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The three pillars of academic management

January 22, 2010

Hello again,

I would like to develop some of the points from my earlier post about career progression. If you want to become a DOS, then it is essential you feel confident in being able to handle the three ...

...main areas: people, organization and planning.

When it comes to dealing with people you need to get to know your team so that you can work out the best ways to work with them. Your role is to motivate them, support them and, sometimes, hold them accountable. I think this is the most difficult aspect of the job because each individual has his or her own view of their and your role. Try thinking about which categories you can put your team members into: those who want to cooperate and help the smooth running of the operation; those who toe the line but who will only do the minimum required of them and those (usually very few) who can be downright obstructive.

The main danger with the first category is that you can take them for granted. As they are an asset to any organization, they may feel justified in going elsewhere if you do not show your appreciation. This might be as simple as thanking them for their good work or it might be a more tangible reward in the shape of a post of responsibility or a pay rise.

The second group needs motivating to put more enthusiasm into their work. You need to try to find out what makes them tick so that you can show them how a greater effort on their part will be more personally satisfying for them. Generally people who enjoy their work do it with enthusiasm, so a good starting point is to find out what these people like and dislike about their job. If you can work with them to help them increase the enjoyment factors and learn how to manage the less attractive aspects, you might be able to improve their performance in the team.

The final category is likely to take up a disproportionate amount of your time effort. Disruptive behaviour can take many forms: they may be lazy, too fussy, irresponsible, over-critical, undermining your authority, or all of these things. To be honest, you want to spend your time on more worthwhile matters so if, after trying to engage them, they persist in being unhelpful, first ignore them. With any luck this will convert them into a category two type. If they persist, then start noting specific instances of unacceptable behaviour: lateness, unexplained absence, failure to complete their admin tasks. This will allow you to issue them with formal warnings and they will understand that they can be fired. In extreme cases this is what you might need to do.

I have one personal example of a really difficult staff member. This person was routinely late, ‘forgot’ to do things, took unexplained days off and caused a lot of discontent among the students. The teacher left before being actually fired. But there was in a sting in the tail of the story. I was surprised to learn that the person was working for another organization that prided itself on the quality of its staff. Before long the D.O.S. phoned me to ask why I had provided such a glowing reference for the teacher. Needless to say, the reference had been forged.

I’ll discuss organization and planning next time.

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