Each week, JWMI profiles students and alumni in its new featured series “Winning Voices.” Learn about our diverse community and what sets our program apart from those who have experienced it. For more great “Winning Voices” content, click here.
Audra Michele Morris
Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Program/Concentration: Jack Welch MBA
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOB RESPONSIBILITIES AT Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Agriculture?
I work as an auditor in the Office of Inspector General for one of the Executive Branch Agencies. In this position, I work individually and as part of an audit team. There are over 70 Office of Inspectors General in the federal government, and each are independent agencies within their larger Agency. The OIG is responsible for evaluating its organization’s programs and operations to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, judiciously, and ethically.
When OIG conducts an audit, we don’t just look at financial statements; we also look at process flow, review grants, conduct cost, budget analysis, and monitor prior audit recommendations for compliance. All of our audit reports are published on the OIG’s webpages for the U.S. taxpayers to review unless there are national security dimensions of the audit that cannot be shared. If you get a chance, look at the Semi-Annual Report to Congress published by every Executive Branch Agency two times a year. This is a snapshot of the results of the work that the OIG is conducting. You will be surprised at some of the projects and the findings in them!
This work is tedious, but it is enriching. It is also fascinating because there are so many different programs that have to be evaluated. To do so effectively, we have to quickly learn the program inside and out to pinpoint areas that need improvement. We only have one year to learn a program, gather information, conduct interviews, analyze and write our report, so the tight deadlines keep me on my toes!
Why were you looking to get an MBA?
Initially, I wanted to have an MBA to be competitive in the area where I currently live. Washington DC is one of the most highly educated demographics in the U.S., and I didn’t want to be screened out of job opportunities by HR because I only had a BBA.
After I began the program, I realized that I was getting so much more from the MBA than I thought possible. The Jack Welch MBA prepared me to be an executive, not just have a credential to get past HR screeners.
Each class was such a rich, condensed learning experience. I was eager to hear from the professors about real situations at their companies because I faced many of the same power dynamics and management challenges. Not only did I learn from my professors, but I was also able to glean knowledge and insight from the other students in the class! I looked forward to our discussions because we talked about our jobs and how we applied the class concepts that we learned to our work projects and situations. I was awestruck by the professional accomplishments of my classmates. I also found the international students’ contributions provided an extra dimension to the MBA because global companies’ discussions broadened our horizons.
HOW HAS THE JWMI CURRICULUM HELPED YOU IN YOUR CAREER
The JWMI program has been such a wonderful and beneficial experience. My professional journey has been a very non-traditional one. I was a military wife and stay-at-home mom for 21 years after graduating from high school. Although I always ran businesses from home, none of them were marketable to employers after I found myself unexpectedly divorcing and facing the job market in Washington, DC. I had not cracked a schoolbook since I was 18 years old! For the past 11 years, I have been a student. Not only have I been the oldest in my classes, but I have also been the oldest in my positions, for my career level. This realization has been very humbling for me.
One of the difficulties I face as I climb the career ladder is that there is often an unspoken expectation that I know more than I do. While I am the age of most of the upper management, I only have the career experience of someone who is a few years out of college in their mid-20s! I started my career later than most, after raising my children, and I also changed careers a few years ago and started over again. So, I have a lot of catching up to do!
JWMI’s instructors have provided me with the mentoring that I have needed to grow my communication and executive skills quickly. All of my professors provided valuable guidance that I could apply in real-time while working on actual projects at my job. Because much of our classwork revolved around our jobs, the program functioned as a personal laboratory for my career!
DID YOU FIND THE CURRICULUM WAS IMMEDIATELY APPLICABLE? PLEASE EXPLAIN.:
I loved reading Jack’s books and selections from other fantastic powerhouse executives. I was thankful not to have to read thick textbooks as I did in undergrad, full of theories and hypotheticals but no practical application.
I have always been very analytical, but I have seen the difference in presenting and supporting my analysis. My methodology has significantly improved! My JWMI assignments have helped me write my audit sections and create my spreadsheets in such a profound way!
Although all my Jack Welch MBA courses played a part in my career growth, the required video presentations trained me to be concise, clear, and direct. The influencer exercise in Organizational Change was also helpful. It provided a vivid illustration of how meaningful relationships are critical to gain consensus. After completing that exercise, I understood how to forge alliances and how gaining buy-in is essential before moving an initiative forward.
