How to Manage Your Boss

Last Tuesday was Renee Giron day in the College. It was her last day. Renee was leaving us to enter the real world.  We celebrated because she has been a big part of us for a while as an accounting student, ambassador, lead ambassador, and TA for our professional development courses.  She is tiny, witty, succinct, geeky and a little annoying.  She also has a short attention span.  This blog post needs to be brief or she won’t read it.

But most of all Renee is the master at managing up.  When you meet her, she quickly tells you her rules of engagement. She speaks in short sentences with few words meant to clarify those rules.  If you follow her rules, she always delivers for you. She gives advice when she thinks you are about to do something stupid, then obeys if her argument doesn’t carry the day (reserving the right to tell you “I told you so”, later).  She has her bosses back and knows how to talk him off a cliff when he’s stressed.  The result is mutual respect and loyalty.

Well done Renee.  I wrote this down just in case you didn’t leave instructions for the new person.  Feel free to add in a few tips.  Charge On woman and improve your diet.  All those hash browns can’t be good for you.


My reappointment as dean for another five years was announced last week.  The review process was very gratifying.  A lot of people said a lot of nice things.  I’m pleased that my team has done so much to nourish the soul of the College and improve the experience for our students, staff and faculty.  It’s also fun to work with so many smart, accomplished and dedicated people willing to take risks.

While the formal review process brought a lot of affirmation, the best sign of our success in my mind comes through exchanges like the one I had Saturday at the movie theater in Waterford Lakes.  As I approached the snack bar, the young man behind the counter looked up hesitantly and said: “You’re the dean of the College of Business aren’t you?”  I confirmed who I was and asked him about his major and whether he was taking classes this summer.  Turns out I was meeting  a management major enrolled in six credit hours during summer B.  As he returned with my drink he said:  “I want you to know I really enjoy The Exchange.  Thanks for creating it.”  I smiled and wished him luck with the rest of the semester.

I often joke that I’m the North Korean leader because my picture is everywhere in the College.  But I want students to recognize their dean and know what he thinks by reading my blog. I challenge students to not be invisible, so I can’t be invisible either. And, while my schedule doesn’t permit extended conversations with students,  it pleases me to no end to have helped build a culture where people are willing to approach me and chat for a minute in the hall, on campus, or at the movie theater.

Really happy to still be dean of the College of Business at UCF.  Now, back to work everyone.  There is a lot we still need to do.


Why We Push

For the last several years I have hosted pizza lunches with students.  The students are typically winners of drawings at events like “Welcome to the Majors.”  The reason I do this is that I want to understand students’ aspirations, expectations and experiences.  It helps me get a clear picture of what is going on in the College and how we can create a culture that is going to help our students succeed while at UCF and in their careers.

I start each of these lunches with the same question: “Tell me what surprises you the most at the College?”  The most common answers to my question is that the place is very large and that the academic expectations are much greater than they were at the student’s last institution.  At a lunch a couple of weeks ago, a student gave me a different answer.  Choosing her words carefully and in very respectful tone she said: “Well, I don’t want to use the term push, but the college really encourages you to engage and get involved in things.”  I laughed and said: “Oh no, you’re right, we push.”

Why do we push?  The answer lies in the video we use during “Welcome to the Majors” where I say: “The purpose of education isn’t knowledge, it’s action.”  That’s a quote from Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher.  His point is that knowledge isn’t very useful if you don’t do anything with it.  This is especially true in business.  You are going to get paid for what you do.  What you do is influenced by what you know. But, if you are too afraid to act on what you know, you fail.  So we push.  We want you to get experience being outside of your comfort zone while you are here, so you won’t be paralyzed by fear and discomfort when you leave.   We want you to learn to take risks, experiment with things you haven’t tried before, expand your horizons, get some swagger and know that you can compete with anyone, anywhere.  If we do our job well, the day will come when we won’t have to push, you’ll  just jump.



A few weeks ago I asked my blog readers to participate in a survey about how they would describe us.  The survey had 40 adjectives and asked people to tell us how much they agreed or disagreed that the descriptor fit their image of us.  The goal of this exercise was to understand how people perceive us. Thirty-eight readers completed the exercise.

They were not the only group we asked to do this task.  We also have responses from our faculty, staff, undergraduate students and dean’s advisory board members.  All together 609 people have completed the exercise and while there are some differences across groups (a point I will return to in a minute), there is one thing every group agreed on: We are “Diverse”.  Every single group picked this adjective as one of the top three things that most come to mind when thinking about the College.  When combining the data, it was the top choice.  “Accessible” was number 2.  This combination makes a lot of sense, in many ways we are “Diverse” because we are “Accessible.”

