Sad In(deed)

The common comparison to business and education is oil and water as  oil is immiscible in water.  The reality  is much more complex. Business and education are more akin to taking sludge from a landfill, adding it to  water  and wondering why nothing grows.  If the sludge has nothing living in it and can not photosynthesize food, it can not live and grow. Business people lack the understanding of why you need to start with something living and feed it or expect the organism to photosynthesize. What a business person sees is some dirt which they wish to monetize if they could just force it to grow……

A business person will do everything in their power to force the sludge to grow, in spite of every scientist stating it can not happen. Business people hire marketing teams and business development specialists who tell them to ‘plant trees’ and the sludge kills off the forest and then some. The board  will then hire more marketing and business development people (who tell them to plant different trees) and the routine continues as they make money off the planted trees while they stay alive.The problem of the murkiness in the water eludes them. Instead of talking to a scientist, they make up explanations and continue to believe they can sell their idea.

The best marketing, business development and sales teams are those which can help in suspending belief long enough for the business to metaphorically grow and be sold.

Not all businesses in education function this way. It is the indiscriminate use of resources which fails the business idea, not the fact it is related to education.  The resources are misappropriated as a business person can not logistically interact with an educator under any pretense other than money. An educator generally commodifies education as a process, journey, undertaking for life which has no explicit monetary value. In fact, education is seen as its own reward to most educators.

The best example I have of where business and education mixed to make something wonderful: Khan Academy. The dream started so small and became something so large AND the money followed instead of directed what Khan Academy did as an organizations.

My experiences of businesses and education have proven  out. at least twice, they do not work together and in fact, business is toxic to education. In addition, all I have to do is read the news about for profit schools and feel equally nauseated.

I have been involved with organizations who have knowingly done the type of ‘deal’ where they even obtained not for profit status, as if this would some how cleanse the soil, so to speak. Aspire Public Schools, a charter school venture and now Wyzant, an online tutoring site which decided to walk down Wall St. with Accel Partners have both attempted to grow the trees and neither one has a forest worthy of even making toothpicks.

Aspire Public Schools has used taxpayer money and investment money to mis-educate children under a premise they could never demonstrate as advertised/marketed when they began. They have not been able to do anything substantially different from any other public school, including getting kids THROUGH college to graduation. In the case of Aspire Public Schools, what is so insidious is the level at which they have marketed their program to the most dis-enfranchised and have not delivered.  In the case of Wyzant, I have hopes they will catch on to what will be part of their reputation if they do not right the ship.

Both organizations in my example were founded by people with a simple-minded and limited view of education.  In the case of Aspire, almost anyone of any worth ran far and fast from being affiliated with them.  This includes Stanford University and many people, such as myself, who taught at Aspire under what were found to be false pretenses. This involves professors from universities and principals/administrators who were misled.

With Wyzant, it was not until Accel Partners came in and laid down the behavior expected that things became turbid.  There was some degree of transparency and trees were being planted. Accel Partners ruined that by convincing Mike and Drew they could ‘sell out’. What started as something which may have had (I am not sure) some degree of morality, became a system to make a profit off of students and their families.

Wyzant went from allowing anyone access to a variety of tutors at different price points, even those of us who take on students and reduce price in many situations and try to work out a deal, to a system where Wyzant selects tutors who are at lower commission splits unless the consumer is SAVVY enough to do their own computer search and apply to different tutors.  By directing clients to these tutors, the vulnerable students/parents are given what Wyzant has not yet been able to shape or form with sufficient reviews and other metrics. This means in many instances, the student(s) are not getting the ‘best’ possible tutors, rather, they are getting the tutors which are profitable to Wyzant.

At first I thought this situation was unique to me. Then, suddenly, something which had been long brewing – allowing tutors to have access to one another, happened. We began to share our stories and found out we were all experiencing similar issues.

Amazingly, with the openness of the social media (LinkedIn) conversation, not once has Wyzant flinched at this conversation and probably has no intention of doing anything as they are happy to be rid of those of us who obtain too much of their asset pie. The real issue is, those of us who stuck around are the ones with the good reputation, the outstanding work with students and the tutors who are so much more than Kaplan and Mathnasium storefronts, etc.

