The analysis cites Amazon, Apple, and Tesla as three of the major employers in Texas pursuing AI initiatives. Photo via Getty Images

If internet search volume is an accurate barometer, Texas is a hotbed for interest in artificial intelligence jobs.

An analysis by Agility Writer, whose technology helps users produce AI-generated content, shows Texas ranks second among the states with the highest monthly search volume for AI-related jobs. The analysis puts Texas’ monthly search volume at 1,300, with California sitting in first place at 1,900 monthly searches.

“As the AI revolution continues to gain momentum, the geographic distribution of interest in AI careers is likely to evolve further, with states investing in AI education and fostering supportive ecosystems poised to reap the benefits of this transformative technology,” says Adam Yong, CEO of Agility Writer.

The analysis cites Amazon, Apple, and Tesla as three of the major employers in Texas pursuing AI initiatives.

Dice.com, a search engine for tech jobs, says AI roles that are in high demand include machine learning engineer, data scientist, AI research scientist, and robotics engineer.

“Looking forward, the demand for AI professionals is expected to intensify as technologies continue to advance and integrate into everyday business processes and consumer products. AI is not just creating jobs but also transforming them, requiring workers to adapt by gaining new skills,” says Dice.com.

A January 2024 report from career platform LinkedIn found that AI consultant and AI engineer are two of the 25 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. this year. Most of these roles are concentrated in San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, and Boston, according to the report.

On the flip side, some analysts predict millions of jobs will be affected by or even lost to AI. For example, research from investment banking giant Goldman Sachs indicates roughly two-thirds of U.S. occupations “are exposed to some degree of automation by AI.”

A study released in 2023 by Chamber of Commerce, a business research company, anticipates as many as 12 percent of Houston-area workers could lose their jobs by 2027 due to AI.

"AI and technology in general may be taking certain jobs away, and yet we also see how it is changing the nature of jobs and even organizations and professions. In the ever-changing arena of AI, employees, job-seekers, and students will continue to adapt and learn new job skills that align with and anticipate workforce needs,” AI expert Fred Oswald, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University and a professor of psychological sciences, said in a 2023 news release.

According to a new report, Houston's a growing hub for tech jobs. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houston tech workforce sees steady growth

job market

The Houston metro area may not enjoy a national profile as a tech hub, but the region is a growing force in tech employment.

The State of the Tech Workforce report, released by the CompTIA trade group, found that the Houston metro area added 5,090 tech jobs in 2022. That put Houston at No. 9 among major U.S. metro areas for growth in tech jobs last year. Tech employment in the region grew 3.5 percent in 2022 versus 2021, compared with the national growth rate of 3.2 percent.

“In a year of even more uncertainty than usual, the tech labor market routinely defied expectations,” Tim Herbert, chief research officer at CompTIA, says in a news release. “The data continues to confirm the degree to which technology underpins so many facets of business activity across the economy and the breadth of employers reliant on technical and digital skills.”

CompTIA predicts the tech workforce in the Houston area will grow 2.2 percent this year, down more than a full percentage point from 2022. The projected growth rate would represent about 3,300 new jobs.

These are the tech jobs that CompTIA expects to see the biggest gains here in 2023:

  • Software developer
  • Software programmer
  • Web developer
  • Software quality assurance specialist
  • Database specialist
  • Data scientist
  • Computer scientist
  • Cybersecurity specialist
  • Systems engineer

The share of Houston-area job postings for roles in emerging technology or those requiring emerging-tech skills accounted for nearly one-fourth (24.4 percent) of the region’s job postings in 2022, the report says. These jobs are in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and blockchain.

An estimated 150,145 people work in tech-related jobs in Houston, with a median wage of $89,197, according to the report. That wage is 112 percent higher than the median wage for all occupations in the region.

The tech sector generates an estimated economic impact of $20.7 billion for the Houston metro area, making up 3.3 percent of the entire local economy, CompTIA says.

Houston saw the biggest year-over-year jump in tech job postings among the top 25 U.S. cities for tech job growth, according to this report. Photo via Getty Images

Houston ranks as the top market for tech job growth

By the numbers

Houston is experiencing a boom in tech employment.

A recent report from Dice, a job platform for the tech industry, says Houston saw the biggest year-over-year jump in tech job postings among the top 25 U.S. cities for those postings.

From January through October this year, the number of tech job postings in Houston soared 45.6 percent versus the same period a year earlier. That compares with a 22.8 percent statewide increase during the same time span.

