By the book: shaping the future

Study groups pick apart President Kennedy’s new publication to see if best practices in business translate to higher education

Mark Kennedy

Two campus “think tanks” are studying strategies laid out in UND President Mark Kennedy’s new book — Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism — to see if best practices in the corporate world can be articulated in a higher education setting such as UND. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Can some business techniques work in higher education?

When it comes to social media, crisis communication and activism, a group on campus is working to find out.

Two “think tanks” are reading Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism, written by President Mark Kennedy, to see if the principles in the book may apply to academia.

“I think that Shapeholders gives us the language to talk about the influences that are already part of UND,” said Cara Halgren, interim vice president for student affairs and diversity, part of the book group. “How we engage with individuals impacts our university.”

Kennedy defines shapeholders as the politicians, media and activists who can shape an organization’s  opportunities and risks, even though they have no stake in an organization’s success.

Historically, higher education hasn’t had an effective way of engaging shapeholders, especially in today’s era of social media, where shapeholders can make a difference – for good or for bad.

Mark Kennedy

UND President Mark Kennedy engages a group of faculty and staff members who have been meeting regularly to discuss business strategies highlighted in his new book. Photo by Kaylee Cusack.

Engaging ‘shapeholders’

The groups, which meet regularly, were organized by Thomas DiLorenzo, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who was concerned about how UND could respond to positive and negative influencers on social media.

“Every university is doing this kind of work,” DiLorenzo said. “We are assessing risk, trying to define the unexpected, and planning how to address these issues.”

The book, which focuses on engaging shapeholders, may be one tool that universities can use.

“Although the book is written for the business community, there is much to be gleaned for higher education,” DiLorenzo said. “The immediate resonance of the book comes from understanding how social media plays a role in everyday life and the speed at which it can impact us. This book offers solutions to potential disruptions that shapeholders can wield through social media.”

“Social media has transformed the power of viewpoint amplification to the point where a single member of a University’s community can become a significant source of pride and generate extraordinarily positive reputational capital for the organization,” said Tim Pasch, associate professor and chair of the department of communication and a member of one of the book groups. “If mismanaged, social-media amplified attention can be absolutely devastating for the reputation of an institution.”

Though it’s early days, participants expect that the book will help UND better respond to activists and shapeholders.

“I am absolutely delighted to be participating in the Shapeholders book group,” said Julia Ernst, associate professor of law. “Specifically regarding the law school, this book group has led me to think about how we can reach out more deliberately to our alumni and other constituents across the state.  For example, I provided a continuing legal education program on Friday as part of our Homecoming activities, and I would like to give this presentation to local bar associations throughout North Dakota.”

“Although this book is written for a business audience,” said DiLorenzo, “the concepts do fit for higher education. There are always individuals who want to impact higher education but who are not stakeholders or shareholders. We have to understand who they are and mitigate the risks.”

“This book is giving additional insight to talk about things I do every day,” said Halgren. “This book group gives us the tools to hold conversations with people we need to engage.”