What If Businesses Were Run Like Schools?

Just under a year ago I wrote a post called Run Schools Like Businesses? Absolutely!

That post drew more comments than any post I’ve written. Today two more comments came in and they are so on-point that they deserve a post of their own. Here they are:

  1. Mike Jacobson says:

    To all of those experts out there:

    wholesale
    Image by TheTruthAbout via Flickr

    The business world is always trying to hold the world of education to their standards. As educators we believe that it is time to hold businesses to the same standards that we are responsible for upholding.

    So from this moment on, this is what we expect from the business world! We would like your business to be held accountable for the success of other businesses that purchase your product.

    When you are selling your product to other businesses we demand that you are accommodating the needs of your customers so that you can meet the demands that each of your customers have. We would like you to design your sales presentations to fit the needs of nonreaders, visual buyers, auditory buyers, kinesthetic buyers, deaf people, blind people, people in wheel chairs, people with all physical and mental handicaps, people that speak every other language other than English.

    A postcard with the public domain

    Image via Wikipedia

    We would like to base your pay and your compensation on how successful the people that use your product are! It is your job to prove your success with real sales data and numbers.

    We would like you to find a way to sell your product to all customers regardless of their income, their intelligence, and how successful they are in using your product. And we are mandating that you must do this for all of the above mentioned people and make it against the law if you do not fulfill these conditions.

    We would also like to hold you accountable for selling your product to people that have no use for your product, and that have told you right up front that they have no use for your product. And we mandate that you must make up your sales presentation to all customers that do not show up to your sales meeting regardless of the excuse such as family emergencies, personal health issues, or any other reason even including that they just didn’t feel like it!

    We demand that you must try to sell your product to other companies even if the boss of their company thinks that you are a complete joke and have no value to anyone! We also demand that you try to sell your product to customers that have unrealistic expectations as to how your product should work or actually does work.

    We demand that you must consider the input of your customers even if they tell you how to run your company and you know their ideas are bad ideas!

    We demand that you have no choice who you can sell your product to.

    We say that it will be OK if the public distorts the truth about how your company works and that it is OK to put these distortions all over the media in anyway that the public chooses and they may release these opinions for every one to see. There shall be no connection to reality when it comes to spreading opinions and it should make no difference how inaccurate these opinions are because that is the freedom of speech and it is exactly what our forefathers would have wanted!

    If someone with no knowledge of how your product actually works or is produced, you must let their opinion take priority over what you know as an expert on your product even if you have been building and selling your product for more than 20 years!

    Customer Lifecycle
    Image by davemc500hats via Flickr

    We demand that you must try to sell your product to customers that are not even having their basic needs met. You must try to sell your product to starving people, people with no shelter, and to people living in horrific living conditions. We demand that you sell your product to people that are abusive, that are criminals, that could care less about anything but drugs and alcohol!

    Your performance rating on all of the above conditions will depend on how you well you meet all of the above stated conditions! And lastly your pay will be determined by your success! In addition, any additional costs that may be incurred meeting these conditions shall not be reimbursed, you must take it out of the company budget!

    This is the world as an educator sees it and maybe people would have compassion for educators if they could see the world through the eyes of a teacher!

    A concerned teacher in 2011!

  2. Deb White Groebner says:

    WOW. Mike Jacobson, you did an excellent job of putting this issue into perspective. Thank you!

    What about adding “Your business is expected to increase the number of products and their performance to 100% proficiency after having the company’s funding resources slashed by 20% or more. If you are not able to do so in a given year, no matter what the circumstances, you will be punished by having more resources taken away until you are able to meet the standards of a distant oversight group that has only read about your business and has little, if any, experience with your product. At no time will you be permitted to turn a profit.”

    Another teacher

    Anyone else?
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7 Responses to What If Businesses Were Run Like Schools?

  1. Michael G. says:

    Some wonderful idea there. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hooray! This should be required reading for administrators and all of those business jerks who peddle their cure for education with marketing terminology like a student is a product….hey, think of your product as a student! That’s pretty cool.