We are also diverse because we are “big”.  We didn’t give our survey participants the chance to tell us they think we are big. We already know.  We often talk at UCF about the need to do things at scale and the challenges associated with “scaling intimacy.”  But in my mind, our diversity is a much bigger challenge than our size.  Our diversity extends well beyond racial, gender and ethic differences to include differences in needs, aspirations, and expectations.  Diversity in gender, race, ethnicity is a strength. Satisfying diverse needs, expectations and aspirations is more challenging. It requires different program offerings and experiences, making it even more difficult to scale solutions and manage the portfolio of our offerings effectively.

Why do I think the survey respondents are telling me about more than just demographic diversity? One hint comes from the differences in responses across groups.  For example, undergraduates saw us as far less “affordable” than our ambassadors, faculty, staff, or advisory board members.  Students also see us as more “prestigious” “sophisticated” and “global” than the other groups we surveyed.  Another hint comes from the hundreds of conversations I have had with students over the last five years about why they are here, what they are trying to achieve and what they aspire to in life.  Some promised their family they would get a degree.  Others hope to be the first person in their family to graduate college. Many experience a surprising jump in academic expectations relative to their last institution, while others see us a place they can effectively manage their home, work and academic life.  Some look for opportunities to engage.  Others want to be anonymous. A few hope to start their own business.  Others want to study abroad and then go to a prestigious graduate school. Some students want to rule the world. Others just want the weekend their parents have never had. The best descriptor for all of this: Diverse.

There are a number of other interesting findings from the survey, but I’m not going to touch on those until we collect a little more data, especially from graduate students.  They are the one group we have yet to survey.  In the meantime, we, like the great country we live in, will continue to strive to find ways to turn all this diversity into a strength while still being true to our values.  Happy 4th of July everyone.

Why Go to a Research University?

I’m going to brag on my colleagues in the management department for a minute.  They had a terrific year and their accomplishments give me the opportunity to explain what we are trying to achieve in the college and why you want to go to a research university like UCF.

Google has a search engine that measures the impact of academic research.  It is called Google Scholar, and they recently recognized 10 papers written in 2006 as “management classics.” These are papers people are still talking about 10 years after they were originally published. This means the ideas in these articles have inspired others and stood the test of time. I was pleased to see that two of those 10 papers were written by teams that included one of our faculty. Both of these faculty are recent hires, people who joined us in the past couple of years as part of our continued efforts to attract more thought leaders to the college. Jim Combs, the Della Phillips Martha Schenck Chair of American Private Enterprise and Professor of Management, was recognized for a paper titled: “How much do high‐performance work practices matter? A meta‐analysis of their effects on organizational performance.” The paper has been cited 1,420 times. Ron Piccolo, Galloway Professor of Management and Chair of the management department, was recognized for “Transformational leadership and job behaviors: The mediating role of core job characteristics.” That paper has been cited 1,370 times. To give you a sense of how influential the ideas in these two paper are, understand the average published paper in management is cited fewer than 30 times.

I seek out and pay people with influential ideas like these so they will bring their research insights into the classroom and influence practitioners. A case in point is Dr. Marshall Schminke. Marshall is the BB&T Professor of Business Ethics at UCF.  He has written more than 40 papers, consulted with a wide array of companies and been quoted in more than 50 national publications. A few weeks ago, Marshall  was recognized as a “Master Ethics Teacher” at the 6th Teaching Ethics at Universities Conference, hosted by the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, and sponsored by the Society for Business Ethics and the Wheatley Institution at BYU. The award recognizes outstanding faculty members who have made significant contributions to the teaching of business ethics.  They do this by taking their research into the classroom and boardroom.

And let’s not forget that Marshall’s colleague Dr. Robert Folger is one of the founding members of the behavioral ethics field.  Behavioral ethics is a new field of social scientific research that seeks to understand how people actually behave when confronted with ethical dilemmas. Rob became the college’s second Pegasus Professor earlier this year. It is the highest honor UCF bestows on faculty. He is the Distinguished Alumni Endowed Professor in Business Ethics, has mentored many Ph.D. students and has more than 25,000 citations to his work. In short, he has had a lot of insights that have inspired others and changed how people understand ethics in organizations.

