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As the pandemic reshapes entire industries, the need for agile entrepreneurs have never been more urgent. But traditional business education isn’t always optimized for preparing the next generation of leaders for an uncertain, rapidly changing world. Nevertheless, some business schools have pioneered new teaching models designed to teach entrepreneurship more effectively by focusing on “effectuation,” or leveraging existing resources to take action. New research sheds light on two new models for entrepreneurship education: Rotman’s operating theater classroom, in which startups are interrogated in front of an audience of students, and Darden’s rewiring approach, in which students are encouraged to embrace an action-oriented, collaborative mindset.
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In early April, a Thai student in our entrepreneurship class saw a shortage of high quality, low cost hand sanitizer across Thailand. To support the Covid relief effort and generate revenue, he quickly shifted his family’s medical supply company to sanitizer production. Closer to home, when Dollaride, a business incubated in NYU’s Future Labs, recognized that the pandemic had eliminated demand for their shared commuting van business in New York, they refreshed their business model to leverage their existing vans, technology, and routes to support burgeoning package delivery demands.
Neither entrepreneur followed a typical business school approach when deciding to pivot their business: they didn’t conduct a long-term market analysis, develop a business plan, or weigh various alternative approaches. In fact, had they done these analyses, they might have concluded that the short-term gains wouldn’t justify the retooling investment, or they might have gotten stuck trying to figure out how to estimate the duration of the pandemic or how soon global manufacturing might recover. Instead, they simply took action based on the resources at their disposal.
This approach to entrepreneurship is called “effectuation,” or leveraging what we know, who we know, and who we are in order to take action. Business schools don’t generally teach this approach, as they tend to focus more on lengthy risk and return calculations. But as we face an increasingly uncertain, complex future, schools must adopt new teaching philosophies designed to forge agile, entrepreneurial leaders.
Can Business Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?
While modern MBA programs offer a host of entrepreneurship programming ranging from formal coursework to startup competitions and incubators, there is a great degree of skepticism around the idea that entrepreneurship can be taught by academics in a classroom. Countless successful entrepreneurs never went to business school — many didn’t even graduate from college. Moreover, developing the penchant for imagination, disruption, and counterintuitive action required for effective entrepreneurship doesn’t generally fit into a typical business school curriculum defined by abstract analytical models and precise calculations.
Nevertheless, many schools feel that there is still a place for formal education in the world of entrepreneurship, and have taken steps to update their offerings to meet the needs of today’s students. In a recent study, we looked at three top North American MBA programs to better understand how they are approaching this challenge. In an industry where programs are prone to mimicking one another, we found that these programs broke the mold and developed their own philosophies in teaching entrepreneurship.
The first approach we observed focused on instilling an appreciation for the value of real-life experience with an “operating theater” classroom setup. The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management converted their entrepreneurship classroom into a medical-school-style operating theater, where students sit in a large auditorium and watch as a professor performs surgery not on a human body, but on a startup. In Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab, a panel of established entrepreneurs join the professors in poking and prodding at these startups, helping students absorb the intuition that entrepreneurship skills can only be developed through experience. Other business schools have adopted similar programs, such as NYU Stern’s Endless Frontier Labs, which shares Rotman’s focus on experiential learning.
The second approach we observed focused on “rewiring” students to take action instead of falling into analysis paralysis. We all have a voice in our heads that says, “What if this goes wrong?” or “How do I manage this risk?” Imagine the power of an education that helps you quiet that voice and instead say, “What if it goes right?” The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is the birthplace of “effectual” entrepreneurship, an approach that invites students to recognize their existing entrepreneurial resources and accept a certain amount of risk. This mindset is antithetical to a more conventional business school approach that emphasizes minimizing risk. Additionally, while the business world is often known for its cut-throat, fiercely competitive nature, Darden’s program instills in students an appreciation for the power of collaborative innovation by encouraging students to share ideas openly with their peers and tap into diverse insights and perspectives to co-create entrepreneurial ventures.
The final program we observed took more of a traditional business school approach. Our research suggests that the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School continues to emphasize the types of resource and risk optimization approaches that are more characteristic of the rest of the business school world. This approach is grounded in the idea that business schools should teach entrepreneurship in a similar way to how other subjects are taught: by providing students with analytical models and tools from published academic research on new venture creation. While this philosophy may be helpful for more mature startups, as well as for helping founders avoid common startup pitfalls — such as choosing the wrong co-founder, accepting poor venture finance terms, or making suboptimal product decisions — it’s less useful for entrepreneurs dealing with extreme uncertainty.
Educate MBA Students to Embrace an Unknowable Future
The current pandemic illustrates the importance of preparing entrepreneurs to face an increasingly complex, uncertain world. We must educate these future leaders to view the uncertainty of our unknowable future not as a problem to be solved, but rather as a reality to be embraced.
