What higher education can learn from the business world: Takeaways from Showcase 2022

OBE Managing Director John Garnetti joined fellow business professionals at the UW–Madison Office of Strategic Consulting Showcase 2022 to discuss the differences—and some surprising similarities—between working in a corporate setting and higher education.

The online session, titled Adapting Corporate Best Practices for Use in Higher Education, was moderated by Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Office of Strategic Consulting Director Jenny Faust, and featured Garnetti alongside Paul Hevesy, Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness at Stanley Black & Decker, and Mary Graft, Business Process Analyst at Arizona State University’s Organizational Performance Office.

The three provided takeaways from their experience working at for-profit businesses, from hosting more efficient meetings to the increasingly important workplace culture, and how certain corporate strategies can be implemented at universities.

Meetings should be efficient and actionable

Meetings took on a new meaning when the pandemic hit in 2020. Virtual meetings quickly became the way someone “showed up” for work each day. Hevesy advocates for a strategy he implemented at Stanley Black & Decker: Reducing 60-minute meetings to 45 minutes, and trimming off five minutes from a typical 30-minute meeting to encourage people to focus on the most practical parts of a meeting.

Garnetti agreed and added that each meeting should end with an actionable outcome with goals and clear objectives.

“Great discussion and activities do not equal outcomes. Find a strategy to develop smart goals, and build a team to work toward those realistic goals around that strategy,” he said.

An office organizational structure is only as good as its culture

Organizational structures are not unique to corporations or universities, in fact, they have more in common than most may realize. During the panel, Graft noted that each department within a university is like a unique business unit, and like a business, each department should have its own playbook.

“Everybody in the department needs to be clear about its mission and vision, core values and goals,” she said.

Organizations, whether a Fortune 100 company or a unit at a Big 10 university, come in all different shapes and sizes, they run in different ways, and there’s no one “right” structure, Garnetti noted. It comes down to the culture of the organization and building a playbook that fits in with that culture.

Get to know those who work above you and below you

Establishing and growing relationships is a key part of career-building, regardless of the industry, and the “1:1” helps with that. Setting aside regular meeting time between supervisor and employee gives the employee a chance to discuss job-related opportunities and challenges, and receive direct support and feedback from their supervisor.

“My advice is to listen,” Garnetti said about relationship-building, particularly when you’re in a leadership role “Your team knows what’s wrong with the organization or they have an opinion on it. Be open minded. Process that information and try to implement small quick wins that are so meaningful and effective for building morale.”

Graft also suggested implementing skip-level meetings, or conversations that take place between an employee and their manager’s manager. These short, even infrequent meetings can help everyone keep a finger on the pulse of the organization and make incremental changes where needed.