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Archive for the ‘dean’ Category

Every university administrator understands the importance of setting goals for your school and developing a plan to achieve those goals.  Most accreditation standards require developing a strategic plan that provides a roadmap for mission achievement and that establishes the foundation for continuous improvement with an overarching goal of the plan to serve as an effective guide for decisions and practice.

Over the past 15 years I have been directly involved in strategic planning as a professor, department head, associate dean and dean.   In addition, I have been involved in developing strategic plans at the department, college and university level.

University-level and college-level strategic plans are often grand productions necessarily involving hundreds of stakeholders (faculty, staff, alumni, strategic partners, students, donors, administration).    These strategic plans will often take 12 months or more to complete.    Yet, in many cases these strategic plans focus more on planning and much less on strategy.

If your university, college or department is truly looking to achieve a bold vision it is imperative to develop a sound strategy and corresponding strategic plan.   If you are willing to get outside of your comfort zone of conforming your strategic planning to traditional academic norms, I highly recommend that you read the following book:   Scaling Up:  How a Few Companies Make It … and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish, Gazelles Inc., Asburn, VA (2014).  

In this book you will find some straight forward thinking on how to compete and grow in a competitive market.  If you are unwilling to examine your university through the lens of business, this book is not for you.   However, if you are willing to examine the business principles in this book and adapt them to your school’s situation, you will find this a very helpful book.

A great place to begin is the one-page strategic plan.   I recommend that you go the the “Social Sector Growth Tools” page at the book’s website.  Here you will find free strategic resources, including the One Page Strategic Plan, adapted for the non-profit sector.

In one page you will be asked to answer difficult questions about your core customers, the ‘product’ that you are selling them, your brand promises and your kept promise indicators (KPI’s).   Only after answering these questions will you have a foundation necessary to build a strategic plan that enables a bold vision.    Do you have the courage?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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us versus them

Which way? Of course – “Us”!

I just got out of a faculty meeting.    It turns out that we have an “Us” vs “Them” department head in one of our academic programs – a university department head who generates intense loyalty on the part of his own faculty, but who creates much ill will with faculty and administrators across the college and the campus.

On the one hand, the faculty in his department have the following to say:

  • “How can we possibly move forward without him as our department head?”
  • “He is the reason why I come to work each day.”
  • “He makes this a safe place to work.”
  • “He is our irreplaceable leader.”
  • “Please ask him to not quit.”

What do you think?   Is this a healthy relationship between faculty and department head?    It all depends who you ask.

On the other hand, our “Us” vs. “Them” department head was generally viewed unfavorably across the college and across the campus.   Why?    Here are some examples:

  • He led an effort to “declare war” on other department’s faculty when they gave academic advice to “our students”.
  • He “declared war” on the college administrators when they allowed other departments to schedule student events that conflicted with events in “his” program.
  • He has led a relentless campaign to convince the world that his faculty were underpaid and overworked.     This is a consistent theme with anyone who will listen.   As a result he actively encouraged his faculty to ‘boycott’ college and university activities that weren’t part of the annual faculty contract.  (FYI – his faculty are among the highest paid on campus and are at or above benchmark standards for similar schools.)
  • He has let it be known that he sabotaged the search for a faculty hire in his department because the Dean, in his opinion, had not allocated sufficient funds for the position.
  • He will tell anyone that will listen “The Dean cannot fire me because no one else in my department will take the department head job – too much work and not enough pay.”

From where I sit, this is an unfortunate situation.   Here we have a very talented individual who achieves department level success through “Us vs. Them”.   Frankly, it is quite interesting to see how this approach can be effective in building team cohesion and loyalty.    From a higher level perspective,  I can assure you that this is destructive behavior for both the faculty and the department as a whole.     More on this later ……    Your thoughts?

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

 

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squareWhat words of wisdom could Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and the founder and CEO of Square,  possibly have for the academic dean?   In a National Public Radio interview with Kai Ryssdal on May 21, 2015, Dorsey discussed his management style.    In particular, he discussed a management style similar to my own.   One where people and their ideas are highly-valued, one where decision-making is pushed closer to the stakeholder, and one where organizational leadership is key.   Following is a quote from the interview with Jack Dorsey:

I say that if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure. (That’s) because I don’t have the same context as someone who is working day to day with the data, with the understanding of the customer. I definitely see the organization and the people in it as the ones to make the decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.

