Flipped Classroom? Yawn.

Flipped classroom? Who cares about that?

The big news is that the marketplace for higher education flipped from a seller’s market to a buyers’ market starting about 15 years ago. The transition is now complete.

The leaders of higher education institutions face an emergency situation, one that most still do not recognize. They still lead and manage as if it is still a sellers’ market. While flipped classrooms and other new pedagogies may delay the inevitable demise of many institutions, the fundamental change that must be made is in how organizations are led and how they are managed day-to-day.

Leaders must manage to the actual market that they face, not continue managing to the market they once had. That means every person in a leadership position has much to unlearn and many, many new things learn.

In my book, REAL LEAN, Volume Two (2007), I wrote a chapter titled “Manage to the Market” (Chapter 5). Here is an excerpt:

To a surprising extent, most businesses are managed as if they serve sellers’ markets when in reality they serve buyers’ markets. Managers often fail to recognize this inconsistency or how deeply it runs through their business. As a result, they continue to manage the business using mindsets, metrics, and systems designed to serve sellers markets. If you serve buyers’ markets, then you should use the management system that is most responsive to that market. There isn’t much in the way of choices; it’s Lean management…

Unfortunately, the executives have fallen into a massive trap that they cannot easily get out of. That is, they’ve grown their business using a system of management that was designed to serve sellers’ markets. The executives put into place a producer-focused system of management, not a customer-focused system of management. As a result, customers have to wait for the product or service, pay higher prices, and contend with poor quality. Their tolerance for that won’t last forever.

Invariably, circumstances change and so do customers, and the carefully-crafted producer focused management system, which was once a great asset, now becomes an even greater liability as customers realize they have alternatives. Executive ego, sunk costs, and deep-rooted bias toward maintaining the status quo make it very difficult for management to lead and make the necessary system-wide changes. This is why most brownfield businesses are unable to successfully transform from producer-focused sellers’ market to customer-focused buyers’ market…

It is simple human nature to want sellers’ markets. If we’re honest, we’ll all admit that we’d prefer to dominate the market or, better yet, have a monopoly. Why? Because it is easier. It is less work for management, it requires much less knowledge and fewer skills, we can manage from the office, it feeds our ego that we are smart and know what customers want, and it puts us in control – we like that a lot. A buyers’ market means you have to think a lot more and work harder…

Zoom forward to the present-day and think about what current state value stream maps tell us, beyond how we have been trained to interpret them. They depict the easiest and most convenient way to do business. Simply put it is a type of management that requires the lowest level of executive knowledge and skill. It serves managements interests well, but does not serve customers’ interests. The batch-and-queue processing shown in current state value stream maps is another way of saying to customers: “We’re not listening to you; we are doing what we want to do.” How very revealing…

You may ask, “What should I do?” You can start by accepting the reality of your markets… It would also help to gain a correct understanding of Lean as a management system and all of its wonderful nuances and inter-connections, and practice REAL Lean every day. Finally, be sure to establish a plan for long-term continuity in Lean management practice.

Remarkably, people still do not comprehend that conventional management was designed and developed for sellers’ markets, and that Lean was designed and developed for buyers’ markets. That is a life or death difference to institutions of higher education.

2 thoughts on “Flipped Classroom? Yawn.

  1. Doug Wotherspoon

    Bob, you are so right that most higher education professionals do not understand that we have shifted from a sellers to a buyers market. From my personal experience, most higher ed leaders don’t even speak this language. They really do not have a close up view of their clients. They have not walked in their students shoes and rely largely on reports that celebrate success rather then search for problems to solve. It is no ones fault. Traditional management practices work in a sellers market. However, times have changed and new approaches are required to deal with our new realities. Enter lean. Thanks for being one of leaders in pushing lean across higher ed. We need it now more than ever.

    1. Bob Emiliani Post author

      Hi Doug – I’m happy to play small role in helping people to better understand their situation and think differently about how to improve higher education. You are right, highered leaders don’t even speak the language of buyer’s and sellers’ markets. They risk their institution by not understanding this fundamental concept.


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