Educating for a Fluid Future

Educating for a Fluid Future

Management guru Peter Drucker allegedly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” For example, in mergers, cultural mismatch can ultimately break a business bond. Think Daimler and Chrysler. Or how about this blast from the past: In 1986, WordPerfect was America’s best-selling word processing software. However, after being purchased by software and services company Novell in 1994, top managers at Novell and WordPerfect ruined the marriage with strategy disagreements.

Companies with a winning culture like Wegmans have employees (whether newly hired or long-tenured) who embrace the mission and work ethic. Ask a Wegmans employee for help, and they’ll get you what you need or connect you with someone who can. The New England Patriots are another example of the power of culture. In the past 15 years, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have led their team to eight Super Bowls. The Patriots’ culture creates a sense of ownership among all constituents and turns athletes — some considered washed up, below par or difficult — into prolific contributors.

The culture of work today is very different than it was even 10 years ago. We’re moving from a culture of full-time employment and fixed titles to one of on-demand roles and service providers. Plans for a career compete with the fluidity of the gig economy and jobs that promise flexibility. Work is more plentiful and varied with the potential for better income.

While the nature of work is changing, America’s educational preparation lags behind. The average American K-12 and higher education experiences, in spite of educators’ efforts, don’t create a culture that prepares graduates for the work world. We’re often still marching students down a path in preparation for a career that likely will not even exist in the way that schools currently think about careers.

In America today, we should be asking the foundational question: What is the point of education?

So much of our education system focuses on individual accomplishment. We cultivate this mentality that people have to become standouts or stars to succeed at work. To my earlier point, yes, the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is viewed as a star, but he’s often the first to point out he’s relying on a coaching staff, fellow players and his owner to win.

Positive interdependence versus self-reliance is the cultural formula that successful companies must push into the educational system. Recruiters, hiring managers, executives, CLOs, and alumni who proselytize that formula can help higher education and K-12 schools create a culture in the classroom that will breed success in the workforce.

Organizations that have winning cultures and know what it takes for a new hire to fit in must communicate that to their talent pipeline, including universities. Another way for employers to inculcate their culture in students is through internships and work-study programs, an approach long favored by institutions like Northeastern University and Rochester Institute of Technology. With these schools in mind, more colleges should make work experience part of the four-year degree.

In the race to solve the talent shortage equation, a great deal of focus is placed on a candidate’s must-have skills and competencies. But the Patriots have arguably not been the most talented team in football for many of the Super Bowls they’ve won. Instead, they found players, sometimes of average ability, who were willing to embrace the team culture.

I’ve seen this dynamic in my own business. At different times over the years, I’ve recruited and hired someone considered to have exceptional potential or talent. But at the end of the day, I’ve found hiring people with the right chemistry and commitment to work alongside others made our business run well.

The workplace requires a significant amount of interdependence. To succeed, graduates can’t go it alone — they need to be immersed in a culture of collaboration before they earn their diploma.

Lee Maxey is CEO of MindMax, a marketing and enrollment management services company. He can be reached at