Archive for the ‘process’ Category

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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smart-group-300x300I served for eight years as a department head.  During that time, perhaps the most significant actions that I took concerned the “people process” (see my earlier post on this subject).   Actions were taken concerning the hiring, promotion (and non-promotion), evaluation and mentoring of faculty and staff.  These actions have a significant impact on the future of the organization.   Now, serving as associate dean, I take great satisfaction in leaving behind a department that continues to flourish with a new department head.    I believe that it is important to develop a leadership pipeline, and I firmly believe that there are now three or four individuals who could successful lead my old department.

As I look at the future of our college, I am reminded that our “people process” must do several things well:

  • evaluate individuals accurately, in depth and in a timely manner
  • provide a framework for identifying and developing leadership talent
  • hiring new talent that fits the COB’s mission
  • recognizing and rewarding success (including leadership team)
  • fair and equitable compensation
  • provide a framework for developing faculty teaching and scholarship (coordination with CFI)
  • increasing the diversity of the faculty and staff

What can we do better?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. feedback can be more timely to faculty
  2. feedback from dean to leadership team (including center directors) must be more in depth and more timely
  3. 3rd year reviews, 1st year reviews, RTA 5 year reviews – consistent throughout college?
  4. faculty committees – how can we assess effectiveness?
  5. 36o feedback – how can they be used effectively?
  6. summer grants – more money for funding/increase accountability
  7. faculty fellowships – great tool to reward success (how do we award these?)
  8. fair and equitable faculty compensation – benchmark peer institutions

How should we proceed?   Put a “people process” committee together, and give them the charge to look at Issues 1 – 5.   Give the committee constraints.   Issues 6-7 are clearly in the dean’s court – the money must be raised – then we can figure out how best to spend the money.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Sam Palmisano, one of IBM’s most-successful and most-influential chief executives, ended his tenure as CEO ended on Dec. 31, 2011.  As CEO he drove unprecedented innovation across IBM and  focused corporate attention on analytics, cloud computing and the Smarter Planet initiative.  In a recent article, Palmisano used a “guiding framework” to devise and execute IBM’s successful strategies.  This guiding framework boils down to four fundamental questions:

  1. “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”
  2. “Why would somebody work for you?”
  3. “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”
  4. “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

I believe that these four questions are fundamental to a university and to a college of business.  These questions are fundamental to the four primary constituents for a university.   Let me explain:

STUDENTS – the university must clearly articulate the value proposition for students and their families to attend your university.  Why should a family spend a significant amount of money for their child to attend your school?  Why should a business professional spend their hard earned money to attend your MBA program?  In an era of increasing public skepticism of higher education, it is imperative for everyone in your organization to clearly and consistently answer this question.

FACULTY – talented and energized faculty are the lifeblood of the university.  Finding, developing and retaining the right faculty members – one’s that are a great fit for your university – is perhaps the top priority of the university.  What is special about your university from a faculty member’s perspective?  Why would a faculty member select your school?  Why would they stay there?  What is the value proposition for an outstanding faculty member to commit their career to your university?

LOCAL COMMUNITY/REGION/STATE/COUNTRY – what value does the university add to the local community and region?  Are the faculty, staff and students engaged with the community?   Is the leadership of the university engaged with the community?  How is the university positioned within the state?  Within the country?   Within other countries?   Is their scholarship that contributes to the well being of the region or state?  Is the university involved in regional economic development? If the university is positively engaged, the citizenship will want the institution to operate.

ALUMNI/INDUSTRY – what value proposition does the university offer for alumni giving?  What value proposition does the university offer to industry partners?  The university’s development office must offer a consistent message about the ‘return on investment’ for investment.  For state institutions, the value proposition for targeted stated funds must be consistently delivered to state legislators and bureaucrats.

Academic administrators, keep asking these four questions.  They will fundamentally focus your efforts on the right things!

