For only the second time in the past decade, a group of MBA students from the University of Indianapolis spent nearly an entire semester analyzing the transition of power to a new U.S. president.
Terry Schindler, assistant professor of management in the School of Business, first launched the project in 2008 as former President Barack Obama campaigned heavily under the idea of fundamentally changing the role of the federal government. The Leading Organizational Change course allowed MBA students to critically analyze the success and tactics of the Obama administration in its first 100 days. The final analysis was even sent to the White House for review.
“Everybody has an opinion one way or another, but this project required the students to base their position on facts and evidence rather than ideology or emotion,” Schindler said. The course, part of the core requirement for MBA students, asks students to not only rate Trump’s success but also identify the areas in which he was assessed and why.
The leadership style and approach of President Donald Trump continues to present a stark difference to the Obama administration as the federal government debates politically contentious topics such as healthcare, immigration and international relations. Since the Jan. 20 inauguration, national and international media have ultra-analyzed Trump’s success and failures, with the American public significantly divided in how it views Trump’s first 100 days, which ended April 30. This critical analysis allowed students—the business leaders of tomorrow—to evaluate leadership in the highest profile position in the world.
A final analysis will be sent to Trump to review. In 2008, Obama responded via letter to the student group, thanking it for the feedback.
This spring, the two distinct classes were assigned the task of evaluating President Trump through the lens of class material about organizational change from industry experts John Kotter, William Bridges and W. Warner Burke. The students were allowed to pick their own issues for conducting the evaluation and were asked to provide an overall evaluation using a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being low and 10 being high.
One class of 10 MBA students was an onsite cohort at a manufacturing facility in the heavy-duty automotive industry in Indianapolis. The other MBA class, conducted on campus, consisted of a very diverse group of 13 students. Of the 23 students, there were eight females and 15 males.
The major issues selected for evaluation by the students included:
- Repealing and replacing Obamacare (52 percent)
- Issuing the “Travel Ban” (48 percent)
- Withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (40 percent)
- “Make America Great Again” (26 percent)
- Building the wall along the Mexico-U.S. border (26 percent)
- Draining the swamp (26 percent)
- Nominating a conservative judge for the Supreme Court (22 percent)
- Renegotiating the NAFTA trade agreement (22 percent)
- Executive Order related to the Keystone pipeline (22 percent)
- Eliminating ISIS (17 percent)
- For every new federal regulation, two existing should be eliminated (13 percent)
- Bring jobs back to America (13 percent)
President Trump’s success was evaluated through the lens of Trump as a change agent:
- Overall, the male students gave President Trump an average score of 6.55 out of 10.
- Overall, the female students gave President Trump an average score of 3.38 out of 10.
- The MBA students in the on-site cohort gave President Trump an average score of 6.40 out of 10.
- The MBA class conducted on the UIndy campus gave President Trump an average score of 4.71 out of 10.
Relative to Kotter:
- 56 percent of the students credited President Trump with establishing a sense of urgency and the need for change.
- 40 of the students discussed President Trump’s cabinet (Kotter – Guiding Coalition, Bridges – Transition Management Team). 78 percent had positive comments.
- 43 percent of the students gave high marks for establishing a vision and thirty-four percent discussed his communication of the vision. 78 of those comments were positive.
- 43 percent of the students cited President Trump’s ability to achieve short-term wins.
- 73 percent of the students cited more work to be done to anchor the change into the culture.
Several students referenced the Open Systems Theory (Burke) and the effect of the external environment on the Trump administration. This theory supports the concept that the success of organizational change is impacted most significantly by the environment in which it occurs.
Several students described the Trump administration as being in what Bridges refers to as the Neutral Zone – a period of chaos and re-patterning. In this climate, members of the more “neutral” public are evaluating and deciding where they stand and how they want to respond to the change taking place. The leadership tactics ultimately will adjust based on this feedback, which also could impact the positive and negative views of Trump as a change agent.
The gap between male and female evaluations is not surprising, given the low approval ratings of President Trump among women (hovering at nearly 60 percent in recent polls). The more positive rating among the industry group as opposed to the diverse on-campus group could suggest recent debates about trade and economic issues may have impacted the evaluation. Overall, the students provided varying perspectives about issues that were important to them as well as grading Trump on his success and failures, Schindler said.
“This was an opportunity to take ideology out of the discussion and have a more productive conversation,” Schindler said. “These students had a chance to look at behavior and process versus persona. It allowed and forced us to look for the positives as well as the negatives of what has taken place.”