“Although sometimes overshadowed by the cachet of Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Houston is absolutely a tech hub in its own right, attracting a mix of major tech companies and VC-backed startups to join its already established base of aerospace, defense, and energy companies,” Dice says.

For the one-year period covered by the Dice report, San Antonio witnessed a 17.3 percent rise in tech job postings, with Austin at 9.6 percent and Dallas at 7.7 percent.

In citing Houston’s astronomic showing, Dice notes that the region benefits from the presence of tech employers like Asurion, AWS, Fiserv, Dell, IBM, and Siemens, along with a number of venture-backed startups.

Top tech occupations in the Houston area include software developer/engineer, business analyst, .NET developer, data analyst/engineer/scientist, DevOps engineer, network engineer, and full stack engineer, according to Dice. The region’s average tech salary is $100,341.

More broadly, the Greater Houston Partnership forecasts healthy job growth in 2023 while noting that a recession could temper the growth.

A “short and shallow” recession in the first half of 2023 would mean a net gain of 60,800 jobs next year, the partnership says. If no recession hits Houston, that number could climb as high as 79,200 jobs. However, a prolonged recession would limit job growth to about 30,400 jobs.

The partnership predicts 2023 job growth will be strongest in the region’s construction, energy, government, health care, professional services, and restaurant sectors. Within the professional category, which includes tech services, the partnership anticipates the addition of anywhere from 2,000 to 7,900 new jobs next year.

Through the first 10 months of this year, the Houston area added 144,000 new jobs, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission. In November, the region’s unemployment rate stood at 4 percent, down from 5.1 percent a year earlier.

“As we look ahead to 2023 and what the future has in store, I’m incredibly optimistic about Houston’s prospects, despite a possible recession,” Bob Harvey, president of the partnership, says in a news release. “We have our challenges — from ensuring we lead on the energy transition to effectively competing for top talent — but each time Houston has been underestimated, we’ve come out on top. I believe that will be the case once again.”

Houston's tech job force growth leads Texas, says the new report. Image via Getty Images

Houston tops Texas as No. 1 city for growth in tech jobs, says new report

plugged in

While a certain city tends to draw all the buzz as the top Texas tech hub — especially since Elon Musk moved there — Houston has just emerged as No. 1 in the Lone Star State regarding tech jobs.

A new report from Dice, an online platform for tech professionals, shows Houston No. 5 among major U.S. cities for the growth of tech job postings from the first half of 2021 to the first half of 2022.

Houston, says the Dice report, registered an increase of 83 percent — making it tops in Texas.

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio No. 6 among major U.S. cities (and No. 2 in Texas) with an increase of 80 percent. Dallas appeared at No. 15 on the list, recording a 58 percent growth rate for tech job postings. Surprisingly, Austin failed to make the top 25 in this category.

Overall, Orlando, Florida topped the list, boasting a 111 percent growth rate for tech job postings.

This news is hardly surprising for Houston. In March, as CultureMap reported, Houston landed at No. 2 on Blinds list of the best-paying Texas cities for software engineers. Here, the average annual salary is $111,625, and the average annual compensation is $137,987.

“Long before Austin became a magnet for jobs, there was Houston. Long a hub for the aerospace, defense, and energy industries, the aptly named Space City has been a go-to place for a job in tech,” Blind noted.

In October 2021, as CultureMap and sister site InnovationMap reported, employers in the Houston area posted openings for 14,714 tech jobs in the third quarter of 2021, which was up 44 percent from the same period last year. Through the first nine months of this 2021, Houston-area employers listed nearly 39,000 openings for tech positions.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new report ranks Texas as a top spot for tech workers. Photo via Getty Images

Texas ranks as top state for tech workers

techy texas

The Houston area can help wave Texas’ newly hoisted flag representing its status as the best state for tech workers.

A new study by IT service automation company SysAid analyzed several factors that affect a state’s desirability for tech workers, such as average internet speed and coverage, number of available tech jobs, and average industry salary compared with the state average. When all the data was tallied, Texas came out on top.

Here are a couple of data points that helped push Texas to the No. 1 position:

  • 31,110 tech jobs are available in the state, demonstrating significant demand for tech workers.
  • The typical tech salary is $103,370, more than double the state’s typical salary of $50,490.

As home to a bevy of tech companies like BMC Software, FlightAware, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HighRadius, and NetIQ, the Houston area certainly contributes to the state’s No. 1 standing. According to a report released in 2021 by the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston Exponential, the more than 8,800 tech-related businesses in the region help generate $28.1 billion in local GDP.

