Friday, December 6, 2013

End of Semester Course Reflection

I thoroughly enjoyed the course this semester. It was a great to be able to connect what has happened in the classroom, within student organizations, and on the job with topics in economics and business. The principle agent triangle was something that particularly stood out to me as causing numerous problems in efficiency and productivity, as well as causing stress in the workplace. I also found all the talk about motivation within organizations very relevant, especially the component regarding intrinsic motivation. Even though it can sometimes drive the best work, intrinsic motivation through feelings of partial organizational ownership can also cause problems.

I found the approach of the course to be quite rewarding, and the weekly blog posts on our own experience relating to the course topics really helped me connect what we were learning in class sessions to my own work and organization experience. I felt as though I learned more than I would have with more a standard teaching approach. The excel homework definitely helped to break down the more complicated math concepts we covered during Thursday class sessions. It was nice to be able to go back and work through the homework assignments as a refresher for the midterms too. The excel homework assigned toward the beginning of the semester definitely was more work intensive than the homework at the end. I found myself spending less and less time on it as the semester progressed. So where I once worked through it over the course of about an hour, the last assignment took only about 10/15 minutes. The blogging always took more time because I needed to take time to consider the topic and my own connections to it before sitting down to write. I’d say they usually took about an hour to complete. It was (and is) nice to be able to offer course feedback.

The course could maybe be improved by making more use of the two assigned textbooks. Also finding a middle ground for the excel homework, rather than one of the two polar ends (easy, challenging). The small class size suited the course well and definitely made the blogging more effective. Overall, I really enjoyed the class and definitely feel like I’ve learned some practical economics. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Organization Reputations

The past two summers I have interned at an auto parts manufacturer, and last summer I dealt specifically with marketing and branding. The company is split into both an OE division (off the line parts for automobiles) and an aftermarket division, which is responsible for replacement parts when the originals fail (think body shop work). The company frequently does not use its corporate name on the products it distributes, and instead after acquiring various smaller parts companies over the years has left their names on the products sold. This is because there was credibility and brand recognition in the labels prior to takeover and in order to maintain both the old company’s reputation and carry over the old customers. Each auto segment has its own brand recognition with the market, with different brands representing engine parts, windshield wipers, brake pads, gaskets, or other component parts. I believe this to be a good tactic in this industry in which being from a monopolistic company is viewed in a negative light. If I’m not mistaken, it’s very similar to the model used for branding by car companies. There are different brands which are associated to different price ranges, or customer groups. There is also name variation depending on the location of the product distribution center, as in if the product is being sold in Germany, the brand name used will be a German name, same thing in other regions of Europe and in the Asian countries.

The specific manufacturing plant I worked for had a reputation for having the widest product range as well as being most well-made product within its specific market. It also has longevity on its side, as in the last year it just celebrated its 95th anniversary, meaning that as long as car parts have been needed, the company has existed. A new fad with branding that I have observed is a consumer desire for “Made in America” products which was also something my company was well known for. The corporation as a whole is interesting because its image in corporate world is entirely different than the image it paints for itself when branding and marketing to the buyer. I believe this stems from a general dissatisfaction with corporate America and the way large companies are run, so at this point when selling a product to buyers, the smaller you seem the better. Smaller businesses don’t typically have the negative reputation of being profit hungry and ruthless that large corporations do. So in that respect, branding, and the size of the brand have a direct tie to reputation. While this was something I witnessed first-hand on the business side over the summer, it’s something that is all over the current business world. Most consumers aren’t even aware of the networks the products they buy, just because the influence of branding, and specific reputations based on brand have become so strong.

I am attaching an image from ( that really opened my eyes to what the corporate segment likes to hide from consumers, and when I first saw it I was truly astonished. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Maintaining a Good Reputation

