Monthly Archive: November 2011

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…)

black Friday and beyond

My weekend (and the future):

  • Wednesday: good news:  got to leave work early with permission from Dean.  bad news:  still got dragged into work-related brouhaha a few hours late.  Almost made me miss The Muppets.  Which was so awesome, it would have been a TRAGEDY.
  • Thanksgiving Thursday: Ate a lot of food.
  • Black Friday:  Did almost nothing to help major retailers start to make a profit for the year.*
  • Small Business Saturday: Did just a tiny bit to help small businesses with their cash flows.  Still scared of overall crowds.
  • Sunday:  Did battle with yard.  Yard won.
  • Cyber Monday:  Contacted Cybertron, informed Autobots and Decepticons that it was time to start buying online (hey, we all need to look out for Gold Box Deals on Amazon)
  • Techie Tuesday: – Called all engineering friends and told them to take over the world.  Oh, wait.  They all work at FB or Google.  They have already taken over the world.
  • Wacky Wednesday: What happens on wacky Wednesday, stays with Wacky Wednesday
Not sure what the future beyond Wednesday will bring.  I’m sure that somehow there will be Black Friday deals running for many weeks beyond…Black Friday.  All for items that were good last year but aren’t worth it this year (60Hz LCD TV?  Pffffffft!).
*Occupy protestors in San Francisco (and I’m sure elsewhere) affected Black Friday shopping.  Isn’t it contrary to the “movement” that they would negatively affect GDP (whether to large or small companies)?  A movement without a rallying cry…or much logic, it seems, these days.  Onto SOPA I guess.


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…

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011.

This is one of the things that has driven me (and lots and lots of other people) insane over the past few years.  In almost literally econ 101 (my intro macro and micro classes in my MBA program), supply and demand and Keynesian principles – and rules – were clear and easy to understand.  I’m not saying that everyone out there should be a Keynsian economist, but the ideas behind it are clear.

Yet we can start with the very beginning of the economic crisis, with the bail-outs of Merril and Bear and the government and Fed “buying” into all of these entities that it has never touched before.  It’s one thing for the government to put money into circulation for stimulus.  It’s another to start owning companies.

But two things that are key to basic economics were ignored amid all the yelling.  First, that the government is the only entity big enough to make such massive economic moves – short of JP Morgan (the person) back in the day, no one person could pump that much money into the economy as the ARRA did.  And yes, the budget that first year was MASSIVE.  But from day 1 Geithner and Obama said that this was temporary, that the government must pull back at some point.  Bernanke said that he had a plan already in place for “unraveling” the Fed’s involvement in these companies.  So the government had to do this stimulus spending (Keynsian) but it also had to stop at some point and address deficit concerns, etc.

Second, that claims made about how dangerous these spending policies were and about the “fixes” failed to address supply and demand (the $2/gallon promise) or the fascination/obsession over a balanced budget.  Remember the last time we tried a balanced budget during a recession?  Yeah, that led to the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans just aren’t that bright.  Sorry, that’s not fair.

The majority of Americans do not want to listen.  They want to hear that gas prices will go down.  They want to hear that a deficit (isn’t that inherently bad??) will go away.  They want to hear that it is possible to balance a budget (and nothing will go wrong, right??).

I want to hear those things, too.  But 99% of my brain knows that such things are pipe dreams.

And there is a deep-rooted fear that this appeal to the masses, if you will, will unseat many truly smart people, doing good things, just to put others into the White House and Congress who will either do the same things anyway (because, after all, when the $2/gallon promise falls through, it’s still just supple and demand) or, even worse, hold our government hostage while sound policies are derided in the name of some ridiculous ideal.