by Curt ReimannWhen the Mayberry Chair of Excellence (MCE) was launched, those involved set four Key Themes to help guide the MCE agenda. These Key Themes were presented in the inaugural Mayberry Newsletter (1998), along with MCE purposes and other information. The Key Themes are:
- Connections between strategy, operations, and assessment;
- How organizations manage and reconcile control, improvement, learning, and innovation;
- Evolution of performance excellence concepts; and
- State and regional competitiveness.
Over the years, MCE participants, Board members, and invited speakers have worked with students, faculty, TTU leaders and units, and Tennessee organizations to develop these Themes and to describe real-life applications. All editions of the Mayberry Newsletter have addressed some aspects of the above Themes. To remain “in touch” with developments in business and business-related services, however, it is helpful to periodically revisit guiding principles and directions.
Of central importance to MCE work is the choice of overall performance excellence, rather than quality, as its focus. This choice was made not because quality had become less important, but because quality is merely one performance dimension—always important but increasingly critical to understand in its fullest context. From a business education point of view, this means that “performance” encompasses and relates all business disciplines—something that quality often does not. For example, all organizations’ management systems need to integrate all requirements such as cost, speed, innovation, as well as quality. One concern often expressed is that strategy and other capstone educational experiences usually do not address overall performance and integration of business disciplines.
The focus on overall performance and the choice of Key Themes remain both relevant and important. Each Theme area has continuing challenges, and is being shaped in important ways—although more in the marketplace than in business schools— a point that was emphasized in the 2001 Mayberry Newsletter. Many of the new challenges arise as “non-business” organizations—health care, education, government, and non-profits—are under pressure to become more business-like. (This is good news for business students who now have a wider choice of careers.) Many of the organizations now beginning to adopt and adapt performance management systems need to accommodate to the “sea changes” affecting them—the shift from focus on resources and outputs to focus on outcomes, linked to input costs (benefit/cost ratios). Just as in applications to business, leaders need to be wary of “one size fits all” prescriptions.
An important development in connection with the Key Themes and organizational diverseness is the use of an Organizational Profile—created to support the National and State Awards’ understanding of differences among applicants. My colleagues at TTU (R.N. and B.B.) are using the Organizational Profile in a creative way—to help students gain perspective on companies they study and assist. Its key strength is that it supports “discovery learning” for students and business leaders, making them more aware of the need to understand organizational characteristics and critical success factors, before embarking on business improvement initiatives. The use of the Organizational Profile should help students to integrate the education they received in “disciplinary doses”—and thus provide a useful capstone experience.
The Theme posing the greatest challenges to understanding and development is State and Regional Competitiveness. Over the past two decades analysts have emphasized the need for regional focus in economic development. Across the U.S., initiatives are very varied—business attraction via incentives, technology parks, incubators, business-support services, workforce development, and others. There is increasing awareness of the need for integration of efforts and the importance of quality of life factors and strong educational support services. Economic development is still an “inexact science.” Success depends upon aligning many organizations—often ones with very different missions, priorities, and traditions. For many of the economic development organizations and networks, strategic planning and performance management prove very difficult. There are numerous choices possible, a need for many partnerships and affiliations, and often great difficulty in defining metrics that authentically reflect outcomes. In any case, it is impossible to imagine continuing vitality of economic development initiatives, without a strong and well-connected educational infrastructure.
TTU and its College of Business Administration contribute to a variety of economic development support activities. Some of these have involved the MCE. The most significant current effort involves a partnership with the TTU School for Interdisciplinary Studies and Extended Education (ISEE). Through its many partnerships and networks spanning a 35-county area, ISEE brings added responsiveness and flexibility to the infrastructure, tailoring offerings to local needs. Business education as well as executive and leadership development are critical to the vitality of regional economic development. In its work with ISEE, the MCE will attempt to adapt performance management principles, beginning with strategic planning, partnership relations, and development of key processes.