In this episode of Be EPIC, Matt is joined by Adam Stoverink, director of MBA Programs and associate professor of management at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. During their conversation, they discuss the differences between the MBA and EMBA programs and who benefits from each. Stoverink uses his leadership skills and management experience to explain how to keep company culture strong during the age of work from home and the process Walton College used to go fully remote in March 2020.
0:00:08.3 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BeEpic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and your life today.
0:00:29.0 Matt Waller: I have with me today Adam Stoverink, who is the director of our MBA programs. He's also a faculty member in the Department of Management here in the Walton College. He's really an expert in leadership and high performance teams. He received his PhD in Management, Organizational Behavior from Texas A&M University, the Mays School of Business. And he received his undergraduate degree from Mizzou. I guess you received your undergraduate degree about 20 years after I did from Mizzou, I didn't notice that before.
0:01:13.4 Adam Stoverink: That's probably correct, Matt.
0:01:17.3 Matt Waller: But Adam is new in this position of leading our MBA programs, but I thought, what a great match to have the person who is our expert in leadership leading our MBA program. So thank you for joining me today, Adam, and thank you for leading our programs.
0:01:36.7 Adam Stoverink: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Matt, I'm really excited to be here today.
0:01:39.5 Matt Waller: I'm gonna wanna talk to you a little bit, obviously about the program, I'm gonna talk to you a little bit about your research as well, but before we do, if you wouldn't mind explaining just a little bit about our MBA programs, because it's confusing to some people, sometimes people hear the Executive MBA program and they think, well, that's part of the Executive Education. So if you wouldn't mind giving a little overview. That'd be great.
0:02:08.0 Adam Stoverink: Yeah, sure. We have two MBA programs, one is a full-time program, and one is our Executive MBA program. Full-time programs are primarily for learners who have relatively short work experience, they may be out two or three years from undergrad, our Executive MBA is for more experienced learners who graduated 10 to 15 years ago, and so it's really for current executives as well as students who are primed to jump into an executive role in the next few years.
0:02:47.1 Matt Waller: With the full-time MBA program, there's a number of different concentrations and same with the executive MBA program as well. Would you mind talking a little more about that?
0:03:00.7 Adam Stoverink: Yeah, we have different tracks for our students, we call it tracks in the full-time program and focus study areas in the executive program. But this is a way to really allow our students to dig deeper into a particular topic. And so this may be a track for entrepreneurship, it may be a track for Data Analytics, and it maybe a track for retail. But it offers, in addition to the core curriculum that everyone gets it. It offers an opportunity for a particular student to identify something that they're really passionate about and study under additional faculty related to a particular topic that might help them on their particular career path.
0:03:42.0 Matt Waller: Adam, I know we've really re-designed our programs pretty dramatically, but I'd really like to know a little bit about your vision for our MBA programs.
0:03:54.2 Adam Stoverink: Sure. Visioning is an interesting topic, as you know. You do a lot of visioning yourself, and it's something I consider to be a fun and exciting challenge. But there is often a misconception about visioning, and that is that it's all about the future and all about change. And certainly change is an important part of visioning, but there's another equally important part, and that's sort of preserving the core values and purposes of a given organization or program. These are the things that we would continue to value and we would continue to do, even if at some point in the future these things became a competitive disadvantage for us. And so in my opinion, these are the things that never change, but the specific actions taken to live out these values and this purpose should really be changing all the time based on environmental, social market forces sort of what I would call a constant iterative re-invention process, if you will.
0:04:54.8 Adam Stoverink: I personally believe vision should also include a forward-thinking BHAG or... You know this is an acronym that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The BHAG for the Walton MBA is to be a top 25 public MBA program. And to be completely candid, I don't actually think this goal is all that audacious. In fact, from my perspective, I consider us one of the top 25 best public MBA programs already. But I think there is an opportunity that exists for us to better promote to the voters of these rankings, all the wonderful things that our students are currently doing. I also think it's important to note that while our long-term goal is to consistently place in the top 25 of public MBA programs, that's not really how we gauge our success as a program. Recall that our purpose is to transform lives, not to be highly ranked, and so we gauge our success in the countless stories that we hear from our alumni; stories about how the Walton MBA positioned them for a big promotion, that offered an opportunity for them to have a much bigger impact on their company, their company's employees, its customers. And so ultimately our vision in the Walton MBA is to transform lives of our current students, of our former students by facilitating and accelerating their career success.
0:06:25.5 Matt Waller: Your point about having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the BHAG, well that's kind of interesting. I'm glad you have those for us, and I'm glad you're brave enough to state it. I know a lot of times leaders, administrators seem to be very cautious about stating those because they're afraid, "Well, what if I don't get it?" Right? I'm glad to hear that you're setting BHAGs because if you set one and you don't quite get there, usually you're in a better spot than you would be if you didn't set it.
