Learning Curve Leaders

It's a common conceit among business executives and others who labor in the workaday world that they could teach a thing or two to those who run our institutions of higher education. And as a corollary, there is a widespread belief that little can be gained from studying how universities go about their jobs.

It's true that in the application of quality, colleges are relative neophytes, still struggling to translate concepts such as customer satisfaction, performance metrics and results orientation to their specific situations. But anyone who cares about quality and thinks it's OK to ignore what is happening on campus is mistaken.

Robert C. Allen, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains why in a recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Quoting Peter Drucker and others, Allen suggests that the university offers a glimpse of the future for corporate organizational planners.

Universities may turn out to be "models of information age organizational culture," Allen writes. That's because for centuries universities have made the development and dissemination of knowledge and information a core competency, something that corporations are just recognizing as key to their survival.

Educational institutions are far ahead on the learning curve of the knowledge revolution and have extensive experience in using the flat structures, cooperative work modes and consensus decision making mechanisms that are becoming standard in the corporate sector. That's not to say that universities have an easy time adopting quality methods--far from it.

But looking at quality on campus, as we do in this issue, is worthwhile. The struggles that academics face in implementing quality are struggles other quality professionals will face as their organizations evolve to deal with the demands of the information age and the difficulties of managing knowledge as a strategic asset.

Calling Six Sigma, Career Contributors

Quality Progress will be revamping two departments, "Frontiers of Quality" and "Career Corner." In both cases we are looking for quality professionals who would participate on a panel of contributors and write columns on a rotating basis.

Additional contributors are needed for "Career Corner" because we would like it to appear each month. In the case of "Frontiers of Quality," our current author,  Mikel Harry, has informed us that he is no longer able to contribute on a regular basis.

If you are interested or would like more information, please contact me at mmaguire@asq.org.

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  Miles Maguire

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