By Nancy Muller, PhD, MBA
I recently had the opportunity to witness Robert Martichenko, Founder and CEO of LeanCor, LLC, a supply chain consulting and training firm, present on “Lean Leadership.” I once had naively assumed that the concept of “Lean Manufacturing,” borrowed from well-established management practices operational at Toyota, only meant eliminating wastes and mistakes to speed up throughput for optimum efficiency and thus to lower costs. But even after hearing over the years about its successful application across more than just the manufacturing sector, as in the case of the transformational turnaround of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, I never really thought about it in terms of institutional culture, much less leadership per se. Mr. Martichenko enhanced my understanding and thus appreciation for all that “Lean Leadership” is capable of. Thinking influences culture, he points out, so for a change in culture, there has to be a change in thinking. There also has to be an unequivocal acceptance of what is possible. The “Lean Leader” thus cultivates a learning organization with a purpose focused on creating customer value.
With a supreme focus on the graduate student as our customer, I think about the Lowcountry Graduate Center not so much in terms of bricks and mortar as in location but rather as a service organization that creates value for the educational process that our team helps to facilitate. Yes, we are a convenient port of access for working professionals pursuing advanced degrees; but we also help facilitate learning and encourage success. Our team culture is about more than our custom-designed building flooded with natural light and outfitted with 21st century classroom technology. The accommodating hours of our evening and weekend classes, including hands-on IT support, are part of that commitment to servicing student and faculty needs. This commitment has no physical walls as boundaries, as synchronous streaming technology will be connecting our classroom in North Charleston with a classroom on the Clemson campus in the Upstate, beginning in January 2015. Customer value also includes the marketing support we offer to help get new programs such as the MS in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson, the MS in Engineering Management from USC, and others off the ground and promoted. The design and launch of a new, more engaging and informative web site is part of this strategy deployment. Other student services include: private lactation rooms, including refrigerator, for working mothers raising a family and returning to school; free, on-site tutoring support; professional library services, fresh healthy foods 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., free parking, and a safe, secure location en route to home or work without the congestion of downtown Charleston.
We compete against strong online institutional brands by offering relationships with seasoned SC-based faculty through in-class and face to face learning experiences. In graduate school, much of the value of learning also comes from exchange among peers in small group breakouts and classroom discussions, particularly when students are working full-time. LGC classroom and common space configurations make this happen. Peer to peer networking is also valuable to future career opportunities, too. Against nationally known programs in graduate engineering, for example, such as from Columbia University, Michigan-Ann Arbor, and most recently Georgia Tech, we also compete by offering a “safety net” with the student services mentioned above. It is noteworthy that 70% of all online education in higher ed is actually undertaken with an institution less than 100 miles from the student’s location, emphasizing the value of a strong regional brand and the affiliations it brings. This is why the LGC will be launching in the Spring 2015 a satellite of Clemson’s student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, connecting students here with those in the Upstate for “virtual” meeting time together.
At the LGC, we worry far less about competing against weaker, online, for-profit education because of the strength of our State’s institutional brands, the accreditation they offer necessary for tuition support from employers or lenders, and the value of the learning experience itself. Recent national research documents that the holders of degrees of lesser known, for-profit, online brands are statistically far less likely to secure a higher paying job, or any new job, after graduation than those with a degree from a state-owned or well-established not for profit private institution.
Without a doubt, our culture is about creating customer value in all we do at the LGC for our students. We continually seek to achieve this by delivering quality services that enable students on this campus to soar.