Monday, February 26, 2018

“I can easily do it,” a path to over-commitment

Here is a trap I used to find myself in, a lot: I am sitting in a meeting, with good ideas flying around. This is what I live for – ideas, new things to try. “Wait,” I think at some point, “I am the best person around here to do this thing, and I know a trick about how to do it.” Then I blurt out: “OK, I will do it.” And here I am, walking out of the meeting with 2-3 items of homework.

To begin with, deans should not be walking out of meetings with homework. In fact, my job is to find people, resources, incentives, ways and means, shortcuts and tricks for things to get done WITHOUT my direct involvement. That’s what delegation is. One of my management friends told be a while back: If you a general and you happened to be the best machine gunner, you still should not be manning the machine gun, or you lose the battle.

However, the accidental commitments is not only among managers. Many faculty succumb to the urge to volunteer to do many unrelated things. Some of our academic brethren have excellent organizational skills. That group does not represent a significant majority, let’s just say that. So, people are swamped under a million of small projects, on top of the regular mayhem of student e-mails, paper grading, and committee meetings. And once you get behind, all things get behind – accidental and critical.

One of the best ways to improve a project or a process is not to do it at all. You would be surprised to find out how many things from our work lives can be safely eliminated without significant damage to the overall functionality. Here is a small example we are considering right now: Faculty have to submit their office hours through a special form, then staff process and print out this information, post office hours sheets on faculty doors. The problem is – compliance rate is low; no more than 30% of faculty actually complete the form each semester. In addition, work effort is significant. My guess is, we can simply ask faculty to post their office hours on their doors; it takes the same time as completing the form, perhaps less. It won’t improve the situation, for the same 30% will comply, but neither will it make it worse. On the other hand, we would eliminate a whole work process. The sheets also won’t look as pretty. So, it is a question of balance, but I bet a change won’t ruin anything.

Another psychological trap is reluctance to abandon something that is not working. It does not feel good, and smacks of admitting defeat. Failure is always problem; the reluctance to stop doing what is not working, is a bigger problem. So, stop doing what you’re doing right now and ask yourself three basic questions: Is this essential to our core mission? Is it moving us forwards? Is it a lot of fun to do? If the answer is no to all three, get busy with something else.

1 comment:

  1. You have been reading my mail! Less is more. I’ve been slapping my own hand quite a bit lately so I don’t say “I can do that easily!” Also, our office hours are in our syllabi! Why not put QR tags on our doors to our web pages? Oh, never mind! 😄

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