‘YOU LOVE RANKINGS WHEN THEY GO IN YOUR DIRECTION, AND YOU ARE FRUSTRATED WHEN THEY DON’T’
“Nearly all schools have a love-hate relationship with rankings,” says Idalene “Idie” Kesner, dean of the Kelley School. “You love them when they go in your direction, and you are frustrated when they don’t. For a long time, we said that if you do good things, the rankings will follow. “We have woken up to the fact that we need to focus on the rankings in and of themselves. Rankings are a critical part of student decisions as to what school they will go to, and rankings allow a school to reflect on what they do well and areas where they can improve.”
When the school nearly dropped out of the Top 20 in 2010, it was not a complete surprise. Just as the recession tanked the job market, Kelley’s Graduate Career Services group experienced some turnover. “We knew the Class of 2010 felt sideways,” says Powell, “because only 61% of that class had internships. We weren’t prepared for the Great Recession. A lot of our placements are in traditional Fortune 500 companies and they just all pulled back. It created some internal stress. And we had some staff turnover during that summer so students also came back to a lot of new staff. The relationship between career services and the students was quite strained.”
The strain had become apparent a full year before the rankings drop. At an offsite meeting in November of 2009, the school’s career services team conceived of a “boot camp” for incoming MBA students to help them better prepare for their careers. “They knew that fumbles had occurred so the director came to me and said, ‘Phil, we want to regain our standing. We want to do this the right way. Will you support me to put together a cutting-edge, killer curriculum during orientation.”
ME, INC. BECAME A TRULY TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE FOR INCOMING MBAS
The result: Me., Inc., a highly innovative initiative to focus early attention on career management, personal brand building, and personal leadership. A series of small workshops with candid feedback from peers and coaches, Me, Inc., initially ran over four straight days during the second week of MBA orientation in August for incoming students. An important goal was to increase a student’s personal accountability throughout the career management process.
In studying what went wrong with the Class of 2010, Kelley discovered that many students had become disengaged with career services. When students failed to hook up with a job they wanted, some blamed the school for not preparing them well enough for the job search process. “Many international students don’t buy into the idea of an informational interview,” explains Ray Luther, executive director of Kelley’s MBA program. “The epiphany for them is to open up their minds to networking. We really want the students to take a step back to know what they want to do with the MBA. That introspection sets up a more successful job interview because the student can tell his or her story with logic and heart.”
Giving and getting candid and constructive feedback during the Me, Inc. workshops was essential. As Luther says, “It’s about making them better. It’s not about being nice. The business environment is not one where getting nice gets you by all the time. and that is what we are really trying to drive home.”
‘WE’RE BACK IN THE DITCH. YOU’VE GOT TO PULL US OUT’
The first Me Inc. sessions, experienced by the Class of 2012 who would fill out BusinessWeek’s next satisfaction surveys, were a huge hit. When it came time to revise the program for the following year. the school decided to deeply involve in the process the first-year students who had gone through it. The key idea was to create a “crescendo experience” over the full two-week orientation so that each session built upon a lesson from the previous one. “Students were thrilled that we sought out their feedback, worked with them on the new solution and also mandated that every Me, Inc. facilitator have a second year co-facilitator to work with them,” says Luther. “In our opinion, this was a key driver of the 2012 student satisfaction increase.”
Indeed, insuring that students felt co-ownership of the program was a critical part of boosting satisfaction. When Powell met with then Dean Dan Smith after the rankings plunge, Smith noted that all of the dissatisfaction evolved around career services. Smith had gotten the school through an earlier rankings fall in 1998 when Kelley dropped to 21st on BusinessWeek’s list, well below its best showing of seventh in 1994.
“‘Damn it, Phil, we are back in the ditch,’” Powell recalls Smith telling him. “You’ve got to pull us out. We have got to emphasize a sense of co-ownership of the program with students. They need to be our co-pilots in this. They have to feel it, and you need to make that happen. If you drop out of the Top 20, you never come back.’”