After all, in the unknowable future, all leaders will need to be entrepreneurs: visionaries that can imagine, adapt, and act nimbly to address whatever challenges come their way. Business schools should not delay in adopting new teaching philosophies that empower the next generation of entrepreneurs — as well as all business leaders — to meet these challenges.
Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and we are living in uncertain times. Between rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, questions about whether or not to reopen economies and businesses, the ongoing protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the economic fallout of the pandemic, we don’t know what will come next. And that’s taking a toll on our mental health, including at work.
We saw an impact early in the pandemic. At the end of March and in early April, our nonprofit organization, Mind Share Partners, conducted a study of global employees in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP. We found that the mental health of almost 42% of respondents had declined since the outbreak began. Given all that’s happened between then and now, we can only imagine that the figure has increased. Much has been said about this short-term mental health impact, and the long-term effects are likely to be even more far-reaching.
As we navigate various transitions over the coming months and years, leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and PTSD. Those mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic opportunity, citizenship status, job type, parenting and caregiving responsibilities, and many other variables. So, what can managers and leaders do to support people as they face new stressors, safety concerns, and economic upheaval? Here’s our advice.
What Can Managers Do?
Even in the most uncertain of times, the role of a manager remains the same: to support your team members. That includes supporting their mental health. The good news is that many of the tools you need to do so are the same ones that make you an effective manager.
Be vulnerable. One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences. Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health challenges of their own.
Prior to the pandemic, the biotech firm Roche Genentech produced videos in which senior leaders talked about their mental health. They were shared on the company intranet as part of a campaign called #Let’sTalk. The company then empowered “mental health champions” — a network of employees trained to help build awareness for mental health — to make videos about their experiences, which were used as part of the company’s various mental health awareness campaigns. (See the editor’s note below regarding our relationships with this company and others mentioned in this article.)
Those of us working from home have had no choice but to be transparent about our lives, whether our kids have crashed our video meetings or our coworkers have gotten glimpses of our homes. When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable, and brave. Research has shown that authentic leadership can cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance.
Model healthy behaviors. Don’t just say you support mental health. Model it so that your team members feel they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries. More often than not, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and on getting the work done that they forget to take care of themselves. Share that you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day, having a therapy appointment, or prioritizing a staycation (and actually turning off email) so that you don’t burn out.
Build a culture of connection through check-ins. Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports on a regular basis is more critical than ever. That was important but often underutilized in pre-pandemic days. Now, with so many people working from home, it can be even harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling. In our study with Qualtrics and SAP, nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK — and those respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the outbreak.
Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.
When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do. What’s most important is to make space to hear how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate. They may not want to share much detail, which is completely fine. Knowing that they can is what matters.
Offer flexibility and be inclusive. Expect that the situation, your team’s needs, and your own needs will continue to change. Check in regularly — particularly at transition points. You can help problem-solve any issues that come up only if you know what’s happening. Those conversations will also give you an opportunity to reiterate norms and practices that support mental health. Inclusive flexibility is about proactive communication and norm-setting that helps people design and preserve the boundaries they need.
Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports need; they will most likely need different things at different times. Take a customized approach to addressing stressors, such as challenges with childcare or feeling the need to work all the time. Proactively offer flexibility. Be as generous and realistic as possible. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried recently announced that employees with any type of caretaking responsibilities could set their own schedules, even if that meant working fewer hours. Being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards. Flexibility can help your team thrive amid the continued uncertainty.
Normalize and model this new flexibility by highlighting how you’ve changed your own behavior. Stacey Sprenkel, a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, proactively told her teams that she was working odd hours because of her childcare responsibilities and invited them to share what they needed to work best during the pandemic.
Communicate more than you think you need to. Our study with Qualtrics and SAP showed that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak. Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Clarify any modified work hours and norms. Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary.
Make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them. Almost 46% of all workers in our study said that their company had not proactively shared those. If you’ve shared them once, share them again. And be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalize the use of those services.
Although managers will be on the front lines of addressing mental health issues, it’s on the most-senior leaders in your company to take action as well.
Mental health symptoms are just as common in the C-Suite as among individual contributors. Sharing your own mental health challenges and modeling healthy behavior are two of the most important steps you can take. Here are a few additional things that leaders can do to normalize and support mental health at work.
Invest in training. Now more than ever, you should prioritize proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for leaders, managers, and individual contributors. Before the pandemic, companies including Morrison & Foerster and Verizon Media were convening senior leaders to discuss their role in creating a mentally healthy culture. That positioned them well to navigate the uncertainty that has unfolded. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work. If you don’t have the budget to invest in training, mental health employee resource groups are a low-cost way to increase awareness, build community, and offer peer support.
