Managing the Student Experience

Managing the Student Experience

Kate Groeneveld (@funsizek80) asked me to blog about ways administration can adjust operations to be an example of a customer-oriented business. @funsizek80 goes on to note that she is not referring to the College of Business Administration (COBA), but other departments because we do such a good job.

Thanks @funsizek80. The credit for our success goes to Dr. Taylor Ellis and the many people who work with him in IT, advising, career connections, and the various departments of the college. Richard, Lonny, Lynn, Bob and their staffs work tirelessly to run an effective, efficient and responsive organization in an environment where they sometimes have to tell students things they don’t really want to hear.

I don’t know enough about operations elsewhere on campus to provide administration with specific suggestions on how to improve any unit’s performance. That said, I can offer a few general observations about how we try to do it in COBA that may help others.

It may surprise you to learn that we do not view students as customers. We view them as clients. The important distinction is that while “the customer is always right,” we are in the business of providing people with our professional judgment about what is best for them in an environment that sets standards for client performance. Sometimes this is not what our clients want to hear, but it is our responsibility to apply our judgment in an manner that underscores our respect for our students as well as our duty to other stakeholders.

For the most part, improving front-line operations is not conceptually difficult. The technology and techniques for accomplishing business process responsiveness and effectiveness are fairly well-known. The problem is that this is one of those areas where culture trumps strategy and technology. If you don’t have the culture right–the strategy and operational details don’t mean much. People who are unclear about the goals, about “who is working for who,” and what behaviors are required of everyone aren’t going to perform well even when the technology and technical elements of the task are well understood.

So, it is extremely important that management do a good job of setting peoples’ expectations about what will happen when they interact with the organization. In essence, you have to tell people what they can expect and then deliver on that promise. If you break that promise, you are in a worse situation than if you had never promised anything at all. We co-create educational experiences with our students so both students and employees must be clear on their responsibilities and expectations.

I would like to think that we do a good job in COBA because we constantly explain to people the kind of student experience we wish to create and how their actions contribute to the culture we wish to foster in the college. In an organization that is rightly faculty-driven, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the key role professional and administrative staff play in shaping students’ perceptions of their college experiences. The fact is that many students have many meaningful interactions outside the classroom with advisors, receptionists, administrative assistants, counselors, career coaches, etc. If administration only focuses on what goes on in the classroom, they are missing a great deal. Since the day I walked in the door, I have preached the importance of engaging with students, getting people out of their comfort zones and collaborating to get stuff done. Everybody is expected to do this: students, faculty, staff and especially me.

The bottom line is this: if you focus on the total student experience, get a strong concept of what this should be and clearly communicate to the people who are responsible for implementing this vision their role in fostering the right environment, you are 80 percent of the way home. The remaining 20 percent is about managing everyone’s performance. Holding people accountable can be hard, but if you don’t do it, the culture will crumble, promises will be broken and none of the technology and process re-engineering matters much.

Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on July 15, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley