Thursday, March 09, 2006

On managing academic institutions

The short version: "Let me tell'ya: faculty members have such huge egos that managing them could be such a pain!"

The longer version:

... Managing a university that houses assorted schools or even a school in a university is the ultimate HR challenge. Tenured faculty can’t be fired, indeed they have no legal retirement age.

Faculty are brilliant minds with formidable reputations and huge egos. They believe they can best manage their jobs themselves and do not like to be told what to do.

They are apt to behave as though the lofty norms they preach — about accountability, transparency, conflicts of interest and the rest — apply only to lesser mortals without, not to themselves. How on earth do you enforce accountability in such a system? How do you usher in change?

So, how do you? In his column in the Economic Times, T.T. Ram Mohan, a professor at IIM-Ahmedabad, has a perceptive analysis, and suggests some effective ways for managing academic institutions. Here are the key paragraphs:

As for leadership in academic institutions, whatever the carrots available, a soft touch is essential. Coaxing rather than cajoling, persuasion rather than dictation is what will eventually work. This is true wherever you are dealing with highly skilled people but is especially true of academia.

The late Peter Drucker was fond of saying that in the modern organisation of knowledge workers, the CEO’s role is that of the conductor of an orchestra. If universities can uncover what it is to produce music, they will have invaluable lessons to offer the rest of the world.

Read the whole thing.