  3. Doug Winship says:

    Analogies are powerful tools, and this is a well-crafted one. While never exactly congruent to the situation being discussed, you can find a lot of truth in analogies. But I think that many business-oriented thinkers would happily adopt this one as actually supporting their point, with a single (entirely germane) addition.

    The facts are that Business does market its products to “sales presentations to fit the needs of nonreaders, visual buyers, auditory buyers, kinesthetic buyers, deaf people, blind people, people in wheel chairs, people with all physical and mental handicaps, (and) people that speak every other language other than English.”
    True, no individual business does this (for the most part). But business employs a mechanism called “The Market”, wherein different businesses differentiate themselves to serve the different needs of customers. Also, large businesses differentiate product lines to different market segments. Competition both demands and enables this.

    The business world does base its “pay and … compensation on how successful the people that use (its) product are!” Business may base micro-compensation in the short term on immediate sales figures, but in the long haul, businesses whose products do not contribute to, or even hinder, the success of their customers will be consigned to the ash heap of history, and their employees made available to the labor pool. This is the Creative Destruction of the Market.

    “We demand that you must try to sell your product to other companies even if the boss of their company thinks that you are a complete joke and have no value to anyone! We also demand that you try to sell your product to customers that have unrealistic expectations as to how your product should work or actually does work.” Any moderately experienced salesperson will laugh bitterly when reading this, that you should think that this is not already his lot in life.

    “We demand that you have no choice who you can sell your product to.” True, to a point. In almost every case, the market provides here as well. Most businesses will sell to the worst customers, being in fear of that Creative Destruction. But even when they make a business, or even a healthy emotional decision, to withhold services from the most serious of puddknockers, others will usually step in. The market also, in this circumstance, often places forces on the customer to improve his or her ways as well.

    The last point also already quite firmly applies to the business world, in that “any additional costs that may be incurred meeting these conditions shall not be reimbursed, (but) must take it out of the company budget!” On an individual level, the myth of infinitely flexible expense accounts is just that. Business, and trade, and professional people routinely make significant expenditures on their own for the tools of their trade and on behalf of their customers that are not reimbursed by either employer or customer. And businesses themselves always make decisions about incurring non-recoverable expenses in the pursuit of their larger business goals.

    I didn’t hit every point you make, but it is enough to make the point of how the business community does most everything you perceive yourselves as attempting, and finding impossible. And generally the business community does it happily. The common mechanism to all my points is The Market. Business fails in these things when it slips into monopoly. Our educational system insulates itself as much as possible from competition, both between institutions and between individual educators. The success of such efforts is exactly what makes the demands you outline in your analogy seem so Sisyphean. Worse, they deny the customer the benefits (and occasional disciplines) of that same market.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Doug.

      You say: The facts are that Business does market its products to “sales presentations to fit the needs of nonreaders, visual buyers, auditory buyers, kinesthetic buyers, deaf people, blind people, people in wheel chairs, people with all physical and mental handicaps, (and) people that speak every other language other than English.”
      True, no individual business does this (for the most part).

      But schools and individual teachers are required to do this. We don’t have the option of selectively marketing to discrete micro-markets.

      You say: The business world does base its “pay and … compensation on how successful the people that use (its) product are!” Business may base micro-compensation in the short term on immediate sales figures, but in the long haul, businesses whose products do not contribute to, or even hinder, the success of their customers will be consigned to the ash heap of history, and their employees made available to the labor pool. This is the Creative Destruction of the Market.

      You have a lot of courage to make this argument in light of continued multi-million dollar bonus payments to the people who engineered the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and the continued maintenance of a pay system that encourages the exact same employee behaviors that caused the problem in the first place. While you are correct that in the long-term the market self-corrects for that behavior, it does so at great cost to people who neither are able to control nor benefit from those behaviors.

      You say: “We demand that you must try to sell your product to other companies even if the boss of their company thinks that you are a complete joke and have no value to anyone! We also demand that you try to sell your product to customers that have unrealistic expectations as to how your product should work or actually does work.” Any moderately experienced salesperson will laugh bitterly when reading this, that you should think that this is not already his lot in life.

