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B-School: More Work, Less Play

B-School: More Work, Less Play

Business Week l Andy Rinehart

One of the hallmarks of the Wake Forest University Schools of Business Full-time MBA program is the emphasis on teamwork. Your success in the program is directly affected by your ability to work with your team to accomplish assignments throughout the year. In particular, one project proved to be both our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity for growth: the Talent Management Project, part of our organizational behavior (OB) class.

OB is typically dismissed by business students as the “touchy feely” class. Every top MBA program has some flavor of OB in the curriculum, and it focuses on the dimensions of leadership in a business setting that are difficult to quantify. In my opinion, OB boils down to two key lessons: One, make the development of your employees a strategic priority; and two, how to influence your workers positively to do their best possible work.

A rule among leaders in the Army states that you spend about 90% of your time dealing with the issues of 10% of your soldiers (not a favorite rule of mine, but it was a universal truth nonetheless). MBA students who scoff at the soft skills in OB tend to say, “Why not just fire that crappy 10% and spare yourself the agony?” Perhaps in a perfect world, you might. But in practice, it’s just not that easy. It’s actually really hard to fire anyone in the Army. (I still wake up in terror thinking about the paperwork involved.) Even in the civilian world, it might take you a period of months to fire that underperforming 10% and then hire enough personnel to make up the difference. That doesn’t even guarantee the new hires will prove better than the last 10% you canned.

What I’m really trying to say here is that OB was my favorite class of the first semester (note to my classmates: Grades are already in, and no, Sherry did not bribe me to say that) because it was already something I had used on a daily basis in the military. The class also emphasized how important it is to actually get real world experience using the techniques we learned, which leads to the Talent Management Project.

My team partnered with an actual company here in Winston-Salem (the best hyphenated city east of the Mississippi) to help the company address a human resources problem. Specifically, our hardware company wanted to build a leadership development program for their high-performing employees. Based on conversations with the human resources team at the company and through interviews with a number of the employees, our team created a framework for what a good leadership development program ought to look like. We then divided the framework into individual pieces, and between the six of us, we did extensive research to pull out industry “best practices.” Fifty pages later, we had a product we felt comfortable presenting to the executive team of our “client.”

One of the unique aspects of this particular project was that the primary motivation for our team was putting together the best product possible for our client and not simply getting a good grade. This put an even bigger sense of urgency into our work, and I was really proud of how everyone on the team rose to the challenge.

The Work-Life Balance

In my last post, I mentioned time management as one of the hardest parts of business school. For anyone considering MBA programs, I think it would be useful to provide a little more detail about the schedule of a business student.

At Wake Forest, first-year MBA students begin class at 0800 and finish around 1245 daily. Each class lasts 75 minutes, and there are two half-hour breaks in between. I prefer to exercise in the morning, so I get up pretty early to hit the gym beforehand and still have time to make myself rosy fresh for school. The majority of my peers, however, get up around 0700 (no matter where you live in Winston-Salem, you tend to have a wonderfully short commute). After classes are finished for the day, the block of time from 1400 to 1600 is left open by the schools of business specifically to allow time for team meetings and work. My team tends to break for lunch at 1300 and meet up at 1400 to begin working on whatever pending assignments we have hanging over our heads.

On days when there might be a company information session, career panel, speaker, or other tidbit of academic enrichment, the schools of business schedule it between 1600 and 1800. Assuming our team has finished up for the day, I use the remaining hours of the day to wrap up any reading for the next day’s classes. If you ask a business student what time he or she goes to bed every night, you’ll typically get this response: “Bed? You mean, like, sleep?” This answer is immediately followed by sarcastic laughter, manic weeping, or a wistful sigh (or some combination thereof). One of my teammates has a family, and he has found the most success in treating school like a full-time job. I look at school the same way, and I try to get my work done immediately after classes are finished for the day rather than putting things off until the evening.

An astute reader may point out that, while this section is supposed to be about work-life balance, I have discussed only work. My response to you, astute reader, is this: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Andy Rinehart is enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the Wake Forest Schools of Business. Hoping to become a JD/MBA candidate, which means four years of school, Rinehart is expected to graduate in 2013. Before pursuing an MBA, Rinehart served his country by leading more than 50 Army combat missions in Baghdad and taking part in noncombat activities including local economic assessments and fuel ration distributions. Earning his undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Wake Forest in 2005, Rinehart began his eight-year military service in the university’s ROTC program

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