Friday, August 05, 2011

University Management

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research & Development
Professional Communications, Inc.

The information processing structure of universities is studied though a sample of 732 positions at over 100 different universities. Statistics reveal that there are structural disjoints that will result in persistent systematic issues. These structural “disjoints” need not be corrected. They are necessary for the effective functioning of the university,
A self-imposed standard of confining research blogs to about 2000 words requires omitting some useful elaborations. A complementary video which both expands on and abbreviates this research blog is available by clicking the icon to the right.

The university has two goals. The inter-generational transfer of knowledge preserves the knowledge gains of past generations. The creation of new knowledge objective is focused on the legacy to be left to the future.

Professors control knowledge content. Surrounding them is a management structure that controls the circumstances through which the content is delivered. Effective functioning requires that the information processing strategies of these elements —their “I Opt” strategic styles and patterns—be aligned.

Each management component serves a different function its strategy must be aligned to fulfill this mission. That strategy must likewise “fit” with the mission of other organizational elements. How well these strategies mesh will determine university success.

University management is arranged in organizational layers. For purposes of this study these units are grouped. Directors are non-academic executives that head functions or programs. Administrators include managers and other supervisory staffs that guide the operations of the functions or programs.The staff consists of professionals and other support personnel who actually execute the needed functions. Table 1 outlines the sample based on these groupings. The size and diversity appears sufficient for it to be considered representative.

Table 1

The Professor staff has been analyzed in a separate research blog ("The Professors"). There is no statistically significant difference based on academic rank. Therefore the “I Opt” profiles of all 254 Professors can be consolidated and their averages are shown in Graphic 1

Graphic 1
(n = 254)

The combination of a very high idea-generating RI style (31.5% on Graphic 1) and a secondary analytical HA approach (25.6% on Graphic 1) describes a “Perfector” pattern. In colloquial terms the "Perfector" pattern of behavior can be described as “Great idea!! Let’s think it through completely.” This is not a formula for decisive management but does serve the Professor’s instrumental role of knowledge creation and transfer within a university structure.

A total of 140 Directors drawn from 69 universities were used in the sample. This category includes Deans whose position do not have academic content. Table 2 outlines the range of functions of Directors included in this study. Overall they appear to fairly represent the range of activities needed to support the university mission.
Table 2

Directors set policy, practice and procedure. In doing this they extract information from the environment, process it using their own standards and issue output aligned with their responsibilities. Graphic 2 shows how well their profile—and thus their interpretation of decision issues—matches that of the Professors.
Graphic 2

Overall, the Directors and Professors are “cut from the same cloth.” The single significant difference is in the decisive action Reactive Stimulator style. Directors are inclined toward acting more responsively than are their Professor counterparts. Graph 3 shows the clear shift in this style preference.

Graphic 3

This category of management consists of managers, assistant Directors, associate deans (non-academic) and similar titles sourced from 55 universities. The role of this level of management is in guiding relatively near-term operations in various functional areas. Table 3 identifies some of the areas of responsibility. It appears reasonably representative of the range functions typically involved in university operations.
Table 3

Administrators are likely to periodically interact with both Professors and Directors on decision matters. The degree to which their information processing profiles match will influence the level of managerial harmony. Matching profiles indicate people are “talking the same language.” Divergent profiles mean that the parties are paying attention to different aspects of an issue, weighting them differently and seeking a different resolution. Table 4 shows the statistical significance of the difference for each strategic style.

Table 4
Probability that observed differences are due to chance alone

Professors vs. Administrators:
The academic standard for statistical significance is 5% or less. Table 4 (above) shows that Administrators differ form both Professors and Directors but in different ways. Administrators fall short of the Professors idea-generating RI tendencies. In general Professors are likely to view Administrators as a bit shortsighted and unimaginative. Administrators are likely to see Professors as a tad “blue sky” in orientation and somewhat out of touch with the real world. The degree of difference probably nets out to more of an annoyance than a basis of hostility. Graphic 4 (below) gives a picture of the Professor-Administrator differences across the range of strengths which the RI style is held..

Graphic 4

Directors vs. Administrators:
Administrator and Director differences center on the analytical HA style. Graphic 5 shows that it is localized to a particular group of Administrators (see blue arrow).

Graphic 5

Directors are likely to view most Administrators as roughly in line with their view of issues. But one small Administrator group (blue arrow in Graphic 5) will probably be seen as spending too much time, energy and probably money on analysis, assessment and evaluation. For their part, this Administrator subset is likely to view the Directors as a bit superficial.

