Tag Archive: management

a platform for accountability

As I have been considering various changes in my approach to management, leadership, and IT in higher ed, I am reminded of the importance of accountability.  This is one of the most important parts of a successful team – it is part of the foundation upon which productivity and teamwork rests.  In fact, it is part of a critically important cycle that is self-reinforcing – each phase of the cycle helps strengthen the continuation of that process.  Accountability begets ownership.  Ownership leads to a sense of responsibility.  Feeling responsible results in a greater understanding of accountability.  And the cycle continues.

Accountability must be pervasive, as well.  It cannot be just to one’s supervisor or manager that one is accountable for his or her activities and performance.  Peers must feel that they are part of the success of each of their colleagues and the team in general.  Conversely, not only should managers be able to hold staff accountable, but peers should have the ability to “call out” those that are not helping meet overall expectations.

The thing about accountability as a departmental, top-bottom, bottom-top, side-side trait is that nothing is explicitly confrontational.  Even the most severe conversation becomes about team and goals, rather than personal slight.  Instead of “you are messing up my ability to get my job done,” one can say “we must rely on each other to get this project done to achieve a common, team goal.”  I realize, of course, that we do not live in a utopia and that the former statement will still occur even in the most collaborative of environments now and then.  The point is that co-dependency can become the foundation for discussion in a system that relies on accountability and shared ownership.

The question, therefore, is how to build what I call a “platform” for accountability.  Much in the way that Windows or Facebook is a platform for development of software, accountability can be the foundation upon which projects and communication is constructed.   (more…)

managerial crossroads

I find myself at a strange intersection in my professional career.

On the one hand, I have prided myself on “doing more with less” in terms of what our department has accomplished with a significantly smaller budget than comparable groups on campus (to be clear – the “more with less” motto that is often used when budgets get tight or staff are laid off is one which I am firmly against and perhaps abhor as a managerial method.  We can work on getting every last drop of productivity out of our resources, but we can never do more than 100% of capacity, and we should never ask our staff to even try).

On the other, I find myself saying bold things that I have yet to back up with my own actions.  For instance, of late I have spent much time thinking about the future of IT in higher education.  This has been stewing in my head for some time now but Theresa Rowe‘s opening plenary at the SIGUCSS Management Symposium in San Diego really crystalized things.  We simply cannot keep doing things the way we always have been.  Maintaining the status quo – including the thus far incremental improvements to our systems and services – is not sustainable.  We must radically reassess our service portfolios and even reconsider whether we have the right job descriptions – much less the right people – to meet student, staff, and faculty needs going into the next decade or more.  Are we structurally sound and prepared to meet the challenges of delivering Google and Facebook-like services and innovation on the budgets that we have?  Can we really keep trying to achieve enterprise-level performance on budgets that corporate IT departments would laugh at?  I have long asserted that we have to make tough decisions and invest in those services that give back the highest value, not just the ones we “have always done.”  Rowe gave an even clearer and more comprehensive analysis ranging from technology trends to HR to management to budgeting.

Yet…have I done this in my own job thus far?  Have I actually led my staff in the charge to reduce our service portfolio to offer only high value services?  How do I even know the value level of our current services such that I can make an assessment?

I have spent the last 4 years building up the reputation of Law Technology and Academic Computing at Santa Clara Law School.  We are not perfect and many people know that.  But few point to those deficiencies as symptoms of a dysfunctional department.  There is a faith in our department – and the effort that we put into each of our duties – that has become the fundation of our role at the school.  I am extremely proud of where we are compared to when I arrived.  It’s been a combination of marketing, professional development, management, hopefully some leadership and definitely some changes in personnel.  But it’s real.

And it’s time to take advantage of it.

2012 will be our “crash” year.  This will be when we take all of this goodwill and faith in our department, bank on it and make the potentially radical changes that address the changing needs of academia.  I am convinced that, in the long run, all of our changes will make people happy.  I am also certain that in the short run several people will be upset by the removal or alternation of some services.  But during 2012, we will assess where we are, decide in what we will invest, identify what we must cut in order to achieve those goals (and things will be cut – I will not allow our portfolio to just increase without change elsewhere), and make significant changes.  We will use personal interactions, school and university-wide marketing, a bit of political maneuvering and I’m sure some apologies.  But this will be the year.