0:07:06.4 Adam Stoverink: Yeah. That's right, it is a distant marker of, essentially, of a finish line, right? And typically the research on BHAGs show that organizations and programs that have them significantly outperform those that don't, right? Because they have that guidepost, that ultimate goal, and the concern that people have with these BHAGs is what happens when you do get there. Right? Not whether or not we will get there. What happens when you do get there? And there is something known as the already there syndrome. There's a lot of momentum and excitement, and you see how close you're getting to the goal, and people are really passionate about achieving that goal, and once they get there, now what? Right? They start to lose momentum and so I'm excited to say that once we get there, our next goal will be the top 20 public MBA programs.
0:07:55.1 Matt Waller: That's great. And one thing I'm kind of curious about, I know you've done a lot of research on leadership and team management, and most people who are in leadership and management positions are always hungry to learn more about these topics because you never know enough. From my own experience, I try things, a lot of times when I read about them, I'll try them and sometimes they work for me, sometimes they don't, but I try to think about it carefully. And as you know, I think I've mentioned to you, I've been documenting my efforts in that way for six years now, and I've learned a lot from it. But I know you have some knowledge about managing remote and hybrid teams, and I think our listeners, there's probably a lot of people here that even though we're going back to more of a face-to-face environment, there are still gonna be a lot more people leading remote and hybrid teams than there were before COVID, I think.
0:09:00.8 Adam Stoverink: Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. In my opinion, and the opinion of most of the experts on this particular topic, the world will never be face-to-face again, purely face-to-face again, I should say. From today on, there will always be a component of virtuality, of remote work. And so, we're facing a disruption that rivals the disruption we faced just over a year ago, when everybody went from face-to-face to remote, now what we're going to experience is how to lead teams in which some people are there in the office while others are at home, right? So, now you have a situation where you might have some people who are really living and breathing the culture of your organization because they're there, but you have to also understand that the people at home are missing out on that culture, and how do you maintain this feeling of belonging.
0:10:00.5 Matt Waller: Adam, when you're managing, leading some people that are face-to-face and some people that are remote, it is interesting 'cause I know one of my methods, I periodically... We've got three buildings here, but I'll periodically take time to walk up and down all of the halls and say hello to people and I actually put it on my calendar. Otherwise, I might not do it 'cause life gets busy and I do think it's important, and so I'll pop into people's offices and sometimes I'll just say hi, sometimes if they... If I know they've recently got a publication or they've won an award or something, I'll say something to them about it, if they're in their office at the time. A lot of times when I start out, I have enough time that I could actually get through all of the buildings, but I never do. And it's because some people I pop in on need to tell me something that they've been wanting to and they've never told me. It could be a problem, it could be an opportunity, it could be a challenge, something. And sometimes maybe we find that we have something in common, like we both like sailing or whatever it may be, and we talk about that.
0:11:13.8 Matt Waller: And I'm not an expert on this. I'm sure you know more about it than I do, with this concept of information processing theory, where if you're communicating something that's just uncertain, then more communication can resolve the uncertainty. Like if someone's uncertain about how many students we have enrolled in the Business School, I can send an email that shows how many are in each major and I've completely resolved it. If it's an equivocal situation, meaning, for example, maybe they're unsure if they're appreciated, I could write a long email and not convey that I appreciate someone, but if I stop by their office and we find something in common to talk about, people can feel, within five minute, they'll feel more appreciated than they would feel if I had sent them 10 emails. 'Cause I've been coming to my office most of the time during COVID and some other people do, 'cause we had a lot of face-to-face classes, but I never felt like I was doing justice to the people that were fully remote. Do you have any advice for me on that?
0:12:31.5 Adam Stoverink: Yeah, and this is the number one greatest challenge to leading remotely. And if you think about why the physical organization exists, why our workplace exists, and that is to get people into a common area where they can interact and see each other on a regular basis and ask questions and answer questions, and communicate more than an email communicates right? It's that, the emotional aspect of communication that you can't get in an email. This idea of connecting on a real human level, that is the one thing that the workplace has lost the most of in the last year, and it's really been a travesty for a lot of people. And so the question is: How can we maintain strong relationships if we don't ever see each other, we're never in the same room? And so, to a certain extent, the technology today has equipped us to do this in a much better way than 20 years ago. Zoom and Teams, and Google Collaborate and others, offer an opportunity to have this richer communication.
0:13:46.2 Adam Stoverink: And to that point, I would say you need to have that face-to-face interaction periodically, and this is where the value of one-on-one meetings comes in. If you're a leader, if you're not meeting with each of your direct reports one-on-one on a regular basis, then you're really missing out on that rich context, what's really driving them, what makes them tick, what are their interests, and also what's bothering them and what are they struggling with, what needs do they have that you can help resolve? Really essential pieces of information that you need as a leader, if you're going to help support them and help them be the best that they can be. And these don't need to be work-related meetings. They don't need to be meetings about their project status updates. You should have one-on-one meetings where the only reason your meeting is to check in, not check up. Check in with them to find out how they're doing and how you can help, if there's anything that you can help with.