Once you lose your reputation, it is a challenge to regain it. In the meanwhile, those of us who stick with Wyzant end up carrying the burden of their poor business decisions and some icky moral/ethical baggage.


Rarely, If Ever…….

It is rare to find something (anything) from corporate America (The C-Suite, CEO’s) which could remotely apply to education as education IS NOT A BUSINESS MODEL SINCE STUDENTS ARE NOT WIDGETS.  Even though schools are becoming not for profits (a corporation) in the form of charter schools, they still have not quite made it to an actual corporate ‘touch’ since the charter schools do not actually deliver the product they are attempting to sell (more students, particularly minority, graduating from college with degrees).  Corporations of any type are sucessful when their product succeeds….In the case of education, if we continue to neglect engagement (as Mr. Schwartz defines it in the following article) we might as well just get some robots in the classroom.

However rarely I look, occassionally I stumble on something which actually requires reading and can be applied to education.  I found a piece today in Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz (never heard of him until today – usually a great sign).    The piece I am referring to is What It Takes to Be a Great Employer  from

Take a read, it may make your day to realize some one out in the known universe understands what employment (even in education) should look like, feel like and sound like!

One of the primary definitions of the word “engagement” is “a hostile encounter; a battle.” Another is “a specific, often limited period of employment.”

In the corporate world, however, engagement has come to signify just the opposite: some blend of an employee’s commitment, passion, focus, motivation, morale and job satisfaction.

It’s what every company wants, but few get.

Even in the absence of a fixed definition, more than 100 studies have now demonstrated a strong relationship between employee engagement and organizational performance. For example, a Towers Perrin study conducted in 2007-2008 among 90,000 employees in 18 countries found that companies with the most engaged employees had a 19 percent increase in operating income during the previous year, while those with the lowest levels had a 32 percent decline.

The study also found that only 20 percent of all employees were fully engaged. Forty percent are “enrolled,” meaning capable but not fully committed, and 40 percent were disenchanted and disengaged. That’s consistent with a number of other studies, including Gallup’s.

So what most influences employee engagement?

In our work with several dozen Fortune 500 companies, we’ve come to believe the holy grail is the degree to which employers actively invest in meeting the multidimensional needs of their employees. Above all else, that’s what frees, fuels and inspires people to bring the best of themselves to work every day.

Human beings share four core needs beyond survival: sustainability (physical); security (emotional); self-expression (mental), and significance (spiritual). Amazingly few companies focus on meeting any of these needs.

The primary value most employers offer employees is money. Too often, it’s barely enough to survive. Five million Americans earn the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. For a 40 hour work week, that comes out to $15,080 a year. The poverty line in the U.S. is $22,050 for a family of four.

But even paying employees far higher salaries is no guarantee they’ll be engaged so long as their other needs aren’t met.

Our most basic needs, beyond survival, are in the physical domain. Among the companies with whom we’ve worked, Google does far and away the best job of investing in the health and well-being of their employees. Google provides them terrific food at no cost, fully equipped gyms, low-cost massages, napping pods, and on-site medical care.

How crazy is it that companies are willing to invest in preventative maintenance on fixed assets such as their machinery, but typically won’t make a comparable investment to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of their employees?

The second core need all of us share is to feel emotionally secure — meaning valued, recognized, and appreciated. Less than 40 percent of employees worldwide feel their managers are genuinely interested in their well-being. Only one out of ten employees feel they’re treated as vital corporate assets.

The more our values feel at risk, the more we become preoccupied with defending and restoring them, and the less energy we have left to generate value for our companies.

The vast majority of employers fail to recognize a simple and immutable truth: how people feel at any given moment profoundly influences how they perform.

Think about how you feel when you’re performing at your best. Nearly all the adjectives most of us think of — happy, positive, confident, optimistic — reflect a high quantity and a high quality of energy. Leaders ought to be evaluated, in large part, on the degree to which they evoke those feelings in those they lead.

Our third core need is for self-expression — the opportunity to use our unique skills and talents and to figure out for ourselves how best to get our work accomplished. Instead, most employers tell their employees when to come to work, when to leave, and how they’re expected to work. It’s a parent-child dynamic.

