Dr. Charles R. Stoner is the Robert A. McCord professor of executive management development and chair of the Business Management and Administration department at Bradley University.
Stoner received both his M.B.A. and doctorate from Florida State University, majoring in business management and minoring in social psychology. He has authored or co-authored four textbooks and more than 50 refereed articles and paper. His research has appeared in publications such as the Journal of Applied Business Research, Journal of Business and Psychology, Journal of Occupational Psychology, Journal of Small Business Management, Journal of Small Business Strategy, International Journal of Management, Advanced Management Journal, and Business Horizons.
Stoner teaches leadership and interpersonal dynamics and organizational behavior at Bradley, and has worked with the Leadership Development Center since its inception in 1985. Stoner consults with businesses and organizations throughout central Illinois.
He and his wife, Julie, have two sons: Jason and Alex.
Tell about your career advancement to chair of the Business Management and & Administration Dept. at Bradley University.
I received my doctorate from Florida State University in 1979 and came to Bradley in 1980. I taught courses in organizational behavior, management theory, strategic management, and personnel during the 1980s, and worked to build a strong research program. I've been fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to work with outstanding colleagues who helped shape and enhance my teaching and research. I've also valued the consistent support and reinforcement I've received from the Bradley University administration. The culture at Bradley University seems to me to be an ideal blend of teaching, scholarship, and service.
I progressed through the faculty ranks from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor, a fairly normal career progression in academe. I was always excited about, and genuinely enjoyed, the various areas of academic life. Teaching and the exchange between faculty and students energized me. I enjoyed the challenge of research and writing. I learned from and gained immeasurably from the consulting opportunities that came my way. I had the chance to work on some interesting committee assignments and gained satisfaction from those efforts. I can honesty say I don't think the passion for my work has diminished at all over the years.
Three years ago, I was asked to serve as chair of the Business Management and Administration department. This is a large department with 325 majors (nearly 40 percent of all majors in the Foster College of Business and about 6 percent of the University's total). The department houses our business computer systems program, is one of the fastest growing majors in the University, as well as strong concentrations in human resource management, entrepreneurship, and legal studies. Taking over as chair, I stepped into some big shoes. The department had only two chairs (Dick Hartman and Fred Fry) over the previous 23 years. These two built an outstanding department with solid courses, high quality service to students, and a top-notch faculty. Largely, they established such a solid foundation that my job was pretty straightforward. The duties and responsibilities of being departmental chair have made me focus more on administrative and strategic activities. Hopefully, we continue to improve in providing the academic foundations and student-focused interactions our students expect, and need, in today's competitive climate.
You authored four textbooks and several articles on management theory, organizational behavior, and business policy. Tell us about your research.
The writing and research has been applied, and emphasized either behavioral or strategic topics. My fourth textbook looks at strategic planning issues facing small emerging businesses. I've co-authored it with two Bradley professors, Fred Fry and Larry Weinzimmer. Fred and I are working on the second edition of our 1998 textbook, <I>"Business: An Integrative Framework."</I> We went out on a limb with this book and presented the study of business as a set of ongoing, interacting processes. While other books in the area examined each functional area of the organization in relative isolation, that approach just didn't make sense to us. It was inconsistent with the way businesses worked, and it didn't help students see the tradeoffs and interrelated nature of managerial decisions. We've been pleased with the response to this book.
I've done primary research in a number of areas over the years. Beginning about 10 years ago, I started studying the area of work-family conflict. The Women in Management national organization allowed me to survey their membership, and my work went in a number of directions from there. For example, I did studies looking at diversity attitudes and actions and alternative work arrangements (such as telecommuting and teams). Most of my work in recent years has had a strong behavioral focus.
Currently, you are on sabbatical leave from teaching assignments. What research are you working on?
Sabbatical leaves are a great time to delve into new projects. Although I missed teaching, I've had the time to become immersed in study and writing. Right now, I am working with Bradley Professor Lori Russell on a book, "The Conflict Response: Tapping the Power of Productive Conflict." This project grew from the consulting work Lori and I have done on this topic over the last six years. I'm also working with Fred Fry on a series of studies looking at the unique needs and concerns of small and family business owners. Fred and I hope to establish a base that will provide answers to research questions, and help Bradley University better serve the needs of smaller businesses that are so critical to our area. Finally, I am working with Jack Gilligan on a project exploring senior executive impressions of career success.