0:14:40.1 Matt Waller: That's great advice. Adam, one other thing I wanted to talk to you about is team resilience. And the reason I am interested in that, other than the fact that you're an expert on this is that COVID has really opened up so many issues. We created a team to figure out how we were gonna go remote, and we had to do it fast. If you'll remember, I remember it was right before spring break of 2020, and we were told, "We're going remote and we need to be out of the building by this date." And I'm like, "Oh my goodness." All kinds of things were going through my head. Communicating with the faculty, knowing some faculty, like yourself, who are experts at using remote technology, but some don't really know anything about remote technology.
0:15:32.8 Matt Waller: And then students, what are students gonna do? But we quickly set up some teams to deal with these things. And I remember one person on our team had a really good idea early on, many of our people did, actually. And she came up with this idea of, "Hey, let's tell faculty and staff," after... This is after everyone went remote, "If you want your office chair, we'll deliver it to you." So, we got a list of everyone who wanted them, and we hired a company to put them in a truck and drive around to people's houses and drop off their chairs. I noticed it really had an impact, but the teams themselves, so that's an example of where a team came up with a really good idea, and then they executed upon it quickly, and I think it helped that team perform well. Do you have any advice on managing team resilience?
0:16:32.4 Adam Stoverink: Yeah. We've done a good amount of research on this particular topic and it has been a popular topic as of late for obvious reasons. In our research, we find that there are really four things that all resilient teams have in common. They first will have a moderately high level of confidence. And I say moderately high, which means they're confident that they can really overcome any challenge, but they're not too confident that they're not on the lookout for adversities. And so, you want a competent team, it's not afraid to take risks and jump in and attack an issue, but keep them in check. If you see this team appears to be invincible, and I don't think they're on the look out, they're not being vigilant to potential adversities that are on their way. So the first thing is a moderately high level of confidence.
0:17:24.2 Adam Stoverink: The second one is something we call team mental models of teamwork, and a simple way of describing that is just essentially a team road map. A resilient team has a very clear understanding of who's responsible for what and when. When adversity strikes, sometimes teams need to just react fast, there's not a lot of time to sit down and talk about who's responsible for what duties. And so, when a team has a very strong, accurate, and shared team mental model, everyone sort of almost like it's finally choreographed, they just respond. And that's very much related to the third component, and that is capacity to improvise. And this is the extent to which a team can make decisions on the fly in real time as adversity is striking. They're creative, they have a diverse pool or bucket of experiences they can draw from to create a novel and relevant action forward.
0:18:22.3 Adam Stoverink: And then the fourth one is very relevant to your example you used with the chairs, and that's psychological safety, and psychological safety is essentially a feeling of comfort. The team members feel safe to take interpersonal risks on the team. And so, why this is so important with team resilience, when adversity strikes, you need everyone on the team to feel comfortable speaking up. No matter how crazy or off the wall this idea is, they need to feel like they're not going to be ridiculed or embarrassed because they spoke up. You want people to think outside the box when trying to determine a response to an adverse situation. And so, if you have a team that has these four components; moderately high level of confidence, a team roadmap, capacity to improvise, and a team that feels psychologically safe, then they're much more equipped to respond to the adversities that are inevitable in today's fast-paced dynamic business world.
0:19:21.0 Matt Waller: When you think about teams, one point you made that had never occurred to me was this notion, you say, about if you have a team of really resilient people, they may not perform as well as a whole from a resilience perspective. And I wonder how much humility plays, in other words, if you have a team of people that are super confident, sometimes they're sort of prideful, and when you're on a team with a bunch of people that are very, very prideful, it can be difficult to manage in that kind of environment. Whereas if you have people that are a little more humble or they think other people's perspectives are important, it seems to me like that kind of a team would be more resilient, but I guess they're kind of related to some degree.
0:20:16.6 Adam Stoverink: Yeah, and all of that feeds right into one of the core differences between team resilience and individual resilience, and that is that the relationship component. In an individual, you can be resilient and have the most hubris in the world and be overly confident and not care about anyone else but yourself, but that will not work in a team setting. Just because you are great at something, it doesn't mean that you have the ability to work with others to make big things happen. Leading a team, hopefully you're building and managing a resilient team, you're looking at two things. First is when you're making a hire or making the selection for people in your team, you're choosing people that you know have a history of working well with others, of compassion, of empathy, of humility. That's part of the interview process. The "Tell me about a time" questions.
0:21:10.7 Adam Stoverink: But the second part is culture building, and this is one of the biggest responsibilities of a leader. You can hire all the right people, but if that team has the wrong culture... This is an example of the apple and barrel analogy. You put all these apples into a barrel, but if that barrel is poisoned, then all of those good apples are gonna turn bad. And so, even if you get a bunch of good apples or really good team members and you put them into an environment where you haven't really been focusing on what really matters to our organization and to our team, and that is really working together as a team and helping one another out, because together we are going to outperform all of us separately. Then you're really missing out on a key component to team leadership, and that is your ability to shape that culture so that those good apples can flourish and work together and achieve really big things.
0:22:07.8 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The BeEpic podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEpic podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.