January 3 is when we return to work.  I’m sure you’ll hear from me by the end of that week…

throwing a cement mixer

[Since I don’t get to the definition very quickly…cement mixer curveball defined.  I can’t find video for it…]

I’m a baseball fan. I would not say I’m a “hardcore” fan if only because I don’t have enough time to remember individual OBPS or WHIP for hitters or pitchers, respectively.  I do know enough to know what those stats are, though…

What I do know is that a lot of analysts and color commentators get the technical stuff wrong during games. This always drives me crazy because, of your job is to help enlighten viewers and listeners about why that was a poor fielding decision or that bad mechanics les to the pitch that led to that home run, then do it right – don’t be lazy and take the easy way out.

A great example has to do with curveballs and, in some cases, breaking balls in general.  These are funny beasts.  The best of them can be devastating pitches that can easily be a number 1 pitch (see:  Barry Zito when he was good).  A mediocre one can be a third pitch that keeps a batter guessing just enough to make the first two pitches even better.  The worst of them…well, they’re bad.  But the point is that a breaking pitch is something almost every pitcher throws, but to varying degrees of effectiveness.

They’re also odd pitches, plain and simple.  They rely entirely on the spin on the ball, letting all 108 laces and friction with the air coupled with incredibly fast rotation to make the ball drop anywhere from 6″ to 2-3′ (yes, feet).  To achieve the right rotation, you basically let the ball slip out of your hand.  Rather than putting your fingers behind the ball to impart velocity, you actually release the ball over fingers that are facing the hitter.  Depending on how much pressure you put on the ball, where the grip is tighter or looser and even how much you extend your arm at release, you get different kinds of spin and end up with big looping curves to hard, “power” curves to sliders that come in at one side of the plate and dive towards the other (anyone that’s seen Randy Johnson and his power slider in his hey day can attest to just how much movement a pitch like that can have).

The mechanics behind a good curve are just as critical as the grip and finger pressure.  It’s hard enough making sure that your arm slot is always in the right place or that your weight shift is right.  Now you have to make sure to stay “on top” of the ball.  Since a curve goes up before it goes down, you have to use the fact that you’re on a raised mound to throw a curve downward, essentially.  But this isn’t easy – as someone that had a big looping curve in high school, it’s more just “doing it” than feeling it.  I shortened my stride a few inches and, for a curve, kept my arm in a bit (a slider, which is thrown with more velocity and breaks more sideways, is thrown with more extension) but otherwise just let it fly and let the spin do its thing.  Making sure to always bring that stride in just a little bit, and to stay focused on every curve to stay on top of it is hard, and requires excellent mechanics from the beginning.

As a result, you get all kinds of terms.  If you release the ball with your entire hand facing the batter, you get a “cement mixer” where the axis about which the ball rotates faces the hitter.  It just spins sideways.  This won’t break much because the friction is on the wrong sides of the ball.  If you don’t stay on top, the ball will end up higher than you want.  If you put the wrong amount of pressure on one finger or the other, or don’t quite get as good of a grip on the seems as you’d like, the break isn’t as much as you want or perhaps, if you’ve got a pretty good curve, it might not break in the right direction (I could vary my slider from about 5″ at the last minute thrown quite hard, to about 1.5′ starting earlier on thrown with a bit less velocity with more pressure on my index finger).

A curve is not easy to throw, in other words.

If one watches even a moderate amount of baseball, one will invariably see a hitter launch a long homerun off of a breaking ball.  Often because of the reduced velocity of these pitches (even a slider, which is thrown pretty hard, is going to be a good 4-5mph slower than a fastball), it will look almost like the pitcher lobbed the ball in there and the hitter just nailed it.  Almost always, the commentator says that it was a “hanging” breaking ball – one that just didn’t break as far as it should have, and the hitter could anticipate and time the movement.’

But saying that every curve that is hit hard is a “hanger” is simply unfair.  There are in fact many reasons why a curve might get hit.  And this is where my analogy begins…

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management and innovation

A while ago, I posted about how hard it is to be a manager.  It was a kind of introspective, philosophical post rather than an in-depth analysis of management.  I was doing an off-the-cuff look at the conflict between being a manager and a leader.  The two are different, but unless you happen to have an administrative manager and a…leader manager, you often have to be both.  Someone took it rather personally, though.  The specific comment was:

“Since when did managers “lead”? Their job appears to be to punish creativity.”

This was an incredibly harsh reaction to my post, though I think more indicative of the contributor’s experiences than the content of my post, to be honest.  But it does get at a very key thing – if the key responsibility of a manager is to control resources, doesn’t that stifle creativity to some extent?  How much freedom can a manager provide when that person is looking at whether we can afford this, or whether this falls within a certain policy, etc?  Managers tend to look at boundaries – it’s an inherent part of the job.