It is really important for faculty to be active scholars and stay in touch with the business world through study and direct contact, such as consulting. This keeps the faculty fresh, and I'm convinced helps us be better teachers.
You are involving community business leaders as guest lecturers in many Bradley classes. What perspective does this give students? What types of business leaders do you recruit? What do the speakers gain from the experience?
Eight years ago, we pioneered a new undergraduate course in leadership. I wanted the course to be grounded in solid theory, but also be highly practical. One feature of the course was to invite area leaders to visit class to share their experiences and expertise with the class. I encouraged the leaders not to worry about giving a sweeping lecture or presentation. Rather, I asked them to come in and let the students pick their brains.
In this class, students get a chance to explore the tough issues of leadership from the people on the firing line–men and women who practice effective leadership every day. The students' questions are often penetrating, and the leaders' answers are open and candid. For example, students learned how new cultures have been built–why certain strategies have been pursued. They learned, with riveting firsthand examples the values of personal integrity, respect for the people of the organization, and corporate citizenship. They heard leaders discuss an array of topics ranging from how problem employees were handled, to why a business was divested, all the way to the details of how an acquisition was financed. It's been great.
The use of community business leaders and experts is a common practice in classes throughout the Foster College of Business. In addition, we bring nationally recognized business leaders to campus to meet with and address our students. Our premier effort here is the McCord Lecture Series, made possible through the financial support of Illinois Mutual Insurance Company and named for a role model of business and community leadership, Bob McCord. Through this series, students get a chance to meet leaders they read about in Business Week and Wall Street Journal.
From a selfish point of view, these presentations help professors. Students see that the ideas they are reading about and we (professors) are presenting are the very themes these leaders grapple with and address on a day-to-day basis.
I have had about 50 different executives from throughout central Illinois, most of them presidents and CEOs, come to my leadership class over the past eight years. And here is a real testimony to our community's leaders, I have never called a leader from this area and asked them to meet with my students and been turned down. Never! I can only speculate as to what they gain from the experience. I think they do this as a way to give back to the community and help build a stronger cadre of future leaders. I know I appreciate the time, effort, and energy that's given.
At the end of the semester, students write a reflection paper noting what they learned from our guest leaders and how the insights they've gained affected their views, attitudes, and philosophies of leadership. I can tell you without question, our community leaders have a powerful impact on our students.
How has college level business classes changed over the last decade? For content? For students? For professors?
Probably the most noticeable change in business classes today is the use of technology. Logically, this goes hand-in-hand with the technological progress we see all around us. It would not be unusual for students and their professors to have electronic interactions outside of class. This may include assignments or projects. Through electronic exchange, students can ask questions and seek clarification. Some people have even suggested that students who may be a bit shy asking a question during class are quite comfortable asking it over the Internet. As in all business, technology becomes an additional vehicle for improving communication. Even our in-class delivery has changed. To a large extent, power point presentations have replaced the old marker boards. Many professors provide electronic access to notes, readings, and sites for digging further into course themes. We have the capacity to bring direct Internet connections to the classroom. This has even touched the way books are written. For example, our 1998 book, <I>"Business: An Integrative Framework,"</I> had Web sites for every company we used as examples throughout the text, and every chapter had Internet exercises for the students to do. Technology is revolutionizing the way business operates. Consider the way electronic commerce is reshaping business exchanges. Just as paperless exchanges are more common in business, similar exchanges are possible for our students.
Regarding content, certain areas are receiving much stronger emphasis. We focus, throughout the business curriculum, on themes such as the global economy, cultural diversity, ethical decision-making, the influence and use of technology, the integrative nature of business activity, real world exchanges and applications, and the development of critical thinking skills. We want graduates to understand relevant theory, be able to apply that theory in situations they will face, and hone relevant skills. Our classrooms are interactive and students are engaged in real world projects to help them put their ideas and skills into practice. For example, every student graduating in the Foster College of Business works on a senior consulting project. Here, the clients come from businesses and organizations in this area, and the issues addressed are ones the clients select. This is a great culminating experience for our students. Additionally, client reviews suggest they are extremely satisfied with the consulting work these student teams provide.
You have consulted with various businesses outside of classroom teaching. What area companies have solicited your expertise?