Personal reputation has played a very important role for me in the working world. I attribute this to the competitive nature of getting hired for and holding a job. I think personal reputations become significant any time there is a situation of competitive selection, so other examples can include college admissions and scholarship applications.
The situation I will focus on for this post concerns my summer internship. It was a working situation where I entered as a low tier employee, a position for which no one scrutinized my personal reputation. Through hard work, attention paid to my superiors, and self-directed effort, I was able to build a positive reputation for myself as well as an exterior interest in my reputation from my peers, supervisors, and superiors. One of the easiest ways to begin developing a good reputation is through outward appearance. This means dressing professionally and showing up to work each day looking like you take the job seriously. When I appeared like dressed as any other professional adult, my coworkers began to treat me as though I was one of them, rather than a young and inexperienced college student. Another component to reputation is being self-driven and independent within the workplace, because no boss wants to be the one babysitting their subordinates. In order to accomplish this, I did things for my boss without being asked, and went above and beyond with the projects I was assigned. Not only was my boss impressed with my diligence and work ethic, but her boss and other higher ups were also impressed. I ended up being recruited to work on even more important projects with them as the summer progressed. Inherent in the idea of reputation is being reputable. I not only presented myself in a way that was taken seriously, but also went above and beyond on all my assigned projects on the job.

Some things I did not do in order to maintain my reputation, was to show up on time to work every day, and moved promptly to begin tackling my assigned task or project.  I did not waste time socializing too much or take extended breaks. My boss could depend on me being hard at work each time she came by my desk. What made it even easier for me look like an above average employee was that a fellow intern, who actually sat next to me, did not build or exhibit the same seriousness in her work as I did. She was frequently wandering around, socializing with other employees, and did not accomplish nearly as much output as I did. When compared, I had built a much more substantial positive reputation than she had. Building a strong reputation is a self-rewarding system, because based on my work last summer I have been offered both a pay raise and a position to come back in partial capacity during breaks and have the option of recommendation letters should I need them from a variety of managers within the company. My fellow intern was not made any such offers. Along that line then, I view maintaining a positive reputation and more importantly self-image as essential to being a marketable job candidate and staying happy with oneself. I have never considered sacrificing my good reputation for anything, because in the long run, it does not seem to be at all worth it. Part of that analysis is also being a long term thinker, which I understand not everyone is.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Triangular Principal-Agent Problems

Since the principal-agent model contains the word principal, I’m going to assume that the example I’m thinking of will apply. The best example I can come up with is teachers who serve as agents for their boss, the principal, and their students whom they are designated to educate. I can think of other parties that teachers also serve as agents to, some of these being: parents, school board, legislators, as well as their peers. One of the hardest parts of teaching is appealing to each and every one of those principals, which can be especially difficult when they stand in disagreement as they often do. A more specific situation could be in a math class, in order to appeal to the student’s needs, a teacher may try to assign less homework or, even more realistically, test less. While this is an action students would applaud, it is not something the principal and the school administration would support, especially considering the increased emphasis on testing as a way to gauge teacher performance.

On that same topic, teacher performance and how to accurately measure it is a topic disagreed upon by most professionals in education. Sometimes the teacher students judge to be the best and most fun, is not by school and state standards performing at the level they should be. In practice, discrepancies can be resolved primarily through compromise. There is a change of command which ideally provides a sort of checks and balances system to make everyone as happy as possible. Concessions must be usually made by both parties in order to reach agreement. Another potential way to resolve the conflict could be for one party to buy out or bribe the other in order to get them to agree on one side or the other. In education, teachers can get fired for doing what they think is right or best for their students, but it is rare for them to get in trouble for listening to their principal or administration. It’s definitely an interesting topic to think about considering I’ll be in the teacher’s shoes next year. And in my case not only will I be responsible to appeasing my students and the school principal, but also listening to my parent organization, Teach for America, as well. It will be a lot of people to please, that’s for sure. 

If we thus view this sort of relationship to be a typical principal-agent model for the school system, it is clear why there is so much controversy over how to best run the school system, due to the presence of multiple principals with differing ideas on what they want done. Similar to the article we read earlier on in the semester, there a spectrum has developed on how to evaluate teacher performance, spanned on either side by Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch. As of yet, no solution to this multi-principle agent problem has been successful in answering the question of how to best answer the teacher evaluation question. What the camps both do agree on is that there needs to be some system in place for performance evaluation, which means there is a starting point for a compromise to be made, probably farther down the road. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Parallels of Positive and Negative Group Experience

While I have had many good experiences and bad experiences working in groups both at work and at school, coming up with an example of two that mirrored each other was a bit of a challenge. The best parallel example I can come up with actually speaks to more team work and hierarchical dynamics than I would have ever thought at the time, and the contrast of the two situations has definitely shaped the way I view my role in subsequent team efforts.