However, it need not be the ruling philosophy, and I am actually quite opposed to an approach that looks at limits rather than opportunities.  I think that if one looks only at the boundaries and thinks first about policy then there is less rather than more organization, and certainly less creativity.  So I do not at all agree with the comment quoted above – I do think it’s possible to be a manager, and encourage creativity.

I don’t quite formalize things like Google does, where employees are asked to spend a certain amount of time each week thinking of “new ideas,” but I do put the responsibility of thinking of new concepts or new ways of doing things on the staff in my department.  I want to be able to trust them not only to do their jobs, but to approach those jobs with an eye towards thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and creativeness.  So I want everyone to think about what is being done, whether all the bases have been covered (documentation, informing people, etc – yes, this can create more structure than allow creativity), but then to ask “is this the best way?”

Even if it seems to be the only clear method, I encourage staff to then posit “there is another way.  What is it, and is it better?”  I hope that they will come to me with those ideas.  Yes, I will have to think about costs, because we don’t have an unlimited budget.  But I also budget each year for “random things we’ll try because they are cool,” and I hope that staff will take advantage of that.

Management need not stifle creativity.  Management should, in fact, encourage it.  Maybe crossing the line to leadership is another whole ball of beans (messier than just a can of beans, no?), but at the very least a good manager should leave room for creativity.

My biggest fear, by the way, as I write this is that someone that knows me and my management style will read this and immediately think “Allan doesn’t manage like that at all.  He’s a dictator and control-freak, not one that encourages creative thinking.”  I try not to think about that.

“I’m studying management”

When I’m interacting with classmates in my MBA program, especially when I’m meeting someone new, I am often asked “what is your concentration?”  Many people answer that they are pursuing the finance track, or economics, or perhaps operations.  I say that I am pursuing the management and leadership concentrations (they are two separate ones).

I have to admit that I always feel a bit like an underachiever when I answer that way.  Like back in my undergrad days when I said I was majoring in History.  There was always this dangling question of “oh, and what is your “real” major?”  Now it’s as if learning about management is some kind of fall-back or perhaps even illegitimate field of study for someone getting an MBA.

Part of this is because I am in fact not very good at finance or economics, though I’m deeply interested in both.  I would love to be able to gauge beta and risk and how to create arbitrage scenarios while managing a hedge fund, or spend my day (seriously – my entire day) looking at how macro-economic policies shift our currency trends and overall national conditions.  

But, those aren’t my strengths.  I’m not sure I’m a great leader or manager so maybe my strengths aren’t there, either, but “running things” is something I’ve generally been good at since I was in high school.  Allocating resources, creative problem-solving, working with others – that’s just breathing to me, most of the time.  In the end, it may turn out I’m a management asthmatic, but for now I feel it’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I am pursuing. 

But it is kind of weird to say that I’m studying how to be better at management.  Too broad or something.

Review: DR Palmer, Management, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

At a glance (please read review, as ‘at a glance’ it’s hard to rate professor Palmer)

  • Workload:  Moderate
  • Teaching Style:  Interactive
  • Interest in students:  Moderate
  • Relevance to outside world:  Low

Overall Professor Rating: 2

Overall Course Rating: 2.5

It is incredibly hard to summarize a review on Professor DR Palmer (who is different than Professor David R. Palmer, by the way).  His style is very off-the-cuff, his lectures meandering, and his attention span rather short.  At the same time, he’s the kind of person with whom I’d love to sit down over a couple cups of coffee.  But that doesn’t make for a good professor, really.  The course, too, is hard to rate.  The subject matter is really quite interesting from a research and practical perspective, but the way it was taught, by DR Palmer, made for a lower rating.

The Review

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University‘s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

I’m also reviewing them in reverse order of when I had them for class.  This is mostly so that I am reviewing those whom I remember the best sooner.  This also means that at some point I might skip a few professors I took a year ago or just stop outright out of concern that I will not be able to provide a proper review (the downside of these longer reviews is that I do, after all, have a responsibility to do a good job at them). As of this writing, which is summer quarter 2008, I’m now going back to Fall 2007, so it’s a ways back.

The facts

I took Management 503 – Organizational Theory – back in Fall of 2007.  I have no idea what time I took it or what days of the week :-).  The course is loosely based on how companies are organized, how communications are handled within such structures, etc.  This is one of the required courses in the management track – basically, you need this and 501 and you can take everything else.  Interestingly, I have seen few of my 503 classmates in my other classes.  This is weird because one would think most people would get 503 out of the way relatively early in their coursework (as I did – my third quarter), and I should therefore run into them again later.  So far, I don’t think I have, though.

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.
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