Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dysfunctional Bureaucracy. Caleb Hale gets it right

We aren't talking about the basketball team, they clearly know how to execute. It is the SIU administration who can't seem to get the job done. Check out Caleb's nice piece from yesterday.

I found his stuff about liberals amusing, because he has lumped together people who are impractical, tenured and/or lazy, together with a political or religious belief. I love the student who wants to reinvent science by using religion. Kind of reminds me of every other religion vs. science arguments - Earth is flat, Sun revolves around the Earth, you choose to be gay (just a few more years until the scientist prove that wrong), the Earth was created 5000 years ago (but glue was invented 6000 years ago, go figure?). Good thing there is great creativity in interpreting holy documents or the scientist wouldn't have new myths to disprove.

Brad Cole has been pushing on Carbondale's city hall trying to get them to perform at an acceptable level for the last four years. People have been pushed aside, changes have been made to a culture based on doing less and being less responsive. When you look at Carbondale, it has been a pretty standard dysfunctional bureaucracy. The employees were layered up and at each layer the status quo has been to say "NO!" (or even "Heck NO!") to everyone who they don't know personally (or at least fear). The only way to get things done in the pre-Brad years was to know who the decision makers were before you entered the building and avoid everyone else. Only a few decision makers could say yes, everyone else just said no.

SIU's administration is a mess in a different way. Level, upon levels of people who have a job to filter phone calls, requests and problems to a few decision makers. Can you imagine, dozens (or hundreds) of people waiting for a handful of busy decision makers to decide every little item. If I had to guess how many real decision makers there were at SIU, I would have to guess 12 to 15 total, everyone else is viewed as a cog. The people at SIU aren't important enough to even say "NO!" without getting permission. This is very different then Carbondale, you get no decision, no feedback from SIU, until it filters all the way up to someone "important" and the decision is finally reached and sent back down. Caleb's wrote about the symptom of the problem of not having enough decision makers.

Both are dysfunctional, but I don't know that one is worse then the other. What we do know is that changing these cultures into one that works efficiently is going to be tough.

As Brad has started to change Carbondale, he has stepped on some toes, pushed aside longtime employees, and gotten some nice results. But he has had a smaller and simpler nut to crack. The conversion of Carbondale City Hall from a place where everyone says "NO!" to one where customer and partners are listened to and respected is possible. Carbondale employees can be fired, the mayor has some accountability to the tax payers, even if the city manager doesn't. There is money in the city budget for raises and since the money is generated locally, the politics aren't so dirty. You have to wonder how many employees of the city hope that Sheila wins the mayor's election, so they can get back to their semi-retired state of "NO!"

But that is nothing compared to the the pain that will have to happen at SIU to get the administration to work right. I don't think there is any doubt that they have circled the wagons and reduced the number of decision makers to a handful. How will SIU make more people have decision making power? If they don't make more decision makers, how can they make correct decisions fast enough to be successful? How can you hold anyone accountable, if no one can be fired for being incompetent or rewarded for doing well? If the person in charge today can't be trusted, and you can't replace them until they retire, what can you do? Can you image how many pissed off people there are going to be if the change comes? The SIU culture that believes that nothing will ever change, but they must or they will fail in a more significant way then they have already.

Should be interesting to watch and see what happens. Good luck to Glenn Poshard, he will really need it. As I remember, Glenn volunteered for this job? Hopefully, he didn't bite off more then he can chew.

Your comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

I suppose that you are unaware that upper-level administration has been cut by about 30% in the last five years. This university functions much more effectively now than it did before Wendler arrived. I was no huge fan of Wendler's for a variety of reasons, but he did make some substantial moves to improve this university and rid ourselves of not just the bloated bureaucrats, but bloated faculty as well.

Peter in Carbondale said...

The numbers published by SIU don't support either claim.

Wendler got rid of 30% of the administration by reclassifying it as not administration. The function and paid headcount are still there. For example, the administration at Dunn-Richman was moved to a new line.

You can check the numbers, the amount of faculty is flat over the last 10 years (more or less). The only staff gains have been in AP and CS Staff, to the tune of about 1000 heads.