Overall, Directors and Administrators are reasonably well matched. The information processing disjoint is local and focused on a small percentage of Administrators (i.e., 17%). Overall, Directors and Administrators may not come to exactly the same conclusion on particular issues. However, they are likely to see the same variables as important, process them in roughly the same way and more or less agree on the degree of analysis appropriate to an issue.

The staff is technically not part of management. However, their roles affect the information available to and decisions made by management. In addition the ability of the staff to execute the directives given by management fundamentally influences the functioning of the university system. Non-management staffs matter.

Table 5 specifies some of the roles performed by the 203 staff members from 59 universities included in the sample. It appears to be sufficiently broad as to be representative of the universities non-managerial staffs.

Table 5

Table 6 (below) shows 12 “I Opt” relationships between the staff versus Professors, Directors and Administrators. Eight of the 12 meet the 5% or less standard of academic significance. In other words most staff members will tend to “see” issues in fundamentally different terms than do the various levels of management.
Table 6
Probability that observed differences are due to chance alone

Table 7 (below) shows 12 relationships between the various management levels without staffs considered. Only 3 or 25% (3/12=.25) of the relationships register a statistically significant difference. Management is a relatively homogeneous group. What this means is that the university’s challenge is integrating the staffs into the management structure in a way that people can “understand” each other. Left unattended this can lead to misinterpretation, misdirected outcomes and emotional stress for all involved.

Table 7
Probability that observed differences are due to chance alone

The university structure directly addresses this potential issue in a traditional manner. The interaction of management and non-management staffs is mediated. Administrators and non-management have a marginally significant disjoint on only two levels strategic style levels (i.e., the LP and RI on Table 6). Effectively, Administrators act as a “bridge” between the Staffs and the various levels of management.

The idea-generating RI is one of the points of difference between Administrators and Staff. Graphic 6 shows that the difference divides neatly.

Graphic 6

The red arrow shows that the staff tends to prevail the lower levels of RI. The blue arrow indicates that Administrators tend to hold sway at the higher levels. Overall, Administrators are 13% more committed to the RI strategy. Staffs will contribute ideas. But they are likely to be fewer in volume and less radical in content.

The difference in idea-generation is unlikely to be a major issue. Administrators will not feel a shortage of ideas. They are likely to have an overabundance from the Professor and Director levels. Administrators will probably have been learned by experience that staffs are not a productive source of major change options. Hence staffs are not likely to be pestered to generate ideas and options of a major nature.

It is unlikely that the staff level will feel “left out” of the major decision process. It is not a component of their role so their expectations will not be violated. In addition, the university culture typically dictates that major changes are “hashed out” in relatively public discussions. This gives everyone involved a sense of having an “input.”

Staffs are about 17% more committed to the disciplined Logical Processor (LP) style than are Administrators . This is the cumulative result of small differences over a broad range. The general configuration of the profiles of the two groups are aligned. This close “tracking” is shown in Graphic 7.

Graphic 7

Overall both Administrators and staff are likely to see each other as having about the “right” level of commitment to methodical, deliberate and careful action. The difference in information processing profiles is likely to be of only minor consequence.

Graphic 8 shows the integration of all of the various levels more explicitly. Note that the bold green Administrator line breaches all of the various management levels.

Graphic 8

In general, the administrative management of universities appears to represent an effective bridge. The bridge goes both ways. Administrators are likely to effectively represent staff interests to the other management levels. They are also likely to effectively interpret Professor and Director concerns to staffs.

The information processing compatibility among the management levels is not perfect. But it is structurally efficient and effective. Overall the differences between levels are functional. For example, the decisive action tendencies of Directors make sense in terms of their role in getting things done. The Professors idea-oriented RI tendencies directly address their role in creating new knowledge. The staff’s LP capacities are essential for smooth day-to-day operations.

The structural differences will give rise to “bumps in the road.” The decisive Directors are likely to cause Professors to see themselves as “left out” of decision making. The segment of Administrators holding a high analytical HA commitment may frustrate the Directors need to get things done. Administrators are likely to feel themselves “caught in the middle” in trying to balance off the needs of the various levels. These “bumps” are structurally built-in. A modest level of tension is probably needed for the university to function.

Locally there may be information processing disjoints that give rise to difficulties of consequence. But when viewed across all universities the “bumps” are likely to be more of an annoyance than a source of hostility. The picture painted by the 732 person sample of this study is one of general satisfaction but with a tinge of annoyance over one or another issue generated by one or another management level. The fact that the source of the discomfort changes with time is evidence that there is no fundamental structural problem.

In summary, universities are to be celebrated. They appear to have devised about as good of a management structure as is possible given their mission and constraints.

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