I'll start with the bad. As a freshman in high school I took honors Biology. It was a class which was somewhat selective to get into, needed both good grades and test scores in science to qualify, and was quite demanding compared to the work I had done in middle school. My teacher for that class was not very enthused about her job and liked to complain a lot. She used the Power Points made by the other honors Bio teacher at the time and sometimes struggled to answer student questions. That’s just some background, now to the more exciting part. In the second half of the year we were assigned a group project which was to write and illustrate a picture book which related to what we were talking about at the time. We were allowed to choose groups of three. I worked with two other girls in the class, one of whom was considered a class trouble-maker, though I’d just say she was outspoken. The problems that arose were primarily a result of poor administration on the teacher’s part. Extensions were granted to more than half of groups without good rational, but for some reason my group was not one of the favored and our deadline was not extended. This was where my group took the wrong path, and decided to retaliate against her unfairness. All three of us felt as though we were being mistreated, and when working on the project our negative energy fed off one another. Our final project, into which equal work was put by each of us and which was also turned in on time, offered a sarcastic and somewhat mean profile of the class. Not what she was asking for, but still covering the requirements of the project. Of course this only made her mad, and for the first time in my school career my parents were called and the teacher made threats such as holding us out of National Honor Society down the road as well as other things. None of us were considered good students by her after that, and she even called me stupid later on in response to my asking a question. It was one of the worst educational experiences I have experienced. This teacher, the person in the management position, did not respect her subordinates and did not treat the different teams fairly. Thus conflict resulted and questions of unequal treatment arose quite quickly. I still regret not taking more action against her, and ironically, all three of us “horrible students” were inducted to National Honor Society senior year, proving that her talk was purely talk, and that she had sorely misjudged us when we were in her class freshman year.

Flash forward three years, to my senior year of high school. I was again in Bio, this time at the AP level. By this point I had established myself as one of the top students in my grade, and had proved myself to be highly proficient in science. I participated in science fair through all four years and won a gold medal at state each time. My AP Bio teacher (different from my freshman teacher if that wasn’t made clear) was supervisor of the science club and had thus gotten the chance to know me as a student and a person prior to me joining her class. Much in the same way as my freshman year, we were assigned to do group projects. The one which best parallels the situation I encountered freshman year was a video project analyzing the southern blotting technique for a breast cancer gene. It was a group of 5 of us working together, and because of college visits we had reason to request a weekend extension past the due date. Rather than being brushed off as pesky students, this teacher listened to our request, trusted us as professionals who wouldn’t try to take advantage, and decided to extend the deadline for the whole class. In doing so, she both demonstrated her respect for us as well as made sure no group had an advantage over any of the others, ensuring fairness. I was proud of the work I had done and the attitude of the group when working together was on the whole very positive. Our final product stayed true to the rubric, and was exactly what she was looking for. Having an approachable and trustworthy supervisor, as in a case like this, can increase the moral of team members and create a positive atmosphere.

Administrative respect and fairness can be viewed as a gift given to subordinates, like in Akerlof’s Gift Exchange Theory. The gift given by the boss is a collaborative, positive atmosphere, and in return the employees deliver their best effort and ideally the output that was requested of them. Also important here was the strength of the relationship between not only group members themselves, but also between the superiors and subordinates. When it’s a mutually beneficial, things will go much better than if it’s parasitic (to use some biology terms). Age and seniority made a difference for the two situations as well, since as a senior I naturally garnered more respect than when I was a freshman.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Team Production versus Individual Production

Reading the article "Getting the Rich to Share the Marbles" which deals with the concept of teamwork and shared rewards, I could't help but think of my experience on the crew team. As a rower I have experienced both sides of the spectrum, being involved in both team and individual production. Its essentially the line that divides our outdoor seasons from our indoor one. Of course there are many other situations where the concepts discussed in this article also come up, I may even discuss some at the end, but teamwork and athletic competition have always seemed to go hand in hand for me.

