The Master of Science (MS) in Management and Organizational Behavior program at Benedictine University is heading into its sixth decade — an enviable track record for an academic degree program. Its success didn’t come about by accident. Peter F. Sorensen Jr., Ph.D., director of the (MS) in Management and Organizational Behavior and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Organization Development programs, and Therese Yaeger, Ph.D., associate director of the Ph.D. program, have been deliberate and instrumental in making the program what it is today. Both professors sat down with us last month to discuss lessons learned over the programs long history as well as how they incorporate new thought about organization behavior into a curriculum that itself focuses on the importance of adaptation and change.
Sorensen was introduced to the field of organizational behavior back in the 1959. “I was working at CNA in organizational change, which had one of the first corporate organizational behavior programs,” said Sorensen, who called CNA “a mecca for scholars to come in and study organization.” That gave him the opportunity to meet major players in the developing field from institutions including the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, DePaul University and Loyola University. “That was such a pivotal point for me, to be able to meet and work with these icons in the field.”
Sorensen later left the corporate world to take a faculty position at George Williams College in Downers Grove, Ill. “There were two faculty out there who had recently started up a master’s program in Not-for-Profit Administration and were senior members of the National Training Laboratory, which was really the founding organization for the field of organization development,” he said. Through this connection, Sorensen could see how people were applying the concepts he had studied at CNA.
Yaeger’s introduction to organizational behavior and development was more informal. She was also working in the corporate world and noticed the negative effects caused by a lack of attention to organizational behavior or development. “Seeing a consultant or manager come in and say, ‘We are going to do things differently now, we are going to do this, this and this,’” she said. “Everybody in the room was nodding their head, and then would go out to the water cooler and say, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’” That kind of autocratic, top-down approach reinforced her belief in the importance of real organization behavior and change strategies, including processes training and hiring the right people to manage them.
Change, of course, is inevitable. Helping people adapt to it – often quickly – is of paramount importance. Consequently, at its core, Benedictine’s MS in Management and Organizational Behavior program is about people skills. “Organizations are made up of people,” she said. “If you address that first, everything else tends to fall in place. Knowledge of change processes, knowledge of change theories, but above and beyond it’s the people skills [that are important].” For this reason, understanding the psychology of people in organizations and their reactions to change is and always has been the program’s focus.
But how do you manage the evolution of a program that itself is focused on change? By keeping exceptional faculty members who are closely in touch with new ideas and theories in the field, and integrate them into the curriculum. “I believe the program has evolved in the same way that the field has evolved,” Sorensen said. “We are constantly forced to be in touch with the cutting edge in the field. I would say that we are five, six, seven years ahead of the change which is going to be a major factor in the field.
“We bring in the newest and truest of topics of new conflict management in large Fortune 500 organizations, perhaps something we saw in the news, something we heard about,” Yaeger said.
Today, the field is facing many changes. Among those changes is dealing with the increasingly global nature of business. “We try to sensitize people to the cultural differences in the implication of national cultural values and the role that they play in the corporate world,” Sorensen said.
He also points to another exciting new way of thinking about organizational behavior and change: Appreciative Inquiry (AI). This is a concept that was developed in part by an organization development graduate. Instead of identifying organizational problems, this concept encourages focus on the things the organization does best to imagine and design a plan for how it could evolve positively. “Positive change is really one of the major things I think that most people are teaching today,” Sorensen said.
Technology, of course, continues to be a major factor driving organizational change, requiring organizations to evolve almost constantly — something that Sorensen took notice of decades ago. “I did my dissertation on the impact of Information Technology on organizations, and that was in 1971,” he said. “It was really a discussion about what should we be doing to keep up. The kind of things we are going to see in the future is how organizations continue to adapt to information technology.”
Whatever factors force organizations and their employees to adapt and change, the MS in Management and Organizational Behavior program at Benedictine will help students learn to guide their organizations to success. “We just celebrated the program’s 50th birthday, and Peter is excited about the decade No. 6!” Yaeger said.
“The sixth decade is going to be absolutely great, but the last 50 years have been terrific too,” Sorensen said. “It really has been unbelievable.”