Emphasizing the Positive: Forming a Strategic Identity for the Ross School of Business

by: Kim Cameron, Gretchen Spreitzer, Robert Quinn, Jandi Kelly, Jane Dutton

Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Length: 20 pages
Product ID#: 1-430-493

Core Disciplines: Leadership/Organizational Behavior, Marketing/Sales, Strategy & Management

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Teaching Note

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Setting a strategic direction for a business school, initiating a culture change, and overcoming a massive financial deficit were challenges faced by the incoming dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Alison Davis-Blake. Of the four strategic pillars adopted—analytical rigor, action learning, boundarylessness, and a focus on the positive—the positive pillar was both the most controversial and the most differentiating. After experiencing dramatic success over a five-year period, Davis-Blake stepped down and a new dean was appointed, Scott DeRue. He had to determine whether to keep the positive pillar or abandon it.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Describe the benefits and challenges of developing a strategic identity, especially relative to a focus on the positive.
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of bottom-up (emergent) and top-down change processes.
  • Brainstorm how to overcome resistance to change.
  • Develop strategies for maintaining momentum and commitment to organizational change.
  • Make a case for the compatibility or the incompatibility of the positive pillar with the profit motive for business as espoused by Milton Friedman.