Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What Not To Do

Having gone through this far too many times already, I've discovered a law of administration (Dean Dad's Law? Hmm...). If you want to sabotage a project from above, with the best of intentions, appoint co-directors.

Never, never, never appoint co-directors, co-chairs, or co-anything.

It has taken me years to learn this, from above, within, and below.

The temptation to appoint co-directors is obvious: it looks like representativeness, suggests the possibility of wider buy-in, and prevents the identification of a given project as part of one person’s turf.

And that’s exactly why it fails.

I’ve suffered through this many times, and even inflicted it once (on direct orders from above, but still…).* What happens, consistently, is that one of the co- people takes effective ownership, with the other retaining haphazard veto power but contributing little.**

A far more effective approach, when something like representativeness is needed, is for the single chair or director to assemble an ad hoc advisory board to meet just once or twice. That’s the place for broad input, and that can be as broad as time and taste allow. Then the single director can get down to business.

Without a sense of ownership, the incentive to make the extra effort is reduced. Without a place for the buck to stop, there will be a series of crossed wires, mixed signals, and dropped details.

Since the economics of higher ed prevent paying people anything approaching what it would take to elicit the extra effort needed for anything important to work, we have to rely on other things, like pride. Pride goes with ownership (and fear of identification with a public failure). Without anyone in particular being identified as the go-to person for a project, nobody will be the martyr, and the project just won’t work.

Someday, I hope to be able to actually implement this system. Until then, I suffer in silence (other than the blog). If not for blogging, I’d go wacky. Thanks, everyone

* For reasons having to do with local culture, I’m invariably paired with a female co-chair. I don’t think the dynamic would be any different with a male co-chair, but it’s revealing that that never happens. Representativeness rears its head.

** In the interest of honesty, I’ll admit that, at various times, I’ve been on either side of this.