular changes, and optimal use of student and stakeholder input into the processes—all in execution of the strategic plan.
Figure 4: Continuous improvement–Process management
|1.||Are the school’s academic standards reflected in:a. The quality of the graduatesb. Student retention. Are they consistent with the school’s mission?|
|2.||Does the school use well-documented systematic processes to:a. Monitor, evaluate, and revise the substance and delivery.b. Assess the effect of the curricula on learning.|
Self-auditing and monitoring
The plans, policies, and procedures developed in furtherance of the mission of the business school must be reflected in its day-to-day operations and must be the subject of control initiatives, such as self-auditing and monitoring.
Figure 5: Continuous improvement–Self-auditing
|1.||Is there a catalog for all graduate programs and does it contain:a. Descriptions of all the programsb. The hours of graduate-level work
c. How to determine the appropriate number of courses and hours that will provide students with quality business education
|2.||Are ongoing educational programs and offerings systematically tracked and regularly evaluated?|
|3.||Does the school’s program include educational support processes such as:a. Counselingb. Advising
e. Computer facilities
h. Office space
|4.||Has the school identified or determined:a. Its key business operation processesb. Key customer requirements
c. Goals and the means to measure them
d. Performance monitoring
e. Methods to evaluate and improve business operation processes to achieve better performance
f. Optimum use of:
|5.||Does the school have written academic policies governing student:a. Recruitmentb. Admission
|6.||Does the school measure the effectiveness of programs in areas such as:a. Retentionb. Graduation rates
d. Relationships with suppliers
In structured programs like ISO 9001, routine internal audits improve product quality and support continuous improvement more effectively than annual certification audits. The same is true in academia.
Staff, faculty, and student input
As auditors, we all know the importance of stakeholder input and feedback. Here again, the lessons of industry should be visited upon academia, as reflected in figure 6.
Figure 6: Continuous improvement–Stakeholder input
|1.||Does curriculum management include input from:a. Facultyb. Staff
f. The business community
g. Faculty from non-business disciplines
|2.||Adapting expectations to the school’s mission and cultural circumstances, does the school:a. Specify learning goalsb. Measure and demonstrate achievement of those learning goals|
Competence, training, and awareness
ISO 9001:2008 states (in summary) that organizations will determine, provide, and maintain the competence of personnel performing work affecting the conformity to product requirements. In this case, the personnel performing the work are the faculty, staff, and administrators. This next checklist in figure 7 covers the competence, training, and awareness of those designated to design, implement (i.e., teach), and revise the material taught in the business schools to a certification level.
Figure 7: Continuous improvement–Competence, training, and awareness
|1.||Does the school have a human resource plan that supports its strategic plan?|
|2.||Can the school demonstrate that the composition of the full-time and part-time faculty (in terms of practical experience and academic credentials) matches program objectives?|
|3.||Does the composition of faculty include sufficient academic credentials and business or professional experience to ensure appropriate emphasis on both business theory and practice to meet program objectives?|
|4.||Do all full- and part-time faculty members assigned have resumes on file that are less than two years old and do they address the courses the members currently teach?|
|5.||Does the school have a formal system for evaluating faculty members relative to monitoring and evaluating:a. Teachingb. Student advising and counseling
c. Scholarly and professional service activities
d. Business and industry relations
e. Development activities
f. Consulting activities
g. Promoting student focus
h. Compensation and recognition approaches
i. The evaluation system itself
Note the italicized phrases in questions 2 and 3. Everything in this section could be validated by document review, were it not for those phrases. The auditor/advisory board member may have to use his or her own judgment with regard to the practical experience of a faculty member, and likely do it in the classroom.
You can teach Shakespeare for forty years, I suppose, and never involve yourself outside the ivory tower. Not so when teaching business administration or management—especially now in what has rightly been called a global economy. Business professors who don’t keep up (i.e., published) in the latest trends, discoveries, and practices risk being neither current nor inspirational and cannot hope to instill those up-to-the-minute concepts and approaches into the fresh and imaginative minds of their students.
Figure 8: Continuous improvement–Updated skills
|1.||Are members of the faculty involved in:a. Activities involving the use of professional expertise in solving problems in either the private or public sectors, and in the global economyb. Activities in support of professional organizations
c. Professionally related service activities directly related to the stated mission of the school
|2.||Do faculty members routinely publish their research and conclusions?|
Like the personnel competencies described previously, setting measurable standards for ongoing intellectual contribution brings business professors out from both the desk and the dust and helps to ensure that they continue to teach from the cutting edge. “Publish or perish” seems as important now as ever.
Prioritization of limited resources
Here’s an area close to the hearts of auditors, accountants, and managers of all types. Academia needs to get the biggest bang for its buck just like the rest of us. Universities must prove that they are getting it if they want to become or remain certified.
Figure 9: Continuous improvement–Limited resources
|1.||Does the school ensure effective management of:a. Financial resourcesb. Administrative services
d. Information services
e. Public relations
|2.||Has the school identified or determined:a. Its key business operation processesb. Key customer requirements
c. Goals and the means to measure them
d. Performance monitoring processes
e. Methods to evaluate and improve business operation processes to achieve better performance
f. Optimum use of:
Key performance indicators—measuring outcomes against expectations
Assessment programs are often the sum of smaller measurement initiatives and provide an executive level picture of the school’s effectiveness and success for trustees, alumni, industry, and potential benefactors.
Figure 10: Continuous improvement–Measuring outcomes
|1||Does the school have an outcomes assessment program?|
|2.||Does the school identify trends identified from consecutive assessments?|
|3.||Do assessment plans yield comparative information and data both over time and with respect to benchmarks?|
|4.||Does the school use the learning outcomes assessment results to improve its educational processes in the interest of continuously improving student learning outcomes?|
Steering committees and advisory boards
Steering committees and advisory boards can be excellent sources of internal auditors for business schools. Most committee members and board members have rich business backgrounds, expertise, and credibility. The approach that I am currently proposing to a business school calls for board members to conducting a preliminary certification audit in time to identify deficiencies and initiate correction prior to the audit by the certification body.
The message is the same for business schools as it is for businesses: If you want continuous improvement, audit—thoroughly and often.
About the author
Eugene A. Razzetti, CMC, retired from the U.S. Navy as a captain in 1992, a Vietnam veteran, and having had two at-sea and two major shore commands. Since then, he has been an independent management consultant, project manager, and ISO auditor. He became an adjunct military analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses after September 11, 2001. He has authored two management books and co-authored MVO 8000, a corporate responsibility management standard, and is an adjunct lecturer on strategic management and ethics at Argosy University. He is a certified management consultant with the Institute of Management Consultants and has served on boards and committees dealing with ethics and professionalism in the practice of management consulting. He is a senior member of the American Society for Quality and recently assisted the government of Guatemala with the ISO 28000 certification of its two principal commercial port facilities. He can be reached at www.corprespmgmt.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.