Statewide, the tech sector pumps $142.8 billion into the economy, according to a recent report from CompTIA, a trade group for the tech industry.

Ranked behind Texas in the SysAid study are four states viewed as tech rivals:

  • California, No. 2.
  • New York, No. 3.
  • Virginia, No. 4.
  • Florida, No. 5.

“Jobs in tech and IT are becoming more in demand, with typically high salaries making the jobs desirable and free courses in coding making the industry more accessible. The data reveals that it is easier in some states to work in tech than others, with demand and salaries varying massively between states,” SysAid says. “Texas tops our list as the best state to work in tech, and it is fascinating to see that California, home to Silicon Valley, is not [at the] top.”

The CompTIA report shows nearly 791,000 people work in Texas’ tech sector. Texas ranks first among all the states for the number of tech jobs (10,851) added in 2021 and second for the size of its tech workforce (behind California). Texas also ranks second, behind Florida, for the number of tech businesses (1,807) launched in 2021.

CompTIA projects Texas will rank second this year, behind California, for the number of tech jobs added (21,303).

“Unlike other would-be innovation hubs, [Texas] has been quietly nurturing high-tech industry for decades. If Texas eventually rivals California, the consequences could be momentous, not just for industry, but for U.S. politics,” according to a Bloomberg opinion piece published in 2021.

Houston was recognized as a growing hub for tech jobs. Photo via VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images

Now hiring: Houston companies are looking to fill thousands of tech positions, according to a new report

by the numbers

Houston isn't stereotypically viewed as a tech hub like Silicon Valley or Austin. Yet the Houston metro area's tech employment base continues to grow at an impressive hub-type pace.

According to CompTIA, a trade group for the IT industry, employers in the Houston area posted openings for 14,714 tech jobs in the third quarter of 2021, up 44 percent from the same period last year. Through the first nine months of this year, Houston-area employers listed nearly 39,000 openings for tech positions.

CompTIA says Microsoft was the most active Houston-area employer last month in terms of postings for tech jobs — 130. It was followed by Deloitte (115) and JPMorgan Chase (52).

Among the most in-demand positions in the Houston area are software developer, software quality assurance analyst, computer user support specialist, computer systems analyst, and database administrator, CompTIA says.

A report released earlier this year by CompTIA ranks Houston as the country's No. 1 metro area for the share of tech workers employed at non-tech businesses — 62.2 percent (compared with 34.8 percent in the Austin metro area). According to the Greater Houston Partnership, this figure helps explain why Houston "isn't a more visible tech hub."

CompTIA tallied 243,908 tech workers in Houston last year, putting it in 11th place for total tech employment among U.S. metro areas. That compares with 426,286 in the San Francisco metro area (No. 4) and 373,695 in Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 11).

The ranks of tech workers in Houston are expanding in part because of an influx of tech talent. Among major metro areas, Houston claimed the No. 2 spot for the next gain of tech workers (10.4 percent compared with the previous 12-month span) moving from other regions from March 2019 to February 2020, according to LinkedIn data cited by the Axios news website. Only Miami ranked higher (15.4 percent).

While Houston may not necessarily be the next Silicon Valley, it "is winning the competition to establish tech hubs in Texas," MarketWatchdeclared in July.

The article cites the move of the headquarters for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) from Silicon Valley to Spring as an example of Houston's ascendance in the tech economy. The HPE relocation "offers a vivid snapshot of a new tech frontier," MarketWatch observes, where the energy sector, major local universities, the Texas Medical Center, Mayor Sylvester Turner's office, and the local tech ecosystem are collaborating on cloud computing and other innovations.

"I want the rest of the world to know how much Houston is changing," Amy Chronis, managing director of Deloitte's Houston office, told MarketWatch. "The wakeup call was Amazon looking at candidates for HQ2, and Houston not making the second cut. Not enough technological talent was their reason. It was incorrect, but it lit a fire here."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Here's what it's like using new connection-focused app that just launched in Houston

Branching out

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin editor Brianna Caleri recently attended a dinner arranged by Timeleft, an app that helps people meet each other. The app just launched in Houston — read about Brianna's experience using the app below.

Conventional wisdom — if I may be so bold as to define it — would suggest that people who want to make friends should: select a genuine interest, join a group centered around it, and keep attending meetings. I have not quite been sold on the generic women's group meetups I see on Facebook; and even the most passionate conversations about my ramen bar neighbor's favorite noodle dishes at have never led us to hang out a second time.