How many academic leaders can honestly agree with a management philosophy where “my job is to make sure that decisions get made” and where “there is an organizational failure if I am making the decisions”?  I would like to re-frame Jack Dorsey’s quote to make it applicable in a university setting:

I say that if a provost, dean or department head has to make a decision affecting academic program curriculum, the university has an organizational failure. This is because the provost, dean or department head does not have the same context as someone who is working day to day with an understanding of the students and the expected learning outcomes of the academic program.  The provost, dean or department head should definitely see the university and the faculty in it as the ones to make the curricular decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.  (quote: Dr. Percy Trappe)

What do you think?   Does this ring true?  Is this your experience?   I would suggest that department heads, deans and provosts have much to learn from Jack Dorsey.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe   

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logobigLinus Torvalds would seem an unlikely person to shed light on the role of academic Dean.    Torvalds was the initital creator of the Linux kernel that has become the most popular kernel for operating systems.  Today he is the chief architect of the Linux kernel and acts as the project’s coordinator.     Today hundreds of millions of computers, smartphones and embedded processors run Linux.   Beyond being the driving force behind a single software product, Torvalds is generally credited with popularlizing open-source software (OSS) and open-source software development methodologies.

It is Torvalds’s perspective on the open-source software development process that I believe has a parallel in academic leadership.   Following is a quote from Torvalds in a 2012 interview with Scott Merrill from “Tech Cruch”.

I like the *process*. I like writing software. I like trying to make things work better. In many ways, the end result is unimportant – it’s really just the excuse for the whole experience. It’s why I started Linux to begin with – sure, I kind of needed an OS, but I needed a *project* to work on more than I needed the OS.

In fact, to get a bit “meta” on this issue, what’s even more interesting than improving a piece of software, is to improve the *way* we write and improve software. Changing the process of making software has sometimes been some of the most painful parts of software development (because we so easily get used to certain models), but that has also often been the most rewarding parts. It is, after all, why “git” came to be, for example. And I think open source in general is obviously just another “process model” change that I think is very successful.

So my model is kind of a reverse “end result justifies the means”. Hell no, that’s the stupidest saying in the history of man, and I’m not even saying that because it has been used to make excuses for bad behavior. No, it’s the worst possible kind of saying because it totally misses the point of everything.

It’s simply not the end that matters at all. It’s the means – the journey. The end result is almost meaningless. If you do things the right way, the end result *will* be fine too, but the real enjoyment is in the doing, not in the result.

And I’m still really happy to be “doing” 20 years later, with not an end in sight.

What is the lesson(s) for the academic dean?  First, I love the phrase … “I needed a project to work on more that I needed the …”.      As a Dean, do you ‘need’ the project?    Is the ongoing ‘project’ of running the school your driving motiviation?   Second, clearly the journey is important.   Do  you enjoy being an academic dean?   Are you motivated by solving the problems facing your school and working collectively with your faculty?    Are you enjoying the journey?  Are we concerned with the “ends” – yes, but ultimately, it is about the journey.   Changing the way we do things – the academic processes are hugely important in academia just as they are in software development.   Thank you Linus!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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DetectiveIf you serve on a dean search committee, I have some advice that you cannot afford to ignore.  Advice that comes from personal experience – as a committee member, as a former candidate and as a faculty member.

This advice starts with a story.     A colleague from another university was ranting about how his university had been hoodwinked by their new dean.   From my colleague’s perspective, their new dean turned out to be a fraud – someone who during the interview process had presented himself as a collaborative leader who fully embraced faculty governance and transparent decision-making.    What really infuriated my colleague is that he had been a member of the dean search committee.   We both agreed that better reference checking would have headed off this disaster during the search process.