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The College of Business is a complicated, multi-faceted system of people, processes, technologies, stakeholders and policies.  It is critical that the associate dean understand all of the organization’s dimensions.  A business architecture is defined as:

“a blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands.” (from  Object Management Group, Business Architecture Working Group)

Ultimately the business architecture provides an understanding of the organization by:

  1. providing an understanding of what the business currently has (“as-is”)
  2. providing an understanding of how the business fits into its environment
  3. providing an understanding of where we want to go (road-map/”to-be”)

According to Chris Reynolds in the book “Introduction to Business Architecture”, defines 5 dimensions to the business architecture:

  1. Goals: a clearly articulated set of goals for the business
  2. Facades: a model that shows what the business looks like within its environment, including interactions the business offers to its customers and suppliers
  3. Processes: a model that shows how the business needs to operate as a set of processes in order to support the interactions it exposes to the outside world
  4. Communications: an understanding of the mandatory and appropriate communications between a business and its environment, as well as internal communications that would be relevant and important
  5. Entities: an understanding of the information, in the form of business entities, that the business cares about, as well as interrelationships between the business entities that the business cares about.

My goal over the next six months is to apply the principles of business architecture to the College of Business.  I hope that BA will provide a better understanding of the gap/fit of the organization in its environment and its competition.  This should help clarify the right portfolio of projects to help the College of Business evolve toward its envisioned future state.

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executionIn their best-selling book “Execution: the Discipline of Getting Things Done”, authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan claim that organizational execution centers around three core processes: the people process, the strategy process and the operations process.

The people process does three things.  It evaluates individuals accurately and in depth.  It provides a framework for identifying and developing leadership talent ….. and it fills the leadership pipeline that’s the basis of a strong succession plan.

I was recently struck by an article entitled “Assessing Undergraduate Business Education: Interviews With 4 Leaders” (Chronicle of Higher Education, April 14, 2011), where Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, describes a faculty review system that is much more ‘execution oriented’ than any I have been involved with.  Here is his description:

We have an annual review-and-planning process for all of our faculty. They complete a detailed report that looks at their teaching, their research, and their service. They write about their goals from the previous year and how they did on them. We have a peer-based system, so everyone within the same academic area reads everyone else’s report. And then we have a meeting that usually takes a full day for each of the academic areas that I and a senior associate dean attend. One by one, everybody leaves the room and we talk about them and their report. They get a memo with peer feedback, and then their area coordinator and I meet with them to discuss their progress.

I believe that Bossidy and Charan would approve of the time and effort that Dean Zeithaml devotes to faculty review. What do you think?

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“No thank you – a public vetting for internal candidates is not for me.”  These are the words I spoke to the Dean announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for the associate dean’s position.

I can think of four specific cases where internal candidates publically competed internally for academic leadership positions.

1) Department of Marketing – an intense competition between two candidates.  The loosing candidate has since left the university.

2) Academic Provost Position – an internal candidate loses to an external candidate.  The external winner marginalizes his competitor once assuming office.

3) Dean of College – two internal candidates.  In my opinion, one of the candidates is coaxed into running with no realistic hope of winning.  Today the ‘looser’ is a marginalized chaired professor.

4) Associate Dean position – three candidates.  I know the winner.  Today, when I run into one of the loosing candidates they systematically ‘run down’ the winner.

No thanks.  Maybe another time.

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emperor clothesI had a recent conversation with a faculty member who is encouraging me to apply for the associate dean position.  His thought is that I would be a good candidate because I would be able to speak ‘truth to power’.   He went so far to tell me that I would be willing to tell the emperor (i.e. Dean)  when he forgot to put his clothes on in the morning.

How does one speak ‘truth to power’ in an academic environment?  Here are my thoughts:

1) ‘Truth to power’ moments are best handled in a one-on-one, closed door environment.  In my 20+ years of working in an academic environment, I have yet to encounter a leader who wants to be ‘challenged’ in a group environment.  The typical response to a “group challenge” is to isolate and marginalize the offending party.

2) It must be made 100% clear to the leader, that you will support and follow their decision – once it has been made.  Once the decision has been made, you’ve either got to get on board or get off the ship.

3) When problems are presented to the academic leader, it is important to take a data oriented, process oriented approach.  What data suggests a problem?  Is the current process for dealing with such an issue broken?  How can the process be improved?   What will the data show when the problem has been fixed?

These are just a few thoughts – yours?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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