I tend to look for friends who will suggest ethical shopping alternatives, make impassioned, over-intellectualized art recommendations, and stay up late workshopping existential dread. But I recognize that's a lot to ask after one dinner.

Thus, I was both surprised and not surprised at all to really enjoy Austin's second-ever Timeleft dinner, a lightly match-made night out for strangers. I don't think I've discovered a new portal to jump into and skip all the awkward early stages of making adult friends, but I had an energizing night with people who impressed me with their social ease and willingness.

The setup
When someone signs up for the French app Timeleft, they are greeted with a pleasantly detailed, yet broad personality test. First, a this-or-that rapid fire: things like, "Do you consider yourself more of a smart person or funny person?" (Smart.) "Would you rather listen to rock or rap?" (Rock.) "Are your opinions usually guided by logic and facts, or emotions and feelings?" (Tough, but I chose logic.) Next is a 1-10 rating scale in areas like intro/extroversion, stress, spirituality, loneliness, creativity, and habits.

Some of these, like "I enjoy going out with friends" and "How important is family to you?", felt neat and inspired concise answers. Others, like "I enjoy politically incorrect humor" and "I enjoy discussing politics/news," felt like minefields. I do enjoy a wicked joke, but are we talking politically incorrect like The Office, or politically incorrect like I got kicked out of my bookclub and believe no one can take a joke anymore? I selected 3 for political incorrectness, and 8 for discussing news and politics, angling hard toward sensitivity and away from potential, if unlikely belligerence.

According to Timeleft, its algorithm considers these answers and a few other logistics to pair users with a restaurant and with each other, resulting in two medium-size tables at each. Our group of seven met at 68 Degrees Kitchen in East Austin; It would have been eight, but one didn't show up. A Timeleft representative says the app overbooked from the intended five, expecting that some people would not show.

Quoted from Timeleft's algorithm explanation, it focuses on these "main ingredients":

  • "Language: Select yours for fluid dialogue[...]"
  • "Balance: A balanced mix of men and women. Note that Timeleft is favored by women, who often make up over 60 percent of participants (thus 4 per table). [Note: Although Timeleft only mentions men and women on this list, it also offered a nonbinary gender marker)"
  • "Temperament: A mix of introverts and extroverts for a balanced rhythm."
  • "Generation: An age gap of five to seven years for common life echoes."

Before we met, we got to see a basic rundown of who would be joining, detailing profession, nationality, and zodiac signs. (Not my ideal trifecta, considering that six-sevenths of us were American, and I'm fairly confident in my ability to interact with people born on any day.) I don't think it's incredibly open-minded of me, but I did feel slightly nervous that half the group worked in tech; I like tech workers, but can't say I really relate.

The dinner
An unexpected point of beauty in the often overwrought world of app-coordinated socializing: Beyond matching us and making our reservation, Timeleft left us to a normal dinner. We ordered from the regular menu, sat among the regular clientele, and handled the payment ourselves, opting to get in a group chat and Venmo one person for one clean bill. It offered a "game," which was really just a list of conversation topics; We only got through two before the topic changing ran cheerfully rampant.

A group of seven — although it did increase the likelihood that we would all like at least one of our companions — was perhaps a bit too large to get to know anyone especially well. We talked as a large group about as much as we split into side conversations. That was perfectly doable, but it made me wish a few times that we had a quiet table of three or four, where we didn't have to raise our voices past each other or inelegantly shift our attention from one conversation to the next.

We discovered a fair amount in common: places lived, schools attended, foods loved, places traveled, parties and underground scenes frequented. Although some of it dipped very lightly into taboos (Who has been to sex clubs? Who has been kicked out of restaurants?), most of these were surface-level parallels.

I learned that one of my dinner mates shared my lack of enthusiasm for school spirit as a concept, but couldn't say whether it was simply noncommittal or deep-rooted antiestablishmentarianism. I learned that at least one of my dinner mates likes to do yoga, but I don't know if they prefer to work up a sweat to EDM or study the Yoga Sutras.

It would be hard to suss out many of the deeper values behind these things, since seven people sitting at a dinner table together are generally trying to be agreeable — or at least entertaining. We're playing to the lowest common denominator, and we don't really know what our denominators are. We never found the gold thread running through — for instance, if we all rated our passion for working out similarly. But if we could narrow it down that much, it might be time to cut out the middle man and join a CrossFit gym.