      While it is true that all salespeople have a very difficult job and often must try to sell to people who have unrealistic expectations, smart salespeople concentrate their efforts on potential customers who are more likely to buy and limit the effort they put into selling to the most unlikely buyers. Teachers are in the diametrically opposite position. We are required to put our greatest effort into “selling” to the students least likely to buy-in to the system or the lesson. No salesperson is required to put equal effort into selling to every person who walks in the door.

      You say: “We demand that you have no choice who you can sell your product to.” True, to a point. In almost every case, the market provides here as well. Most businesses will sell to the worst customers, being in fear of that Creative Destruction. But even when they make a business, or even a healthy emotional decision, to withhold services from the most serious of puddknockers, others will usually step in. The market also, in this circumstance, often places forces on the customer to improve his or her ways as well.

      This is your weakest argument. Successful businesses do not try to be all things to all people; trying to do so is almost a guarantee of failure. Smart businesspeople go through alternating cycles of broadening their marketing effort to test the market and narrowing their marketing to focus on their most likely customers or most profitable markets. Doing anything else would be highly inefficient and would lead either to wasted money and time trying to craft products and sales pitches too broadly, a very expensive process, or having too few products aimed at too limited a market, an unsustainable effort. Competition in business is what allows both high-end high-quality and low-end low-quality products aimed at different market segments. Do we really want an education system with high-quality and low-quality providers aimed at different market segments? Some would say that that is precisely what we have now. If so, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be changing?

      The fact is, there is a competitive education marketplace and always has been. There have always been private schools, parochial schools, trade-specific schools and other competitors in the education marketplace. There has also been a strong, free public school system that guarantees that anyone can get the opportunity to be taught. I do not know of any business required to provide product or service to everyone just because they demand it, much less do it for free.

      This does not address at all the questionable argument for competition in your last paragraph. Competition is neither evil nor a panacea. There are times when it is an efficient process for stimulating innovation, differentiating marketing efforts or segmenting the potential customer base. But there are times when collaboration is better and any executive worth his or her salt understands that the two processes must be balanced within a company and within an industry.

      I have never run a large business but I spend twenty years running restaurants and learned that lesson first hand. I needed my kitchen staff to collaborate with each other and with the service staff to produce excellent products and a first-class customer experience despite our relatively low prices. At the same time, we were all aware that we needed to have this collaborative process because we were competing with hundreds of other nearby restaurants, not to mention with home-cooked meals. If my employees were in competition with each other my customers would have suffered and my business would have failed. The same is true in every other business whether they realize it or not.

      But the bottom line is that public schools are not businesses and businesses are not public schools. Our reasons for existence are very different and it is that difference that makes the notion that either one should be run like the other so wrong.

  4. Doug Winship says:

    Deven,
    I think we generally agree on a lot of the facts and mechanisms, if not the possibilities. It’s why I read your blog, as I look for thoughtful arguments that don’t always match mine.
    My conclusion, which I deliberately didn’t include in my comment because hitting people with conclusions usually shuts down creative discussion (See: The entire INTERNET), is that our whole model of public education needs to be reconsidered. The things that we require of our educators are unrealistic and/or unwise, and a few of the things that we grant them are likewise.
    I come from a family, past and present of both business people and public educators. I went to both public and private schools and universities. My sympathies and affection are pretty strongly with educators, but it’s a tough love.
    As to my point that we agree on how things ARE, but have different frames of reference as to how they could BE, here’s one or two more thoughts to clutter your comments section.
    You continually make the point that teachers are required to teach in certain ways. The way this is usually described by critics as, “aiming for the lowest common denominator.” You don’t have marketing options. True. My point is that you should.
    You ask, “Do we really want an education system with high-quality and low-quality providers aimed at different market segments? Some would say that that is precisely what we have now. If so, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be changing?” While that is not exactly what I was saying, I actually agree with the premise.
    My point was that we need schools who target students with different needs. Your question, that we should have different options for those with different abilities and resources, however is also what is needed. Do we have only one kind of car, because many could only afford that? Do we only publish mass-market paperbacks? Do we only sell Kraft macaroni in the pasta aisle?
    Yes, accepting a stratification in the quality of educational offerings would mean just that, a stratification. But stratification, when accompanied by competition, is the only way history shows that you can improve the quality of life for the lowest strata. Innovation driven by the top (and the much more important middle) leads to improvements in the product delivered to all levels. The bottom as a whole never catches up to the top (as individuals, they have a much better chance than in other systems). Life isn’t always completely fair, nor even in outcome. While we continue to try to make it so, we will remain mired in the horrible mess you and I both know our system is today-a system that does an increasingly poor job of serving the very bottom strata (economic and/or ability) that it is structured to “protect”.

