I have been thinking about the parallels (and differences) between industry and academia since I finished reading Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. As much as the parents of some students would like to believe they are the customers because they are the ones footing the bills, I tend to view the companies that hire our graduates as the customers - diverse and numerous enough to avoid being "market-setters" - and the students as our products, especially at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, we produce both students and research papers, and our customers would be the places that hire the former and the journals that publish the latter. In both cases, a strategy of moving up-market requires incentives so that potential customers give our product a try (get at least one graduate in the door); even if we already have excellent products, we might want to further increase quality by buying better raw materials (offering more merit-based scholarships to incoming freshmen).
As an example, Goldman Sachs only started recruiting systematically on Lehigh's campus after hiring a couple of students in our flagship honors program in Integrated Business and Engineering. Academia does have one advantage over industry, in the sense that its products have a brain, so universities do not have the same downside risk - just imagine, "Dear companies, Lecture 7 of IE 333 is all wrong! We're recalling all graduates from the Classes of 1986 to 2003 who've taken the class with Professor Absentminded for brain adjustment! Load them onto the Bieber bus and ship them back to Bethlehem! We'll provide you with a replacement at no cost!" As a matter of fact, a defective product is much harder to quantify in academia - what is the university's fault and what is the student's? A student struggling in one career path might become a star in another.
I was impressed by Bossidy's and Charan's emphasis on people processes - a mix of brutal honesty and coaching. People are even more central to universities' mission, and in that regard, I find it striking that professors receive so little formal training when it comes to teaching and advising. Lehigh was unique, among the places I interviewed with, in requiring a teaching seminar in addition to a research one - the vast majority of universities organize a research seminar only, and rely on teaching evaluations of courses the student was a TA (Teaching Assistant) for to judge her teaching abilities, although the TA is the focus of only one or two questions out of the fifteen or twenty on the form. It is a widely accepted fact in most research universities that, to get tenure, you need to be an excellent research but only an average teacher; the reverse is not true: an excellent teaching record won't help you if your research portfolio is only average. In other words, when it comes to teaching, the incentive is only to clear a threshold. Lehigh has shown more enthusiasm for teaching than most places, in part (I believe) because of its history as a teaching institution - the focus on research dates from the mid-1990s only. The Faculty Development program helps professors improve their teaching; it organizes the new professors' orientation every year and I still have the book on good college teaching we were given in 2004 (and yes, I read it).
But, since a key objective of research universities is to advance the state of knowledge through research, it makes sense that their core people process would focus on the advising of graduate students. New doctorate-holders could not be less prepared for that job. (I would like to say that France, which requires would-be professors to pass a second examination before they can supervise theses, shows more interest in teaching its faculty how to advise students; unfortunately, that examination - to the best of my knowledge - is a research examination.) You learn on the fly, observing which students are motivated by your advising style and which ones are not, discovering said advising style along the way. For instance, I have a carrot-driven rather than stick-driven advising style: research is fun, let's write a paper. I hate having to confront students when they don't perform. According to Bossidy and Charan, this is an extremely common problem among supervisors - who doesn't prefer to be nice? This leads many people to postpone confronting non-performing workers in the hope the situation will sort itself out without requiring them to intervene.
Which brings me to my last point. Cheating students and non-performing workers alike often gleefully think that they've tricked the system and fooled their bosses. It turns out they haven't - their bosses know the truth. In many cases, what delays the students' or workers' demise is that the boss is reluctant to deal with the problem, not that the person is a particularly good liar. This might not cheer much the employee's co-workers, who have to pick up the slack and correct the person's mistakes. But people inclined to do the bare minimum might feel a bit more motivated if they realize the boss is seeing through their game. Unfortunately, it is doubtful those people are the ones reading Bossidy's and Charan's book.