The after-dinner drinks, and social patterns
After the small group dinners, all the diners from the various Timeleft tables in South and Central Austin were invited to meet up at Hold Out Brewing. Our group (less one person with a morning appointment) decided to head over. It was already 9:45 pm by the time we left the restaurant, having spent nearly 3 hours together already. We were surprised to see the dense crowd that gathered among the picnic tables.

In reporter mode, I started popping by different groups to find out how their night had gone. I talked to more than a dozen people, all of whom had entirely positive feedback about their evenings. The only criticism I heard was that one person felt the $16 "ticket" to the dinner (which was then priced à la carte) was a bit pricy.

Other groups went to Fresa's Chicken al Carbon, North Italia, and what I have to assume was QI Austin: Modern Asian Kitchen, although diners kept pronouncing it "key." Most groups had met members of the other table at the same restaurant, and some even wandered over during the dinner to see how the other half lived. Our group never found its counterpart.

It seemed to me that our group was objectively the most outgoing. Not only were we the last to arrive after our long dinner (as far as I noticed), but we were also (definitely) the last to leave the brewery. One duo from another group said theirs was a little awkward, in a pleasant way, so the two of them kept up most of the talking. One group said conversation flowed fairly easily, but when there was a lull, they returned to the provided conversation topics. It seemed about equally common to share meals or order for yourself, but our gang all shared everything.

Every group noticed their close ages beyond any other unifying factor. No one offered up any common threads, yet people responded in conversation as if they knew each other, with affectionate interjections like, "Of course he would say that!"

Brianna's gang at the Timeleft dinner in Austin. Photo by Brianna Caleri

Final impression
Most interesting to me was that nearly every single person I talked to all night, including in our own group, first heard about the dinner series on Instagram and just thought it sounded worth trying. Only one person specifically told me that they wanted to make new friends because theirs were mostly from work.

My biggest prejudice before the dinner was that the majority of attendees would either be new to Austin or in need of some outside help in making friends. I was right about the first thing; It seemed like most people had only been here a year or less.

But I was wrong about the second thing. In retrospect, it makes sense that a huge group of people who got together just to get together are deeply friendly. And while I still wouldn't expect long-lasting connections to come out of this Friendly People Convention, I can see that's not exactly what most people are aiming for, either.

The app has direct messaging, but I don't feel inclined to use it. Our group is already on an SMS thread, and I got so many new Instagram followers at the after-event that the next morning, I was not even sure who one of them was. We have started rating our compatibility on the app, and indicating who we would be open to seeing at future events, and who we wouldn't.

If I can have a silly dinner with someone who is investing in the world I want to see, I'll happily get silly. I'm sure some of the people I met yesterday are doing that, but I would have little way of knowing — or at least, a much harder time than if we had started on shared ground.

It's tempting, then, to see this as a way to meet people who are very different from you and expand your worldview. I do think it holds some promise for people who want to legitimately invest in becoming friends with each other and learning what's underneath the amiable surface, but I'm curious about where that sense of initiative will come from. Perhaps more regular dinners hold the answer.

I would be happy to see anyone I met yesterday again, if we end up in the same place at the same time. But I think my days of connecting with strangers over no common objective at all are limited.

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More information about Timeleft is available at timeleft.com, and the app is available via Apple's App Store and Google Play. Houston's next dinner happens Wednesday, June 19. Dinners happen weekly, and RSVPs must be made no later than Tuesday evening.

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston energy data software platform expands into Europe, hires new execs

making transatlantic moves

It's official. Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe.

The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release.

“Our cutting-edge AI models are enabling our North American customers to benefit from data and asset optimization, on-site solar to commercial load management, and backup generation and we’re excited to bring these tools to our European customers,” he continues.

Leading the new initiative for Amperon is Ecker , who previously served as an executive at energy market simulation software company Energy Exemplar and as CEO of real-time energy data provider Genscape, which is now owned by Wood Mackenzie. He also co-founded at Energy Velocity, an energy data and software company now owned by Hitachi Energy.

“Amperon is providing North American, and now European renewable energy markets, with the critical tools they need to optimize their clean energy operations and support grid reliability,” Ecker says in the release. “As Europe faces high temperatures and rising power demand this summer, power market participants will need precise energy forecasting, and Amperon is looking forward to delivering these critical tools to help participants succeed.”

Hultberg joins Amperon from Houston-based Sunnova Energy International, where she was executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability.

Founded in 2018, Amperon closed its series B round at $20 million last fall. This year, the company Amperon announced that it replatformed its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Houston expert: How adopting business strategies in the education sector can improve results

houston voices

It’s no secret: K-12 public schools in the U.S. face major challenges. Resources are shrinking. Costs are climbing. Teachers are battling burnout. Student outcomes are declining.