Looking back at what you thought about an online program when you first embarked, what was your overall impression now? Did it meet your expectations via DQ boards, EOP videos, faculty etc?
I never saw myself as someone who would have an MBA! For years, I was in awe of those who earned an MBA. I was terrified to enter the program because I was unsure I could keep pace with all these go-getters. The course titles all seemed so intimidating! However, I chose not to look at the 12 classes but instead take each course as it came.
I enjoyed every moment of this MBA program. I understood the relevance of each course and how that tied to my career. The work was not abstract at all but terribly and wonderfully practical. It is such a refreshing way to prepare for executive management.
HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE JOB, FAMILY, AND WORK? WHAT STRATEGIES DID YOU IMPLEMENT TO GET IT DONE?
I began my career working outside the home while I embarked on my learning journey. There are so many similarities between the two! I was fortunate to have two executives who mentored me, and I found that everything I learned from them also could be applied to my classroom setting.
- My mentors taught me that my relationship with my boss was my responsibility. Therefore, I made sure to develop an excellent relationship with my professors.
- I also learned not ever to surprise my boss. Three times during my Jack Welch MBA courses, I faced a significant life or career challenge. Every time, I was candid with my professors and told them early what was going on, just as I would with my manager. It helped me to move forward successfully.
- I planned ahead. I was very scheduled and aimed to have my first discussion question posted by Monday evening and answers by Thursday (instead of Sunday). I typically read the next week’s questions a few days in advance to keep me from falling behind.
- I continually performed not as a competitive exercise to see who could respond to more discussion questions but to provide thoughtful and meaningful responses that would challenge others.
- If there was an area where I did not get a high mark, I asked my professor about it and how I could improve. I always received good feedback and answers.
- I decided what parts of my lifestyle I could not live without and what I could give up. I sacrificed the time I allocated to other areas of life for schoolwork instead. It’s okay if you can’t cook dinner every night; Costco has great frozen meals! And remember, these sacrifices are only temporary!
- Take each class and each assignment one at a time. I started each course with the mindset that I already had an “H,” and my goal was to keep executing to that level.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR PROFESSOR OR MEMBER OF THE STAFF THAT YOU FELT HELPED YOU TO EXCEL? PLEASE ELABORATE.
During the three years enrolled, I faced an unexpected court battle, a situation at my job with the potential to derail my career, and a medical emergency with a parent. Dr. Mercedes Lopez, Dr. Delores Willis, Professors John Shaw, Jeff Brooks, and Bruce Smith were all very understanding, patient, and helpful to me during these very stressful times. They not only gave me all the help I needed for class, but I also got valuable mentoring from all of them that helped me get through these personal challenges. I can’t thank them enough for their extraordinary dedication to helping students, of which I reaped the benefit!
Dr. Richard Chua made Lean Six come alive for me. I had this introduced badly in my undergrad and was dreading taking it on a graduate level. His passion and expertise for it were instrumental in my finally understanding it.
My advisor, Danielle Adler, thoughtfully suggested professors for me for all of my classes. She nailed it every time.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE IN THE PROGRAM?
I have found the use of candor to be very powerful. One of the biggest struggles for me both personally and professionally is that my first instinct is to fear asking for what I want. I was introduced to the subject of candor within our first couple of classes, and it resonated with me because it was the exact opposite of my first instinct!
Because the attribute of candor struck me so powerfully, I began to use it whenever the opportunity presented itself. I am as frank as I can be, and far more so than I ever would have been, had I not been introduced to the power of candor in my Jack Welch MBA curriculum.
I also enjoyed Jack Welch’s straight talk and communication form; it is one I try to emulate. So much of the business jargon disguise our true intentions. I have found authenticity to be very powerful.
Please share any advice for new students embarking on the MBA journey.
Communicate with your professors as you would with your direct managers. Do not surprise them with what is going on in your life as to why you are late on an assignment. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—early, and often.
Take each class and each assignment one day at a time to keep from being overwhelmed.
Read the syllabus entirely and especially the written assignments. Use the performance metrics and map your project to each of the required elements. Remember to read the question, understand the problem, and answer the question entirely.
Post your discussion responses early and begin the next week’s discussion question over the weekend, so you are well prepared. The best students are on the DQ board early! Posting early also frees your weekends up for written assignments.
Connect with Audra Michele Morris on Linkedin
For more information on the Jack Welch Management Institute, visit us.