“Corporate!” “Profit!” “Business!” These can be despised (or at least disliked) words in higher education circles. After all, we’re not all about the almighty dollar. We don’t step on the little guy to profiteer. We’re noble. We’re mission-driven. Right …? RIGHT?
In truth, being in the private sector doesn’t mean one is automatically a heartless corporate raider focused on personal and shareholder gains. In truth, many companies seek to honestly serve clients and others, with profit being one of several motivations. Your humble authors have sat on both sides of the for-profit / not-for-profit fence. We have found that many of the practices of for-profit organizations can provide valuable lessons to not-for-profit brethren. Below are several examples of these lessons, some operational, some structural and some cultural.
1. Not for profit is a tax designation, not a management strategy.
We’ve all heard the adage “No margin, no mission,” and higher education is not immune. In order to invest in our faculty, students, staff, programs, buildings (you get the picture), we must be good stewards of our financial resources.
This means bringing rigor to financial decision-making at all levels of the organization, with a business discipline as the guiding principle for choosing how to spend our time and money. No university has yet invented the money tree—be sure to protect and invest your institution’s resources wisely.
2. Yes, you do have customers.
Lots of them! Students, faculty, parents, employers, the community … the list goes on. And in a world of essentially instantaneous awareness and feedback, it’s even more critical that you are mindful of all of your stakeholders, both inside and outside the institution. This includes an awareness of each constituent’s motivations, expectations and communication styles. Understand them, work to meet their needs, and talk with them … often.
3. Be careful what you incent people to do.
The incentive systems in higher education are … um, different … than most other sectors (ahem, tenure). But that doesn’t mean you can’t align expectations with behaviors. Align incentives and rewards with expected results. Cultural norms that include clear expectations and outcomes for each employee are critical to success. Equally critical are the mechanisms by which an institution manages those who are noncompliant.
4. Who’s propping you up?
Every organization succeeds as a result of… (continue reading)