Treated like children, many employees unconsciously adopt the role to which
they’ve been consigned. Feeling disempowered, they lose the confidence and the will to take real initiative or to think independently.

Empower and trust employees to get their work done, and what you’re likely to get back is appreciation, higher motivation and greater commitment. If you’re a leader, why wouldn’t you measure your employees by the value they generate, rather than by the number of hours they work, or how they choose to get it done?

That’s the mission of Cali Ressler and Jody Thomson, the two women who created the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in which employees design their own work days and are evaluated solely on their results. Ressler and Thomson instituted it first at the home office of Best Buy, their own former employer and they’ve since brought it to Gap Outlet, and several other companies with impressive results.

The fourth and final core human need is for significance. Once our survival needs are met, most of us long to feel that what we’re doing truly matters.

Most large companies today have a lofty mission and vision statement, and an equally noble set of core values. But what gets written on a piece of paper counts for very little. What really inspires us are leaders who visibly, palpably, credibly and consistently stand for something beyond profit, and who give us the opportunity to get behind a meaningful mission.

That doesn’t require that a company be in the business of curing cancer or solving global warming (although that certainly helps). Zappos is an example of a company that began with something as prosaic as selling shoes on line. But through a combination of a fierce commitment to great customer service, and to treating its own employees equally well, CEO Tony Hsieh and his team have created a company with a powerful sense of mission and high level of employee passion and loyalty.

Mark these words: The companies that make a paradigm shift from seeking to get more out of their people, to investing instead in meeting their core needs, will build huge competitive advantage in the demanding years ahead.

Dear Jake DeSantis EVP at AIG Financial Products-You can not sanitize the money…..

Dear Jake,

I read your “tenderhearted” resignation letter to Edward M. Liddy with such a snicker and chortle, I had to walk away from the computer to stop the convulsive laughter.

Unlike many people in the American Public who may be reacting to the AIG bonuses on a gut level, I am reacting to them on grounds of moral integrity. Moral integrity can not be bought, sold or sanitized, no matter who you give the money to.  You wrote the shallow resignation letter to ease your mind.

If you have the education from MIT which you claim,

” I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers. ”            and

“So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. ”

is the same type of lament many of us heard when Enron went kaplooey. I didn’t see it coming.

Well, interestingly, as an employee of AIG and apparently with a math/financial and insurance background, YOU and all of your associates who feel “cheated” should have checked AIG books to make sure you could do the job – bonus or not. Do not embarrass MIT by admitting you forgot how to do due diligence on your own behalf. This alone would indicate to me AIG should be glad to be rid of you.

While plumbers and electricians should be paid, they are not “tipped” and bonused unless they complete the job early and even then, this is not always the case. Waitresses are tipped on services performed, which never comes out to the real work done (please read “Nickled and Dimed”). Teachers, of which I am one, are NEVER compensated for all the extra hours we put in to do our job – and, in fact, we regularly deal with budget cuts and ugly things relating to our pay, benefits and retirement (many of us can not collect both our teachers pension and SS dollars if we have worked both in public and private sectors).   Richard Swerdlow Perspective

You and your colleagues are morally bereft. If you really want to make a difference – don’t just donate the “after tax dollars” – they were a bonus…..duh, no one expects you to live on a bonus, that is what a salary is for; donate some of your true earnings and volunteer time in your community (Americorps, Peace Corps, Second Harvest).  Your intended gesture is vacuous  and insulting to all of us who work equally hard for our money and spend countless hours away from family and friends  and does not even deserve the space in the NY Times it was awarded.

I would be embarrassed, not humbled, to write such tripe as I resigned. YOU and your colleagues are owed nothing, any more than teachers or plumbers/electricians for doing your job.  May I suggest getting your resume redone and try Linked In.

Most, if not all Americans find it difficult to feel empathy to anyone crying all the way to the bank.

P.S. By 4:33 PM PST, the NY Times was no longer taking comments, hence, I was not able to add mine.  Here is a “snapshot” of the comments as put forth by NYTimes Editorial Staff.    It seems my opinion is shared by 85%…..