10,000 management professors can’t be wrong..

Posted on August 11th, 2014 by

For the past 17 years, the signal that summer is waning and the fall semester is right around the corner is the Academy of Management meeting, held the first or second week of every August. This year it was Philadelphia upon whose unsuspecting citizens we all converged last week. Although it’s not as easy as it used to be to go to sessions and events all day, dinner and networking til late at night, then get up at 6 am the next day to do it all again, it remains the most energizing meeting of the year.

Some gems that always make their way into my classroom come from a pre-conference workshop put on by Gary Wagenheim (Simon Fraser University in BC), Gavin Schwarz (University of New South Wales) and colleagues about managing change. It is a perennial standing-room-only session… creativity and engagement draw people year after year.

Managing change session

Managing change session

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s tough to pick out other program highlights because there were so many great events, but a couple of sessions come to mind. First, I got to facilitate a session with my friends and Associate Editors for the Journal of Management Education Joy Beatty (University of Michigan– Dearborn) and Jen Leigh (Nazareth College) about what “evidence” means in teaching and learning– how do we know that students are actually learning what we want them to learn? How can we demonstrate that to others? It is a really complex question that we completely resolved that day.

Totally kidding.

But we did have an energetic conversation about how we know things, particularly when it comes to something so individual and sometimes invisible and usually quite long-term like student learning outcomes. As editors of a top 3 teaching and learning journal, we are very concerned about evidence and how our readers can “know” that some innovation that appears in our journal will “work” in their own classrooms, helping students gain the knowledge the author of the article says it will. Plus, external stakeholders are continuing to ask deep questions about what learning is happening on college campuses, not the least of which is parents interested in the quality of education their child is receiving. Responding to those questions with integrity resists smooth and easy answers, and we have to be up front about what we want students to learn, how we’re going to teach it, how we’ll measure what happened, and what we’ll do next. And all of those steps are personalized to each of us as instructors, which is both the joy and the frustration of college learning. We have to hold ourselves in a stance that is open to different ways of knowing and learning even when it is uncomfortable to do so.

 

Group discussion at the evidence workshop

Group discussion at the evidence workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I caught an unexpected gem at a session about (of all things) abusive supervisory practices and high performance work systems; ‘unexpected’ because the discussion was so good, it went beyond what I had hoped to get out of it. Essentially these authors were investigating the different psychological and organizational variables that explain why really abusive supervisors who get results (a key detail) keep their jobs, and are sometimes even celebrated and revered. While it’s no mystery why organizations interested in high performance work often retain these folks — they get results, and they get them pretty consistently — what was fascinating in this session was the research on why employees may seek out these abusive people, and choose to work with them, sometimes for years. Examples the presenters used were Bob Knight and his career at IU, and Meryl Streep’s prototypical character in The Devil Wears Prada. Hard to get more abusive than that. Why would anyone deliberately seek to work with those kinds of leaders, and even compete to get a spot, at great personal sacrifice?

Although there are some psychological moderators, it appears that a major explanation is the long term, robust “WIIFM” factor (what’s in it for me). When the researchers looked at outcomes, these abusive folks were perceived as strongly and positively impacting their employees’ chances for success, and their ‘mentoring’ (I use that term lightly) is perceived as instrumental in helping the employee learn what they need to learn in the field. Sometimes employees are willing to endure really extreme forms of abuse by keeping their eye on the longer-term ball, gaining important contacts in the industry. Plus, these employees may sometimes gain a street cred factor of being able to stick it out working for Ms. Screamer and surviving.

While I get that (heck, I did a PhD program.. we all are a little nuts after THAT kind of experience) I also left the session thinking what a waste of energy it is to create such hostility in the name of performance. We imagined the possible– mentoring and partnering with others to share and learn, without the serious hazing factor — which was experienced as lovely but super naive and not possible in practice. It really made me think of how we might change that kind of norm in workplaces that support it.

 

Lovely evening next to the Delaware River

Lovely evening next to the Delaware River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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