Collaborating to learn in the W. P. Carey Executive MBA

The W. P. Carey School of Business is focused on the real world. That’s why our classrooms emulate boardrooms, our students learn in teams, and our courses use case-based methodologies. This kind of realistic approach to learning is one of the best things about the W. P. Carey Executive MBA program, visible in applied projects and the ROI they yield for students and employers alike.

"The value of these projects is that students immediately start to view their organizations and the challenges they face from different perspectives," says Joan Brett, an associate professor in the W. P. Carey Department of Management and Entrepreneurship. "They emerge with an understanding of the various alternatives to resolve pressing problems." Combining talent maximizes potential, especially when students with diverse backgrounds — and years or even decades of experience — come together to resolve actual business dilemmas.

Students also realize that their education can help them make profound, positive changes in their organizations.

The latest crop of EMBA students learned this firsthand during one of Joan’s recent courses, Organization Theory and Behavior. The culminating assignment asked students to work in teams, using any and all material from the semester to evaluate a problem and design an intervention. Specifically, they needed to assess a behavioral problem that was creating performance gaps in the workplace — as observed by a group member in their actual place of work.

The results were outstanding. "Almost all behavioral problems are directly or indirectly related to the bottom line, in one way or another," Joan says. "Several of the team projects offered solutions to performance gaps that were easy to implement and had the potential to save the company money." This is significant, considering how severe performance-gap penalties can become over time.

Findings from the EMBA cohort will help their organizations prevent issues with customers, productivity, and performance.

One of the groups developed a plan to reduce turnover in call center positions through better expectations and appropriate incentives. Another examined the very real consequences of escalating noise levels in hospitals — resulting in an intervention plan with both organizational and social value.

"This project in particular identified a problem with not only an ROI impact, but one that could seriously affect the recovery and healing time for sick children," Joan says. "The team was able to highlight several positive consequences for the hospital should it implement a 'culture of quiet.'" First-year EMBA student Dr. Sharad Menon suggested the idea, drawing from his role as chief of the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

"By default, ICUs tend to be very noisy places," Sharad explains, factoring in the constant beeping of alarms, the loud noises produced by various medical equipment and machines, the heating and cooling system, and the number of people involved in providing care to sick children. He says it is common for noise levels to exceed 70 decibels (dB) at any given time — much higher than the 40 dB noise level recommended for optimum patient comfort by the World Health Organization.

"It is very stressful for the patients, the families, and the persons working in this noisy environment, and there are numerous studies which have shown that it can have deleterious effects on both patients and staff." Sharad and his EMBA cohorts together analyzed data from the ICU, identified the various sources of noise pollution, and developed potential solutions to fix the problem.

For Sharad, it was an impressive and meaningful exercise.

"The greatest thing about this project was interacting with team members from entirely different backgrounds," he says, mentioning one team member with a background in information technology, another in marketing, and a third employed as a rocket engineer. "My teammates did not have any of the preconceived bias like me and more often thought outside the box. Many of their ideas and suggestions were very practical and helped us formulate different methods for intervention to decrease the noise level in the ICU."

Sharad credits the EMBA program’s real-world focus for helping him grow into his leadership role at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. "When I assumed this position, I had minimal exposure to the managerial aspect of leadership, and limited knowledge regarding the financial aspect of running a unit," he says. "The last six months have been very enjoyable and I have been exposed to many different managerial subjects and aspects of leadership."

He adds that this type of coursework is fertile ground for ideas, made stronger by the caliber of students in the Executive MBA program. "There are approximately 40 brilliant people in this class with various backgrounds and professional experiences, who can all contribute to projects," Sharad says. "The interaction among group members from different backgrounds removes personal biases, infuses fresh ideas, and forces people to think outside the box for solutions."

The W. P. Carey Executive MBA is all about real-world curriculum with real-world impact. It’s also about leveraging your peers to broaden your perspective and grow as a leader. Discover community, caliber, and collaboration with the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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