Sunday, May 27, 2007

Administrative Strategies

Over the last little while, I have been making a study of the techniques by used by people in administrative positions. It seems that there are a number of methods that one can spot being used over and over again, when administrators find themselves with difficulty. By cataloging some of these, it is possible to gain some insights into the kinds of response one can expect to run into, when as a mere non-administrative mortal, one wishes to get something done, but requires administrative assistance.

Method 1: Avoid saying 'no'.

When an administrator is faced with a request that they wish to deny, a common strategy is not to deny the request. Instead, they simply do not respond at all. The rationale here is quite easy to fathom. People do not like to be told 'no'. Also, if a request appears on the face of it to be reasonable, by saying 'no' an administrator can put themselves in line for criticism. By saying nothing, this is avoided. After long enough, the maker of the request will in all probability forget about it. Thus, not answering is always better than giving a negative answer. This method is also useful when faced with problematic requests for information.

Method 2: Over answer questions.

Occasionally a question will arise that it is impossible to ignore (see method 1). This can happen for a variety of reasons. A good technique to use in such situations is to over answer the question. For example, ensure that the requested information is included somewhere in a series of very long and tedious documents. As a general rule, a couple of pounds of paper should be included for each question asked. This method should be treated with some caution however. It is important that the additional documents are suitably uninteresting so that they in turn cannot cause further difficulties down the line. This method is especially effective if it can be combined with a strict time limit. Even the most trenchant and persistent critic will find it hard to find the answer they are looking for in several pounds of paper, in a twenty-four hour period.

Method 3: In case of trouble, form a committee.

Another excellent method for dealing with problems is to handle them by forming a committee. Once a committee has been proposed, most problems will go away. This is because of the variety of ways that committees can be used to be unhelpful. First off, it can take a while for the appropriate composition of a committee to be determined and agreed. Once the membership is agreed, especially if the committee is a large and diverse one, it can prove extremely difficult to find suitable times for meetings, when all the members do not have other commitments. If no suitable time can be found, after long and strenuous efforts, then a time can be arranged such that only the committee members that are acceptable to administrators can be present. Provided that enough people are present to form a quorum, then suitable decision can be made and the issue can be dealt with (or even ignored) in a manner that suits the administrators.

Even if these steps are not effective, after decisions have been made, a request can be made that the committee present their findings and decisions in the form of the report. Naturally, drafting a report can take quite a while for busy people. Once the report is completed, the committee can try and meet again to approve it, make corrections and so on. Committees can be used as a very effective method for dealing with almost any eventuality. Also, while a committee is completing it's work, administrators can make the decisions they wish to, justifying them on the grounds of expediency. A promise made that changes will be made after a committee reports, almost never needs to be kept, if people even remember it at all.

Method 4: Use promises and inducements.

It is a fact about human nature that individuals will often respond well, if they think that they, or something they care about will be benefited. As a minor example, a troublesome faculty member can often quite easily be placated by the promise of a new computer, or a salary adjustment. It is for a related reason that individuals who are looking for a promotion, or an administrative appointment often make excellent committee members (see method 3). Most people are aware at the imprudence of biting the proverbial hand that feeds. Depending upon the case, a promise alone may often be sufficient. Getting things approved often requires the complicity of numerous other individuals up- the administrative food chain. Use this fact. The longer a person is waiting for preferment, the longer they are likely to keep quiet and do as they are asked. If it proves ultimately necessary to not provide the promised benefit, then appealing to this is also a useful method. There is a fine tradition of blaming Bursar and Comptrollers that should not be ignored. If an inducement can be provided (after a suitably long wait), then it is often a good idea to ensure that the recipient is suitably grateful and will continue to be supportive for some time. This should be clearly indicated to the recipient, albeit in a suitably subtle manner.

As my study of administrative strategies continues, I plan to offer further posts about them here. I would also be interested to hear of other devious administrative methods detected by others.

The CP


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