I am coing up to one year in my management job at the end of this semester and often hope that I am doing more good than harm. Last week I found a post that made me think about different approaches to the job.
Chris Blattman wrote a post in response to Bill Gates’ write up of Morten Jerven’s book Poor numbers. Gates wrote that more resources need to be devoted to get basic GDP number right. Blattman responded that everyone would like to see better GDP numbers, but it is not really a top-ten constraint facing poor countries. He sums it up as:
The problem with those of us in the development complex, be we academics or Presidents or foundations or NGOs, is we want the world nicely ordered with levers to pull and a dashboard to monitor. And so we put a lot of energies into levers and dashboards and monitors.
Even if that is the way the world works, there is an opportunity cost and Blattman goes on to outline some of the other types of missing information that we also would like to know more about.
Which brings me to my point about management and dashboards. I recently completed my own performance agreement. It is in dashboard, scorecard format on the intranet. It breaksdown the university’s plan to a campus plan and “cascades” down from the rector, to the vice-rectors, to the dean’s performance agreement. There are 187 target items have been weighed and will have to be scored at the end of the year.
I can see the appeal of doing it this way, it reduces complexity to lots of nice targets, it can be fine-tuned, the automation will save someone somewhere a bit of time. But I also have doubts about whether this is the way to ensure academic excellence (to the extent that any head of school can do that anyway). I want to throw out the questions to the academics out there:
- What makes for a good Head of School / Chairperson / Director?
- What are the things that we need to measure to manage?
I want to paraphrase Blattman: Reducing frictions and eliminating constraints is maybe the best thing
outsiders managers can try to help with, freeing entrepreneurs and citizens academics to do their thing.