As you can see, the Management Department had a banner year.  More importantly, our management students get to learn from some of the best faculty in the field. The reason to attend a large research-oriented university is you get to learn from people who are actively influencing how the future will unfold. You get to engage in conversations with people who wrote the book or article, rather than someone who is just explaining something they read. In the process, you gain more insight and perspective. In today’s information saturated world, it’s more insight and perspective that is going to differentiate you from the crowd. If you are the average of the five people you hang out with the most, wouldn’t you want to hang out with people with insights like Professors Combs, Piccolo, Schminke and Folger?  And I didn’t even mention Drs. Ambrose, Bennett, Ford, Taylor or Whiting.  Look them up — they’re pretty cool and very accomplished, too.

Everybody’s Got Issues

It’s Father’s Day, and while this day doesn’t really hold a candle to Mother’s Day, it is worth reminding yourself what gifts your dad gave you.  Mine gave me several: A love of the Detroit Tigers, the absence of the “look back” gene and an ability to make do with what you’ve got immediately come to mind. But perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was an insight into people and the human condition. One day, sort of out of the blue, dad said to me, “Everybody’s got issues.” I don’t remember the context of that comment; it was probably when somebody on the Tigers hit into their 50th double play of the season, but his genius in that moment stuck. Over time, it has become one of the main principles of my leadership style.

Dad’s point was that you have to take people for who they are. The perfect employee, student, parent, Detroit Tiger or you do not exist. If you demand this, you are going to be endlessly disappointed. Recognizing that people are imperfect and always will be is liberating. It allows you to emphasize the positive, coach where you can to improve performance and look for teammates with complementary skill sets that can strengthen the whole.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have performance standards, and there are, of course, people who have too many issues (Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame says this best, “It’s a long road baby and where it’s going to take me, just depends on the weight of my load…”).  But if you find a way to work with people, be authentic and allow them to be authentic in their interactions with you, you’ll be surprised how loyal they will become to your leadership and how much you can accomplish together.

So thanks, dad.  Enjoy your day. Go Tigers.



A Thank You to our Corporate Partners

I spent the bulk of last week creating interactive thank you emails to our corporate partners.  Each email summarizes how the corporate partner helped us offer students a new experience, how that experience is designed to change them and how it is consistent with the values of our benefactor.   This is something I do personally. I don’t delegate this to someone on my staff even though I know several people who would do a competent job. Why do I do this myself?  Because no one else can tell our partners how critical their contributions have been to my effort to transform the college. 

Let me explain.  When I came to the college five years ago, we were insular and offered a very transactional experience focused on basic skill transfer.  We taught courses.  Students either came or watched them via lecture capture.  Knowledge was assessed in our testing center.  There were a few pockets of excellence in the college that offered something different—professional sales, the launch pad, sports business— but for the most part, you could get through the college without ever stepping out of your comfort zones, experiencing something different, or having a conversation with a business professional or prospective employer about your future.

But business is done in the real world.  It is an activity. What you “know” is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for success.  Ultimately, business is about what you do.  What you achieve is about more than knowledge, it is also a function of the size and nature of the professional network you can draw on for assistance, the portfolio of experiences that shape your mindsets, how you can recognize and connect dots quicker than others and your willingness to try and risk failure.

To become the college I envisioned, we needed mechanisms to have conversations with the community, invite them to be a part of us, and engage our students in a wide variety of experiences that would expand their horizons, help them make good choices about their futures, and give them the mindsets to compete with anyone, anywhere.  Over the past five years we have gone about doing just that—building partnerships that would transform us and our students.

In writing the many thank you emails I did last week I was struck by just how critical the totality of these partnerships have become to the life of the College.  It is the accomplishment I am most proud of over the last five years.  In 2011-2012, the year before I came, the College touched 862 students and members of the community through our events and activities. This year, that number is 30,000.  Yes, you read that right. Those interactions include student to community as well as faculty to community interactions.  It is not just that activity is up.  Conversations are way up.  Positive restlessness on our many advisory boards is way up. Study abroad is way up. Job shadowing is up, Internships are going up. Post-graduation prospects are going up.  If you don’t believe me, come spend a day with us.

The time, treasure and talent our corporate partners provide are instrumental to the college we have built and the transformations we plan in the coming years.  If you are a student or faculty member engaging in one of these many interactions and you spot one of our corporate partners, stop by and thank them for all their support.  We couldn’t do what we do without them.

Why Does Finance Rule at the College of Business?

