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Freaky Friday Tactics

Travis Brock
Director of Business Development

Ever watch the Freaky Friday movies? Either the original from 1976 with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster or the 2003 remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan? What about the 1988 film, Vice Versa, with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage? No, I am not going to do a movie review, but they all have one thing in common. The movies are all about children swapping places with their parent. The basic premise is that both the parent and the kid have their troubles, their mind’s swap in the other’s body. The changing of minds helps them figure out how to solve their respective issues. They then swap back to normal and the character’s live happily ever after.

I have also been watching summer reruns of “Undercover Boss” lately, a new reality show about corporate America. A CEO (or high-level executive) from a well-known company goes undercover within their own company to learn what to improve. For each day of a single week, the CEO is paired up with an employee for training in various roles of the company. For example, the CEO of GSI Commerce tried his hand at his companies shipping department, where he was fired for not meeting company standards. The President and COO of 1-800-Flowers got a taste of his customer’s brand perceptions and store owner’s thoughts. Each episode contains TV drama and some caring moments as well as a few minutes that shows what the undercover boss learned from his week long adventure.

Here is a higher education example that I personally thought was very cool that I read in USAToday last April (click here). At Widener University, students apply to a contest by providing plans for how to improve the University. The winner gets to swap roles with the University president for a day. President Harris works the student’s job, goes to class, and lives out his day as a student. The student presents his plan to University administrators, schmoozes an easy-target benefactor, “fires” favorite professors for the day and parks in the president’s parking spot. The winning student this year was also given a decision for how to handle a wait-listed student whose grades were not up to par, but had a lot of great references from past teachers.

Susquehanna University (click here) did a similar event last year also as a fund-raiser for a campus honor society. Students bought raffle tickets and the winner would shadow the president for a day while the president would spend the day in the students shoes. Valparaiso University (click here) also had a similar raffle ticket charity fund-raiser for their mortar board chapter.

The presidents in each of the cases above were able to learn about their campus and their students as they switched with their students for the day. But each of the articles mentioned the president learned about their faculty, campus departments, campus responsibilities, student life and other campus details. But there are many other benefits to this type of event and allows for opportunities to:

  • share some of the inner workings of the university
  • bring together benefactors and students
  • bring together administration and faculty
  • bring together administration and students
  • highlight a particular department or academic program
  • highlight the academic achievements of its students
  • highlight a particular campus initiative

These “freaky friday” tactics, as I like to call them, can also prove to be helpful in shedding light and sharing knowledge between different campus stakeholders in higher education organizations today. These tactics could also allow the administration to improve any possible sore spots and trouble areas on campus. Especially as many stakeholders feel that colleges and universities are losing touch with the hardships and missions of those they are there to serve (see my blog post on the higher education day of action), In the articles above, most presidents felt they learned something new from the tactic. I couldn’t help but try to imagine if the tactic went a bit further or more in-depth with other stakeholders. Not just presidents switching with students, but students switching with staff, faculty switching with administration, staff switching with faculty, and I think you get the point. It would definitely be a learning experience for all.

Also, while research like focus groups, telephone surveys, and online surveys are all very helpful tools of the trade, there really is nothing like walking a mile in another person’s shoes.

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