GREAT MONDAYS: Behaviors

DEC 17, 2018: A case study from Yale School of Management written by Lauren Cohen, Sr. Solutions Consultant at LinkedIn


Part of a series of articles from the people who generously shared their stories with author Josh Levine for his book. Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love is available now from McGraw-Hill Education. Learn more about the book


Photo credit: Lauren Cohen


Business schools attract a disparate crew: everyone from 20-something investment bankers to aspiring entrepreneurs, and anyone in between. Unlike the professional environment where many students come from, there is no great alignment of purpose for all students. In many ways, it is an environment that seems pre-designed to foster self-interests and selfishness, competition and conflict.


Yale School of Management has long been an outlier in the business school world. At its founding, it granted a Master’s in Public and Private Administration rather than a traditional MBA. While the MPPA was left by the wayside decades ago, its influence permeates SOM’s community to this day. Yale serves as an instructive study in how an organization’s mission can influence behaviors, even in the absence of explicitly shared incentives or collective goals.

One of the core pillars of SOM’s mission is its goal to “Educate leaders for Business and Society.” Implicit in that idea is the notion that the public and private sectors are inextricably linked, and that its graduates must be prepared to lead change in an increasingly connected ecosystem. So, what better laboratory for the practice of these ideals than the school itself? A key part of an MBA experience is interning at the firms the students hope to work at upon graduation. At SOM, this is as likely to mean a non-profit as it is a marketing firm.


To bring this mission to life, SOM needed to support students through actions and behaviors.

The Internship Fund is one tool that was created to support students to work in the public sector. The fund supplies students who want to pursue non-profit or governmental internships with the financial resources to do so. But here’s the craziest part: the funds come from peers. Every year since it’s inception, nearly 100% of the student body donates to ensure that no classmate has to forgo a summer opportunity that they are passionate about because of the financial repercussions. While all involved understand that the student who spends their summer working for an education advocacy organization will not make what their friend makes as a consultant, there is also a shared belief that both paths are not just viable, but valuable, options. This is why students are compelled to shell out hundreds — and in some cases thousands — of dollars. Not because they will be recognized. Not because they are even necessarily supporting their friends. But because at SOM, there is no better way for students to celebrate the unique culture that they have elected to be a part of than by donating.

Every year since it’s inception, nearly 100% of the student body donates to ensure that no classmate has to forgo a summer opportunity that they are passionate about because of the financial repercussions.

We all choose our communities as much as they choose us, and by doing so we accept certain implicit responsibilities to the place and to one another, even in the absence of explicit rules or requirements. That’s what a strong culture is about; empowering collective action, rather than requiring individual compliance. At SOM, the Internship Fund has become a collective endeavor, an example of how a strong cultural vision can permeate a community, encouraging and fostering behaviors rather than mandating them. By being given the opportunity to live the community’s values, students opt in willingly. And, while the school’s mission is an articulation of the administration’s goals, handed down from leadership, it is actually the students’ ability to self-regulate and perpetuate the mission that has kept SOM tied so closely to its original roots.


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