I'll begin with team production. In crew (the sport of rowing) the primary type of competition is a race, much like running track, but on the water. The difference is, rather than one athlete competing alone, crew regattas (rowing competitions) put boats of 8 people, 4 people, 2 people, or single person sculls up against each other. The two that I have experience competing in during outdoor season are 8+ and 4+ boats, sweeper style rather than sculling style ( I won't go too far into the logistics). Crossing the finish line in any kind of decent time requires that all athletes in the boat pull their weight. Keeping a straight course also requires that there be relatively equal pressure from both sides. Of all the sports I have played (soccer, softball, track, tennis), rowing on the crew team has been the closest I have come to true "team production" as described by the article. Like the two children pulling the string to get the marbles, crew is literally eight or four people pulling through the water to have a chance of getting on the podium and earning a medal. And in the types of boats I row in, winning or setting records can't be accomplished alone by one rower. On my team, we have each other's backs, everyone wants the best for everyone, and we go out in a race knowing that we have to give it our all because our teammates are out there doing the same. Pulling across the finish line, knowing that we left it all on the table, is one of the best feelings I have experienced. Like we talked about in class, it is the sort of teamwork that can push you to do than you ever thought possible just because you know that its about more than yourself. It's about the team, its about your boat, and for us, its about representing the university as well. There is a sense of ownership in what we do, which also makes us work harder and perform at a higher level. Just one more teamwork production example before I move to individual production: on the crew team in order to practice on the water at all, we need our entire boat to be ready on our assigned days at 4:50am at the UGL. In regular life, waking up at 4:30am through most of the week is definitely not something that I could find the motivation to do on my own. But in order to practice, and work with my boat, I have to be up and be there on time. We all have to pull the strings to make sure we get there. And our reward is having quality practice sessions on the lake with our boats. But like the marbles, that reward is always equally shared. 

Individual production is what predominates our indoor "winter" season. It consists of individual training on the indoor rowing machines, called ergs. Competition during winter is entirely individual and therefore any rewards gained are kept by that athlete. For me personally, my motivation to work my tail off is greatly diminished when there isn't a boat full of girls expecting me to pull harder. I'm not as hard on myself because I no longer have to be, and I am the only one accountable. Those that succeed in indoor competition keep the medals they earn, and have their name alone listed in the team records. It's much more akin to the situations where the marbles aren't shared because the children got them through their own personal effort. Some people prefer this kind of production, usually the highest achievers because it grants them individual recognition and reward. In terms of practice attendance, it is much easier to oversleep and miss because during winter season no one is depending on you to be there in order to do their practice piece. I can speak to this from personal experience, and also from observation of my teammates. In my opinion, output and production when strictly individual is less than it can be per person when working as a team, and the reward is so much sweeter as well.

I attached some pictures for reference.

Outdoor 4+ at Quad Cities Classic

 Outdoor 8+ at ACRAs

Indoor Competition at CIRCs
(on ergs)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More on Transfer Pricing

In some ways, the use of an "Illinibucks" system sounds like it could be a good idea. It would allow students to prioritize what aspects of university life they wish to prioritize, specifically areas where they'd like a leg up on their fellow students. Since each student would be receiving "an allocation of 'Illinibucks'" students ideally would have a capped number available for purchase. I can see the "Illinibucks" as being usable for various school-related activities which are currently administered on a first come-first serve basis. These could include but would not be limited to: time tickets for course registration, scheduling advising appointments, research positions, on-campus tutoring, out of class time with professors or TAs, admittance into smaller class sections, recommendation letters from department heads, override capabilities, or early admittance to career/internship fairs. Obviously some of these opportunities would be in much higher demand than others, and this could cause the system to not serve its intended purpose. For example, if every student wanted to use their "Illinibucks" for registration, then their affect would be mitigated and effects would be very limited.

 I actually believe the current registration system is pretty fair. In my opinion, seniority is the best method of determining registration time. The James Honors Program and Chancellors Honors Program both use early registration as incentive for their students to continue to do well, and by introducing the “Illinibucks” system; those programs could be undermined by a new monetary based system. If honors based priority was left intact, I would use my “Illinibucks” for the first come first serve campus things which I have had the most trouble with. My first priority would be override capabilities, early access to internship/career fairs, and early application to research positions on campus. 

When it comes to “Illinibucks” pricing, problems could arise if the price was too low or too high. If the price was too low, then there would be no degree of exclusivity, all students could purchase them, and they would therefore be relatively worthless. If pricing was too high, then only the wealthy could afford them and the functioning of campus would reward the rich and put everyone else at a disadvantage, despite everyone spending the same amount in tuition. In addition, allocating “Illinibucks” would open the door to the opening of a black market where students could stand to profit a great deal if they were willing to sell off their “Illinibucks” to their peers. In my opinion, opening such a market could cause more harm then good.