I really enjoy consulting. It's challenging and always new. It also keeps me in touch with businesses and organizations and some of the key issues they face. Not surprisingly, I've found the managers who seek training and outside advice tend to be the most progressive and successful. They are always looking for ways to improve and gain an edge, and they recognize the value of gaining new ideas and different perspectives. I have great respect for these people and am unwavering in my commitment to gain and maintain their confidence.
Most of my consulting in recent years focuses on interpersonal issues. I've worked a lot on teamwork building, and enhancing overall work relationships. I've explored themes as broad as major cultural change, diversity management, and maintaining motivation in an era of change. I have been doing a number of specific projects looking at conflict management issues and working with different personalities. Through all these activities, I've met some great people, and I hope my involvement has made some difference for those people and their organizations. I've worked, directly, more than 40 businesses and organizations in the central Illinois area, and worked with people from hundreds of businesses (locally and nationally) through public workshops sponsored by the Leadership Development Center and Bradley University's Center for Executive and Professional Development. These businesses have ranged from small family businesses to large employers.
What are some of the organizational challenges facing today's businesses? How do you relate this to students who have no real experience with the business world?
There are five key challenges I encourage my students to consider. These include the growing impact of global competition, the proliferation of technology, finding and retaining a talented workforce, meeting the varied but interlocking expectations of increasingly diverse stakeholders, and the drive for improvements in quality and efficiency. Each of these challenges has a common foundation that is, and perhaps always has been, the most critical challenge we face. This challenge is the need for change.
This sounds so simple, yet it is so fundamental. We know any organization that does not change and adapt cannot survive. Customers have shifting and rising demands, and competition is always striving for creative ways to address those demands. Organizations must innovate and resist the temptation to become stagnant and satisfied with the status quo. We know this at an intellectual level. However, there are powerful restraining forces–people, procedures, culture, and past success–that keep us from accepting change at the action level. Resistance to change is common. Resistance is not aberrant, it's natural. It also can be devastating. We try to get students to recognize the significance of change by examining historically successful business that have stumbled because of their own inertia. We study the practices of organizations that are recognized for their innovation and responsiveness. We try to help students understand that often the leader's most challenging task is to be a catalyst for change. We try to help them see the complex pieces to the change process.
How important is executive coaching for today's business leaders?
This can be a very important approach. As with any coaching or mentoring relationship, the effectiveness is dependent on the rapport and trust that develops between the coach and understudy. If the coach has trouble sharing information, providing reinforcement, and establishing close communication with the understudy, the process will lose effectiveness. When handled well, the coaching can be powerful way to convey key values, expose people to important perspectives, help foster the development of talent and skill, and help assure seamless transitions.
With mergers and acquisitions, some cultural differences are inevitable. What common problems develop among managers when change is forced? Among employees?
The behavioral impact has been studied quite a bit. Mergers that lack cultural affinity are certainly more problematic. Particularly in this decade of downsizing, we tried to look carefully at what these moves mean to employees and what the moves demand of managers.
Not surprisingly, there is evidence that many people experience confusion, anxiety, and fear. They are uncertain about what is happening and where they will fit in. Some studies revealed that employees may even experience a sense of betrayal, resulting in anger. This reasoning is deep and involved. One view is that employees perceive the old "psychological contact" (the implied notion that if employees are committed to the business, work hard, and meet expectations, the company will be there to offer support and rewards) had disappeared. This makes sense when we see solid performers loose jobs through restructuring. Some writers have even suggested that this breeds a looking-over-the-shoulder "am I next" philosophy. Evidence shows that these feelings are often dramatized through decreased levels of morale and overall job satisfaction, higher absenteeism, and less loyalty to the organization.
Managers must be sensitive to these issues. In my workshops, I often note that in such volatile climates, people need at least three things–connection, significance, and communication. Connection suggests that people need to know where the business is going, where they fit in, and what their role is. Significance deals with a basic human need to feel significant–the sense that what one does really counts, really has an impact, and really makes a difference. Communication is the glue that holds this all together. Communication needs to be candid and honest, and it needs to be ongoing. It is virtually impossible to overcommunicate when people are struggling through massive changes.
Many programs offered at Bradley and through the LDC are for "big" business. What programs are available for the small business owner?
Actually, we offer a number of programs for smaller businesses, and that emphasis is expanding. For example, we have been working closely with the Peoria Area Family Business Forum to better serve this key group. We are looking forward to establishing a center for entrepreneurship and family business, pending funding. We have worked with hundreds of small businesses through our senior consulting projects in what has been an overwhelmingly successful program. Additionally, our Small Business Development Center works with a variety of small businesses on a range of issues and needs.
