Applying Quality Management Concepts to Managing Business Schools

Article excerpt

In the business world, the traditional "command and control" class hierarchy is giving way to more enlightened, quality-oriented management approaches, which are driven by individual empowerment and team initiative. Organizations using such approaches prosper because they are customer-centered and are committed to continuous improvement stemming from shared learning among themselves, their customers, and their suppliers. Such organizations inspire continuous improvement by building cultures that endow individuals with heightened awareness of opportunities for improvement, as well as the confidence to seize initiative. Accordingly, they bring people, knowledge, and resources together to quickly and effectively capitalize on opportunity.

The University of Southern Colorado's Hasan School of Business (HSB) is now attempting to learn and benefit from the tremendous successes accruing to so many business organizations that have abandoned the command and control structure while embracing quality. Accordingly, the HSB is transforming its own organization. The HSB has shed the traditional departmental organization structure approach to focus instead on the processes of curriculum development, faculty development, and student success in order to become more student-centered, outcome-oriented, and learning-based. Some background and a look at what we have done to date follow.

Strategy and Structure in Universities

Henry Mintzberg characterizes the university as "a professional bureaucracy," noting that organizations can be bureaucratic without being centralized. The key part of this type of organization is its operating core of professionals, highly trained and with considerable authority over their own work activities. The prime mechanism of coordination in a professional bureaucracy is the standardization of skills. Significant parts of the management process are characterized by self-governance and collegial behavior. In universities, the operating core is the faculty, skills are standardized by the requisite terminal degrees, and self-governance is seen in the activities of the faculty senate and the proliferation of university and college committees (Mintzberg, 1983; Hardy and others, 1984).

Even with the considerable autonomy of the operating core, the organization is still also hierarchical. Decision-making authority regarding many vital issues flows downward from a CEO through a chief academic officer to a college dean to a department chair to the faculty. In a traditional hierarchy, each level of management as a class is responsible for the control of lower levels and is charged with making decisions and enforcing them with those lower levels as "commanded" from above. Higher levels in an organizational hierarchy are generally seen as being more concerned with long-range strategic issues, middle levels with more tactical issues, and lower levels with operating issues (Anthony, 1970). Our focus in this paper is on the flow articulation, and study of concepts rather than just the methodologies of business practices. Business educators have tinkered with topics and coverage but have done little to assure relevancy with the current business environment.

The paradigm of the sixties focuses on achieving professional opportunities for students through their "mastery" of a discipline. Mastery involves learning a technique or skill and understanding the contexts within which it is most effective. The typical response to this perceived need is to organize the business school by discipline, so that accounting may be taught by accounting specialists, marketing by marketing specialists, etc. Each discipline becomes an academic department, chaired by an appropriate certified professional specialist. The curriculum of the departments and the school is monitored by a curriculum committee that strives to achieve equity and balance among the departments with course content that is discipline-specific. …