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Spartan Consulting helps school district improve its culture

When an intermediate school district in Michigan was looking for solutions to its culture problem, it turned to Spartan Consulting for help.

Spartan Consulting is Michigan State University’s student-run consulting firm. The experience of Eli Broad College of Business MBA students and their access to cutting-edge management technology and research allows the group to develop custom solutions to high-value challenges for clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations.

The leaders of this intermediate school district noticed that trust, productivity, and morale were suffering during a challenging time of budget reductions and that employees weren’t buying into new values established by the school board. So they turned to Spartan Consulting to diagnose the issue and recommend solutions.

“We used proven techniques from various areas of business to identify the problem in a structured manner,” said Tim Kuennen (MBA Human Resources Management ’14). “Coursework on subjects such as human resources, business analytics, and business communication drove our thought process, based on the symptoms the district was facing.”

The consultants focused on a handful of variables in the district’s culture: communication, effectiveness, morale, training, and workload. They developed two surveys, one for staff-level employees and one for leadership team members. By asking leaders to rate agreement with statements like “My staff want input on training session topics” and employees to rate statements like “I want input on training session topics,” the surveys gave a window into what employees wished to change while also highlighting areas where leaders misunderstood their staff’s motivations.

The results were subjected to a variety of analyses—gap, regression, social network, and leadership alignment—to determine which of these variables were significant, which showed the greatest levels of misunderstanding between leaders and staff, and what means of addressing the situation would be most effective.

“The analyses we performed suggested that all the variables we tested were hindering employee satisfaction,” said Kuennen. “However, communication and training were the variables causing the greatest gaps between leadership and employee perceptions. Based on that information and the organization’s resource constraints, we recommended that they focus on improving organizational communication and training before proceeding to the other variables.”

Meanwhile, an academic journal is in the process of publishing this original data analysis strategy and its results.

“Working for Spartan Consulting as an MBA student allows you to apply the latest research learned in the classroom to a real-world, applicable problem,” said Kuennen. “It’s a win-win, as you are providing the clients you serve with lasting solutions and gaining yourself additional professional experience. It also helps you to develop the soft skill sets that are needed to be successful in consulting, as these are generally learned better with experience and more difficult to teach in the classroom.”

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