Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Down or Bottom Up

When it comes to management that is the question, right? When should management take over and determine the ends and means for the organization. Conversely, when should those decisions be made by the workers. Under which regime are stakeholders (students, tax payers, alums) better off.  In the world of so-called faculty governance (or, more often, lack of governance) the issue gets very sticky.

When the top does not have courage, ideas, personality or anything else that would make the School better for stakeholders the default position is  bottom up.  If you add to that a lack of shared aspirations something akin to white collar looting occurs. Faculty charge into the School and take what they want. The  School's shareholders? -- screw them!

So Jack wants to teach a 4 credit property course in one four hour block so he can spend  days at the beach. Linus wants a year off with pay with no obligation to account for the time off.  Joe just wants to teach "Law and Gumby." Patty wants only to teach at 1 PM every other Friday. Chris wants to teach everything online and asynchronously and concurrently. Jane wants to teach a seminar with 4 students because her course is so important (to no one but Jane). Ricky likes to travel so he thinks it is OK to miss a few days each week so he can network. Bottom up means everyone who counts is happy as long as everyone who counts is on the faculty.

Why do leaderless schools become bottom up nightmares?  Because no one will say "no" and the majority, to the extent there is voting on policy, need votes. How do you get votes? By having a management policy of "you can have yours if you let me have mine." Yes, bottom up management in an institution dominated by self-interested people means chaos.

They hate top down management because they do not get what they want. It's not on the basis of management philosophy or on the basis of top down results being better or worse outcomes for  shareholders.  That is irrelevant. Ironically the bottom up people may say "it's the principle of the thing" when, in fact, it's hearing the word "no" that sets things off.

 It sets things off even if it is not top down at all. No, "top down" becomes an accusation and it must be bad no matter how good it is or even whether it exists.  It is a form of name calling when the name callers have nothing substantive to say. In fact, like claims of lack of collegiality the accusation of "top down" can be completely false and amounts to an attempt at bottom up bullying. When enough people are involved it is a mob.

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