The College of Business works a little differently than a lot of colleges on campus.  Before you  become a business major, you must successfully complete a set of lower division courses.  This makes you eligible to be a business student, and typically you then still have 60 credit hours to complete before graduation.  Thirty of those credit hours are the same for everyone.  They include 15 credit hours you must complete before you are admitted into a specific major.  Over the fall and spring semesters, 1,313 students did just that.  The table below shows where those students ended up….

Major Fall ’16 Spring ’17
Finance 191 174
Integrated Business 157 132
Accounting 132 112
Marketing 93 92
Management 71 54
Economics 42 42
Real Estate 12 9
Total 698 615

The numbers are always bigger in the fall, because more students come to us in the fall than do in the spring semester.  That said, the pattern is exactly the same:  Finance is our most popular major.  Integrated Business admits the second most students, followed by Accounting.  Economics and Real Estate continue to be our smallest majors.

Maybe it’s because I was an Economics major, but I’m always surprised at the disparity between Finance and Economics. Finance majors get exposed to a fair bit of economics… they better if they want to know what they’re doing.  And, according to most published reports, Economics graduates typically make a little more money than their Finance counterparts right after graduation. That differential also grows a bit as people get to the middle of their careers. Given the costs of the degree are the same, why wouldn’t Finance majors figure out that Economics is the better investment? Maybe that investments class is too late?  LOL

Then again, people maximize utility, not income… maybe Economics is seen as just too boring and needs a better compensating wage differential to encourage more students to enroll?

My readers have any insight on this?


How Would You Describe Us?

You can tell people who you are all day long, but how people perceive you defines that for you.  I’ve been collecting data from various groups on how they perceive the College of Business.  As part of this process, I’d like to hear from my readers.

You can give me your feedback by clicking on the link below.  The survey only takes about 5 minutes to do.  There are no right or wrong answers here, just adjectives you might use to describe the College.  We want to know how well you think they fit.  I’ll share the results in an upcoming post.  Thanks for your help.

Click here to take survey


How to Leave Your Team

I have a very talented engagement team.  They engage everyone: alumni, students, faculty, staff, corporate partners and the wider community. You know you have a great team when other people want to hire them away.  Sometimes, especially in bureaucratic human resource settings like those employed by most universities, it’s hard to match what someone else might give them in money or responsibility.  When that happens, you celebrate their time with you and cheer them on to great success in the future.  If you do this right, they remain an extended part of your team forever.  Ask Bridget Downs Keefe or Kelly Dowling.

This happened Thursday when we celebrated Erin’s new opportunity over at the Medical School.  Erin has been our alumni relations officer for the past few years.  She helped us elevate the Hall of Fame, organized Career Day (and then week), partnered with Engineering and Sciences to bring a Big Data Symposium to campus and was the main point of contact for alums who wanted to volunteer their time and talent back to the College.   She helped us move our agenda, learned a lot along the way and shared many disappointments with us as we searched for a decent lunch option in the Student Union once they took our salad bar away (Yes, we are all still bitter about this).

The problem with being the College’s alumni officer, is that there is little room for upward mobility.  Most colleges only have one such position and the central office has very few tiers.  By the end of year two, you kind of have the job down.  By the end of year three, if you are any good, you are looking for a new challenge.  If you engage with lots of other people like my team does, they see your performance and want to find a place for you in their organization.  The smart thing to do is to take what you’ve learned and move on.

Some people do this quietly.  Others do it with tears or a little regret.  Erin, did it with the same charm, wit and originality that defined her time with us.  You see, Erin solved the disappointing lunch option problem by eating a sweet potato almost every day.  We would tease her about it as we each complained about our food.  So on her final day, she left each of us a note and a sweet potato with a message that kind of defined her relationship with each of us.  Mine is pictured above.  Yes, I admit to using “rat bastard” a lot when describing another person or group who beat us to the punch on something.  I’m pretty sure I called Deb and Chip this when she told me about the new opportunity.  On the other side of the potato she wrote a phrase that I had come to appreciate her for using: “This is how they get ya….”  When I read it, I simply nodded.  Everyone who got a sweet potato is going to remember that day with a smile.

So,  good luck girl.  I’m going to miss those polka dots at staff meetings,  the calm in Tiffany’s storm leading up to the Hall of Fame and the smell of microwaved sweet potatoes at lunch.  We are on your team forever Jess (Oh wait, I mean Erin :)), go do great things!