ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - June 2002


Peter Block is author of the best selling books, The Empowered Manager, Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion, The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting On What Matters and Freedom, and Accountability at Work: Applying Philosophic Insight to the Real World with Peter Koestenbaum. Peter Block can be reached at

  One From Column B                                                                         Peter Block

 In This Issue...
High Impact Consulting— Getting Real Results

The Courage to Face Your Fears

The Secret to Profitable Customer Relations

The Art of Communication

Got an Attitude?

Peter Block Column


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When the Business of Business is School

In April 2002, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission on Education decided to privatize a group of public schools in the city of Philadelphia. This is simply a recent example of the movement to transfer the work of the public sector into the world of profit. One of the leading for-profit ventures is the Edison Project, a business created to prove that the private sector can run primary and secondary schools more effectively than the public school system.

On the day these public schools in Philadelphia were being turned over to private business, a memo from a sixth-grade student in an existing for-profit school mysteriously arrived on my desk. This memo from a 12-year-old student might be a sign of things to come.

Interoffice Correspondence #72939

To: Top management leadership team

From: Sharon Wilkes, sixth-grade student, AOL Time Warner School #443

This memo serves as partial fulfillment of my accountability contract with the sixth-grade leadership team.

Executive Summary
Knowing how busy the leadership team is, the following executive summary of accomplishments in each area of study is respectfully offered. This report is also available on PowerPoint.

+ History: I have learned the history and succession of presidents of four leading U.S. corporations. Special emphasis has been given to ExxonMobil and its legacy as one of the successors to the original Standard Oil Company. For your information, the first four presidents of this company were: John D. Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller Jr., John D. Rockefeller III, and John D. Rockefeller IV.

My research on this company shows that the current leadership has managed to restore the fine tradition of industry domination originated by the Rockefeller family. The Exxon and Mobil merger has been a major step in putting back together a good portion of what the early 20th century antitrust laws tore apart.

+ Math: Our math project is to develop a business plan for a new product launch in the candy sector of the food and entertainment industry. I have completed my study of the gross margin on six leading candy brands, all calculated with an eye toward assessing product profitability. The business plan includes estimates of market share, competitive price analysis, and geographic early adoption statistics for this sector.

+ Social Studies: Market testing of a new video game entitled, “You Gonna Die, Sucker” has been completed. The product tested highest for 12-year-old white males living in idyllic suburban surroundings. Focus group interviews were completed, blind tests were conducted, and
the demographics for high-violence videos are included in the attachment. This video looks like something big.

+ Science: We have begun research to demonstrate that the environmental damage caused by dying mollusks on the Delaware River wetlands is a greater hazard to local air quality than the combined emissions from motor boat traffic and Coleman outdoor cooking stoves manufactured after 1998.

+ Geography: We no longer spend time studying the major crops and exports of countries in the Western Hemisphere, but have joined the “Globalization Learning Project.” Our current effort is to survey labor costs, environmental regulations, and tax concessions in Latin and Central America with an eye to finding the most advantageous locations for offshore manufacturing. We have identified three regions in Paraguay that offer interesting potential. In analyzing these regions, we include in our assessment that the current dictatorship should provide a stable political environment to warrant a major investment.

+ Language: Since “spell check” eliminated the need to learn to spell, our focus is now in two areas: acronyms and instant messaging. We are conversant in financial terms such as EBIT, ROI, DCF, and plan to move into telecommunication acronyms next. We each have an SN and now speak IM, increasing our efficiency. Our first vocabulary lesson was: wasup, g2g, u, r, bbl, brb, lol, and hihi.

+ Performance Management: Our class has developed a plan for students who are underperforming and not living according to the corporation’s stated vision and values. We have developed a six-month program to deal with the dead wood in our classroom and hope that this will serve as a model for other classes. This program includes probation, special training, 360-degree assessments, and, if needed, an outplacement process to return these students to the public schools. Our early estimates are that 35% of the students may fall in this category.

For those of us who are high achievers in the system, we look forward to the day when the lack of skills and motivation of the lower performing members of the class will not impede our learning.

+ Art and Music: Last year the leadership team determined that learning art and music does not fit with the long-term strategic objective of the school. This decision was based on a study that showed only 1% of all students who graduate college with art and music degrees ever actually make a living in their field. Given this fact, investing in art and music does not provide the leverage that can compete with other curricula. As a result, those interested in art and music have been encouraged to study the entertainment industry as part of their social studies and math portfolios.

+ Technology: It has taken a while to get used to having a teacher in the classroom only part time and to take full advantage of self-managed instruction. I have adjusted to the self-paced nature of the learning, and being able to learn while watching television has been nicely distracting. The commercial breaks are certainly more under control than in the beginning. I look forward to increasing use of technology as a way of automating all aspects of my learning. It is certainly breaking down my dependency on a teacher and speeding my maturation process.

Career Direction: As part of the career counseling I have been receiving, my life goals are coming more into focus. My goals have been significantly informed by my behavioral strengths as indicated by my scores on the “strength employment inventory” which each student is required to take.

My life goal is: To become a second-level supervisor in a market-leading cleaning and hospitality services firm operating in the northeast United States.

This career would seem to best capitalize on my obsessive need for cleanliness and my love of nice hotel rooms.

As a result of this career path decision, I plan to specialize in the seventh grade on the services sector of the economy. As a result of my focus and my school performance, I have already been offered a summer internship at a Red Roof Inn. While the work may be less than challenging, it should indicate on my resume that I am willing to work hard for little or no economic or intrinsic rewards. My career counselor and the Red Roof student liaison officer indicated that this kind of beginning would put me in a competitive position at the end of high school when I seek a work co-op program in what could be a difficult economic environment.

Recognition: I would like to thank the leadership team for nominating me for membership in the President’s Club. This award is given to the top 10% of the class as recognition not only for above average academic performance, but also for the willingness to put in long hours after school and on weekends in support of the overall goals of the institution. In my case I was particularly commended for taking personal responsibility for keeping the locker rooms and teachers lounge clean and attractive.

Receiving this honor has given me the motivation and drive to excel for the next few years. Also, I really enjoyed the fine meal at the recognition luncheon held at Mickey Rooney’s Downingtown Inn in the beautiful and affordable Pocono Mountains, a short 60-minute drive from the school.

I can only hope that the leadership team will continue to find me worthy of such an honor and will always know that I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to attend AOL Time Warner School #443.

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