    (Heh. I find myself doing a lot more proofing of what I write on a teacher’s site than I usually do….)

    • Deven Black says:

      I agree that our whole model of public education needs to be radically altered if we want the outcomes produced by that system to change. The fact is, the system as it exists today is doing exactly what it was designed to do. The system was created to produce different strata of people at the end of their school experience. Some were taught to take their place in the top echelons of society while most of the rest were taught how to be good, obedient factory workers. The school system is still doing that even though the factory jobs have left town, most likely permanently.

      Because the paradigms of the job market have changed, education needs to change. Our economy is radically different than it was fifty years ago when I was in second grade and it is preposterous that, except for some tinkering around the edges and more content crowded in, second graders today are taught in much the same way today. The methods we use, and the values they teach, are not consistent with the outcomes we say we want, the outcomes society needs and the outcomes of greatest benefit to the greatest number of individual students.

      The problem with having schools that target students with different needs is that it has a great danger of leading to what are, or will be perceived as, discriminatory practices. Who will determine what a particular student’s needs are, and how? Will all schools that might meet a particular student’s need be available to all students who have that need? Are students so simplistic that their needs can be identified, isolated and addressed? Should we be focusing on needs and deficits at all or should we be focusing on strengths and abilities instead?

      Rather than address the hard questions of what we want our society to be, how we want it to function and what our values actually are, educators and reformers alike pretend those questions don’t exist and tinker with minor changes or distinctions between schools when what may be needed is a major reformation of what school looks like, how it functions and whether or not we require so much of it.

      Hmmm. Perhaps businesses should be addressing those questions, too.

  5. Stevie Ray Charles says:

    Guys I love reading this stuff, but I gotta say a coupla things, and unlike Doug, I really don’t proofread. Blast away at that comment if you like.

    What I’d like to say is simply this, School is like Business more than it is unlike it, and visa-versa. This is why both systems fail and they fail regularly, more than they see any success.
    I think Schools, both Public and Private, like Biz and Corporations are morally bankrupt, and always following a bottom line. And basically Schools, like Biz serve one public base, people with money. If you got no jack you won’t be learning jack in this country. Likewise, if you ain’t got no dough you can’t buy what the biz is selling. And there’s no romance without finance either.
    I think that most of the important questions are never asked and that’s because it gets in the way of whatever profits are being generated for the fattest cat in any given pool, weather it’s a CEO or a board admin with contracts to hand out, usually for bad food in the schools. Like Mickey D’s will sell you all the crap you can possibly stuff in your mouth that is no good for you. Many School Administrators and Teachers, having the thrill of altruism shaken from their weary bones long ago, are simply making what little they can, or trying to hang onto their positions, doing a job that is no longer a passion for them. Just like the eroding ethics of many many biz folks I’ve watched lose their moral compass along the way. I will say also that I think if teachers were compensated like the captains of industry, heh, heh, I have no doubt we would have the best education system in the world. I’d remind everyone here that Biz also has no need or want of an educational system that produces too many intellectuals, or creative thinkers.
    As it is we currently have what we have in Biz, what we have in Schools; people at the top economically and intellectually under-served or overcharged, and people at the bottom radically under-served, if they are visible at all. I think both systems need to embrace the one edge America has always had, which is our creativity and individuality as unique Americans. I think School ‘think’ as well as Corporate ‘think’ currently kills both of these things in people as they are dragged through each system, and it kills them with both barrels blazing. That is what must change. See John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”

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