Can you predict a college student's ability to best work within a large corporation or in a small business? How? How do you know if your conclusions are correct?
This is difficult to highlight with certainty. There is no good statistical approach to this that I have seen and find reasonable. There do seem to be characteristics that are common to people who prefer entrepreneurial ventures and smaller business opportunities to working for larger corporations. These people like freedom, independence, challenge, and to see the evidence of what they have accomplished. They are optimistic risk takers who seem capable of tolerating uncertainty. However, we really have to be cautious here. These characteristics may describe successful people in all areas of business. I hesitate to extend this line of thinking too far because even those with a strong entrepreneurial flair can be quite effective in larger settings.
What expectations do companies have regarding recent college graduates today? Has this changed from a decade ago? How so?
Companies expect graduates to have basic analytic foundations and skills. They expect graduates to bring specific skills and talents to the workplace. These expectations are important in an age of rapid technological change. Accordingly, we find students choosing electives with care. For example, we have seen tremendous growth in students choosing our course in managerial applications of personal computers for elective credit. Obviously, they feel this helps in the job market.
Second, companies expect incoming graduates to have keen interpersonal and team skills. I think the expectation here may be even stronger than it was even a decade ago. We have responded by building team experiences into most classes. Additionally, we require all Foster College of Business graduates to complete a weekend workshop in team dynamics that looks at how to work with others, deal with team conflicts, and make teams a productive work arrangement.
Finally, businesses expect graduates to be life-long learners. Many businesses encourage and financially support continued educational activities. Young graduates must be poised to capitalize on these growth opportunities. While this focus on ongoing learning has always been present, it seems even more prevalent in recent years, no doubt due to the rapid rate of technological and global change we are experiencing.
What expectations do college graduates have regarding entering the business world? Has this changed from a decade ago? How so?
Although it may seem obvious, we are experiencing a phenomenon that has not always been present. Probably heavily influenced by our booming economic times, our students expect to be able to secure attractive jobs that provide opportunities to use the skills and training they received at Bradley. This seems to be happening, as our placement rates over the last few years for Foster College of Business graduates has been around 98 percent.
I know from talking to our graduating seniors that they want jobs that are challenging, provide them with discretion, allow them to utilize their talents, and give them opportunities for growth and advancement. Compensation is a factor, particularly in some of the more competitive areas.
What advice do you give to your students regarding career choice/advancement opportunities?
One of the strengths of our college is the advising we do to help students with these choices. All students in the Foster College of Business must take a course in career planning, usually at the end of their junior year. Beyond this course, it is common for our faculty to spend time, one-on-one, with students who are struggling with career choices. We try to encourage and help students learn about the companies and organizations they are considering. We encourage them to explore their personal interests and preferences and how those elements stack up with the organizations and jobs they'll be asked to do. We try to help them think through some of the demands we know are involved in certain careers. We ask them to look at travel demands, relocation issues, lifestyle considerations, chances for training and advancement, and the general cultural fit between the company and what they want out of their careers. Often, we just listen, as students think through the issues. Other times, we ask questions or offer views. Sometimes, we can put students in touch with past students we know who are at the company under consideration.
We have even counseled students on negotiating strategies as they consider offers. I encourage students to recognize that the offer must feel fair and equitable given their background, skills, and the prevailing competitive conditions. However, I want them to realize that its probably factors other than compensation that will excite them, motivate them, and make them feel satisfied in their work. While an important factor, I encourage them not to get blinded by money.
Career choice is a very stressing and vulnerable time for most students. The faculty try to give students a lot of support and understanding. Finally, and this may be a side of faculty many people do not see, we are thrilled when a student lands a good job.
Do more students today look to start their own businesses, or work for small companies than in the past?
Again, we have no good, reliable statistics here. There are far more small business, entrepreneurship, and family business centers at universities throughout the county than just a few years ago, and these numbers are growing. Entrepreneurship, small business, and family business courses are becoming much more commonplace on university campuses. For example, our concentration in entrepreneurship, which we stared just a little over two years ago, has seen steady growth. So anecdotal evidence suggests there is growth. One thing we do seem to be able to agree on is that students choosing small business careers have the chance to enter their careers with solid background and perspective, improving their chances of success. IBI