There are many areas of concern.

Some difficulties are intangible, inescapable and made worse by crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Some can be fixed or alleviated by wisely allocating resources. And others — like a lack of strategic focus — can be avoided altogether.

It’s this final area, strategic focus, that researchers Vikas Mittal (Rice Business) and Jihye Jung (UT-San Antonio) address in a groundbreaking study. According to Mittal and Jung, superintendents and principals misallocate vast amounts of time and resources trying to appease their many stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, board trustees, community leaders, state evaluators, college recruiters, potential employers, etc.

Instead, Mittal and Jung show, administrators need to put their entire focus on one key stakeholder — the “customer,” i.e. students and families.

It may sound strange to call students and families “customers” in the context of public education. After all, 5th-period Spanish isn’t like buying an iPhone or fast food. The classroom is not transactional. Students and caregivers are part of a broader relational context that most directly involves teachers and peers. And students are expected to contribute to that context.

But K-12 public funds are tied to enrollment and attendance numbers. This means the success or failure of a school or school district ultimately comes down to “customer” satisfaction.

Beware the Stakeholder Appeasement Trap

Here’s what happens when students and families become dissatisfied with their school:

As conditions deteriorate, families (who can afford to) may choose to homeschool or move their children to private or better-performing public schools. As a result, enrollment revenue decreases, which forces administrators to cut costs. Cut costs lead to worsened performance and lower satisfaction among students and families. Lower satisfaction leads to further enrollment loss, which leads to more cost-cutting. And so on. (Schools need about 500-600 students to break even.)

It’s a vicious downward spiral, and it’s not unusual for schools to become trapped in it. To avoid this vortex, administrators end up adopting a “spray and pray” or “adopt and hope” approach, pursuing various stakeholder agendas in hopes that one of them will be the key to institutional success. Group A wants stronger security. Group B wants improved internet access. Group C wants better facilities. Group D wants to expand athletics.

It’s an understandable impulse to make everyone happy. However, Mittal and Jung find that the “stakeholder appeasement” approach dilutes strategic focus, wastes resources and creates a bloat of ineffective initiatives.

Initiative bloat isn't a benign problem. The labor of implementing programs inevitably falls on teachers and frontline staff, which can result in mediocre performance and burnout. As initiatives multiple over time, communication lines become strained and, distracted by the administration's efforts to please everyone, teachers and frontline staff fail to satisfy students and families.

Pay Attention to Lift Potential

Using data from administrator interviews and more than 10,000 parent surveys, Mittal and Jung find that students and families only value a few strategic areas. By far the most important is family and community engagement, followed by academics and teachers. The least important, somewhat surprisingly, is extracurriculars like athletics programs.

The assumption that athletics would be high on the list of student and family priorities raises a crucial point in the study. Mittal and Jung note that it’s a serious error to assume that the more a strategic area is mentioned the more it drives customer value.

“Conflating the two — salience and lift potential — is the single biggest factor that can mislead strategy planning,” the researchers say.

A customer-focused strategy prioritizes lift potential — meaning it allocates budgets, people and time to the areas that have the highest capacity to increase customer value, as measured by customer satisfaction. If family and community engagement is the most important strategic area, then savvy administrators will invest in the “execution levers” that improve it.

For instance, Mittal and Jung find that allowing input on school policies is the most effective lever for demonstrating family and community engagement. Another important strategic area is improving the quality of teachers, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to emphasize their academic qualifications.

Just as important as instituting effective customer-focused initiatives is de-emphasizing those that are ineffective. It can be a difficult process to stop and de-emphasize initiatives, however ineffective. But ultimately, the benefit is that teachers and frontline staff will be able to concentrate on the execution levers that matter.

This strategic transformation can’t happen overnight. Developing the framework will require a school district 18 to 24 months, Mittal and Jung estimate. Embedding it into practice can take an additional 12 to 18 months. For example, it would involve changing the way senior administrators, school principals and teachers are held accountable. Instead of emphasizing standardized test scores, which do not add to customer satisfaction, it’s more effective to concentrate on input factors that directly impact the quality of academics and learning.

To help schools develop and implement a customer-focused strategy, future research can focus on frameworks for guiding schools to maximize the areas of value that students and families care about most.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. For more, see Mittal and Jung, “Revitalizing educational institutions through customer focus.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (2024): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-024-01007-y.