When calling references, here are some suggested lines of questioning:

  1. When calling references use the self-described leadership style presented in the cover letter and ask whether or not it agrees with the references’s experience.  Following is a direct quote from the cover letter of my colleague’s current dean:”My leadership style has been described as participative.  I know the importance of listening and showing respect, of coaching rather than directing, and of finding the champion for a project and empowering him to succeed.”  From my colleague’s perspective, none of this description is remotely true.  Subsequent conversations with former faculty familiar with the new dean, confirmed the fanciful leadership style description.
  2. Be sure to call references, on and off the list, that are peers, direct reports and superiors.   No matter how strong the candidate appears on paper, contact references that can give a 360 degree perspective on the candidate.   How does the candidate interact with peers in other colleges?   Do direct reports feel respected and part of a team?   How have past relationships with superiors progressed?    How did the candidate handle constructive criticism from prior directors?     Do not limit phone calls to people on the candidate’s reference list.
  3. When calling references be sure to probe self-described explanations for leaving a prior leadership role, particularly if the individual was in the role for a short period of time (4 years or less).   When a candidate takes time in their cover letter to explain an early departure from a leadership position, be sure to probe.     Again, get a 360 degree perspective.    Was the candidate effective in this prior role?    Was the candidate having problems that were unresolvable?     What did the candidate learn from this prior early departure?   Did they play a role in this departure?   I would suggest that if the candidate did not learn from the prior early departure, then there most certainly is a problem.

The Dean Search Committee must be permitted to call references and there must be agreement on how the committee will handle the feedback.    Many search firms will attempt to do the reference calling themselves and often will discourage the committee from placing calls.     Many search committees will create standardized “vanilla” questions for reference calls.     My experience is that these are of little use.   You must develop individualized reference call questions for each candidate – building on key dimensions of the candidate’s cover letter and CV.     Failure to do so may mean years with a “dean from hell”.    Just ask my colleague!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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SONY DSCThe ‘airport interview’ is an important step in the academic dean search process.    The airport interview can be defined as a step in the administrator search process whereby the top candidates (anywhere from 4 to 10) are brought to a location near the university’s airport over a one or two day period for 1-1/2 to 2 hour sequentially arranged interviews conducted by the dean search committee.   Following are some insights from Dr. Jeffrey L. Buller in his book The Essential Academic Dean: A Practical Guide to College Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2007):

To be sure, there is an ‘American Idol’-like auditioning aspect the can seem superficial and unworthy of the tasks for which the successful candidate will be called upon to accomplish.   However, it is also true that if you cannot convincingly communicate leadership in a one hour meeting with 10-20 friendly interviewers, it is reasonable to assume you may not be successful as dean.

For the candidate, the (airport) interview is like sudden-death overtime with no regular game beforehand: one cannot really win, but one can lose at any moment, for unlikely reasons.

Fortune favors the mentally nimble candidate who can be informative but concise, conveying a sense of individuality without rampant eccentricity.

My final advice comes from a highly respected academic recruiter.  At the airport interview, be insightful, be concise and be sure to listen.    Show that you have ‘done your homework’ in preparing for the interview.   Demonstrate that you are a good listener.    Finally,  show how you are an effective communicator.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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externalrelationsRecently our college hired an associate dean for external relations.    I recently ran across the interview questions that we used with the candidates.  Here we go:

  1. What has generated your interest in the Associate Dean for External Relations in the college?
  2. Key dimensions of the Associate Dean for External Relations position include: nurturing experiential learning for students; attending to details with multiple on-going tasks; and cultivating relationships with internal and external stakeholders.   Give examples of your leadership experience in each area and indicate how you would prioritize these areas.
  3. Our strategic plan indicates that we need to do a better job at preparing students for internships and employment.  What are your thoughts and ideas of how the college can meet such goals?   Where do you see the college 3-5 years from now?
  4. To successfully organize the undergraduate commencement exercises will require somebody with a specific set of skills, particularly attention to details.   Given an example of an event that you have successfully organized?
  5. Describe your experience with creating and organizing student initiatives and events that engage students.
  6. Describe your leadership style.  What have been your most significant leadership successes and challenges?   Tell us how you resolve conflict and handle stress.
  7. The successful candidate for this position must be able to motivate faculty engagement in experiential learning activities.   How might you accomplish this task?

Our top candidates for the position answered the questions well.   The ultimate selection was based on the dean’s perceptions of fit within the college’s leadership team.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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