Modify policies and practices. To reduce stress on everyone, be as generous and flexible as possible in updating policies and practices in reaction to the pandemic and civil unrest. For example, you may need to take a closer look at your rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave. Try to reframe performance reviews as opportunities for compassionate feedback and learning instead of evaluations against strict targets. In mid-March, the CEO of Wikimedia Foundation sent an email to her organization outlining changes to mitigate stress, including: “If you need to dial back [work hours], that’s okay.” She also committed to paying contractors and hourly staff on the basis of their typical hours, regardless of their ability to work. When you make changes, be explicit that you are doing so to support the mental health of your employees, if that is the goal.
Measure. Ensuring accountability doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be handled in a simple pulse survey done regularly to understand how people are doing now and over time. BlackRock, the global investment management firm, is one of many organizations that have conducted pulse surveys during the pandemic to understand the primary stressors and needs of staff. This direct employee input has helped shape new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility and time off.
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As much as we might like to return to the way things were, we won’t. So let’s use this opportunity to create the mentally healthy workplace cultures that should have existed all along.
Editor’s note: Roche Genentech, BlackRock, Verizon Media, and Morrison & Foerster are clients of the authors’ organization, Mind Share Partners.
According to research by GatherUp, 71% of customers are more likely to do business in stores that require face masks. The latest research points to a growing health concern among patrons over possibly contracting COVID-19 as businesses open up.
The research analyzed by some 40,000 reviews by shoppers points to the need for businesses to heed customers’ health concerns. Because more than half (54.4%) of shoppers say they are more likely to shop at a business with strict mask policies.
GatherUp Survey on Customer Face Mask Requirements
In contrast, 27% say a strict mask policy would not impact their willingness to shop there. Surprisingly 18% of those shoppers would be less inclined to shop at a business that enforces the wearing of masks. According to GatherUp, the small minority of those who abhor wearing a mask do so for political reasons.
The research also notes a drop in ratings for major brands during the post COVID era. Major brands such as Home Depot, Walmart, Costco and even Dominos saw a drop in their ratings by customers. Comparing reviews from 90 days before and after COVID, brand experience reviews saw a downward trend. Home Depot took the biggest loss dropping by 0.3 while Walmart, Costco, and Domino’s dropped 0.1 during the period.
Breakdown on the Mask Conundrum
Despite the debate across the nation over wearing masks, the research is clear on what shoppers want. Over 80% of US adults are either more likely or equally likely to do business if the business enforces stronger masking policies.
Men relative to women more frequently said they were less likely to do business with companies that had strict mask enforcement. A quarter (25.2%) of men say they are less likely to shop in establishments with mask polices compared to 18% of women.
Perceptions also vary among age groups. Those over 45 years of age say not having mask policies could be a factor in their shopping preference. With 19.6% saying they were less likely to do business in establishments that enforce masking. Of those between 18 to 45 years of age, almost a quarter (23.4%) say masks could be a deal-breaker. However, the majority of both those above and below 45 years of age are more inclined to patron establishments with mask codes. With 74.2% of those above 45 saying they would likely shop while 68.1% under 45 years saying the same.
Location wise the survey shows distinct differences between regions across the United States. The Northeast was quite a bit more likely to do business if strict masking protocols were followed with 80.6% supporting masking. The Midwest was somewhat lukewarm with 68.4% saying they don’t mind stricter protocols.
Irrespective of your political views the safety of both customers and staff should be of paramount importance. A safe and healthy environment not only protects employees from injury and illness but maintains productivity. It lowers healthcare costs, reduces absenteeism, raises morale and mitigates staff turnover.
Besides being the right thing to do, businesses are legally required to provide a safe environment for their customers. Even in times when there is push back over protocols that might be unpopular. There is no compromise over safety.
Safety protocols such as wearing masks are important for everyone’s safety. These protocols help to ensure employees and customers do not injure or risk their health while conducting business. Safety protocols from the perspective of the business help maintain certification, avoid legal liabilities and of course improve operations. Customers who know that a business does not compromise with their health and safety are put at ease. They are inclined to do business with them simply because they are assured, they are not put at risk.
COVID-19 has changed the world and our way of life. In these uncertain times, it is even more important for businesses to continue to provide services safely. Business owners need to take the lead in terms of educating both staff and customers of health risks. They should also clearly communicate the safety protocols are meant for the benefit of everyone. Your relationship with your customers isn’t simply transactional. It is based on mutual understanding and concern for each other’s welfare. As businesses open up, the key is to adapt to the new way of doing business and making safety a priority.
John Christie brought death to everyone around him. Allowing his terrible crimes to be pinned on another man Christie returned to his home at 10 Rillington Place to carry on the killing.
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