Higher Ed IT Management Metrics

This is a hard post to write. It has several components that may not be obvious to the casual reader. In the interest of providing a full context for my remarks, I’ll list them:

  • I am on staff with the University of Notre Dame, a truly amazing place to work.
  • I’m entering into my 14th year in IT, and my 8th year as Learning Management Administrator.
  • My blog has recently been syndicated by edu1world.org
  • My Notre Dame colleagues were not very aware of my blog until the aforementioned. Now they read it too.
  • My Manager for the past several months has been previewing my postings to verify that they transparently did not purport to speak on behalf of Notre Dame.

In the New York Times bestseller, Drive , by Daniel Pink, he provides compelling evidence for those things truly motivating people. He says we seek autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Not surprisingly, I discovered those things about myself a long time ago, and in fact ‘targeted’ Notre Dame as an employer after digesting the book, “What Color is Your Parachute?”

It has been a delightful –mostly- relationship thus far. I get to meet faculty needs in ways that make sense to faculty within the means Notre Dame has to allocate.

Faculty vs Staff Dichotomy

Although my higher ed employment history is mostly at Notre Dame (briefly in grad school at the University of Texas I TA’ed), I suspect that everywhere the dichotomy between what we offer in intrinsic motivators to faculty and what we offer to professional staff varies widely. We recruit faculty who are creative, innovative, imaginative, free-thinkers, if you will. We recruit and hire professional staff, specifically IT staff, to support our faculty, their processes, teaching, research and all the administrative workflow entailed in matriculating graduates. We expect our staff to creatively implement and maintain processes and methods which work for everyone.

Further, coming back to Daniel Pink’s book, we manage the two groups differently. Faculty are given more autonomy, more resources to promote mastery of their research, mastery of their discipline and their classroom. We expect them to be intrinsically motivated by a sense of purpose embodied in contributions to their chosen discipline.

Staff? Highly trained, highly skilled and motivated IT Staff? Not so much. I am hazarding a guess that in most of higher ed we still manage these people as though they are plugged into an assembly line in the industrial revolution.

Let’s discuss autonomy over time … Do you allow IT Staff to work from home? To maintain their own schedules? Do you acknowledge that the work they give you is done at all hours anyway?

Autonomy over process … Are your IT Staff (not the managers) creators of their own processes? Creators of their development processes? (Have you seen the Agile Manifesto? It has autonomy baked in.) Do they have input into change control procedures, code repositories, versioning? In tool choices? In tool strategies?

Does your IT Management see themselves as empowerment or enforcement? Is following process more important to them than the interactions which move the project along? A focus on managing the processes of IT Staff puts your management in the unenviable position of Kindergarten Cop.

If you were ‘rank and file’ staff, with an opportunity to critique your manager, what criteria would you choose?  As Directors and VPs, what are the metrics you choose in performance reviews? We all recognize we get what we measure… So what are we measuring?

3 thoughts on “Higher Ed IT Management Metrics

  1. Thank you, Laura. I ran into this very issue when I switched from the role of the academic to academic manager (Director, Online Ed). If we expect colleges and universities to start rethinking how they do things, we’ll need to be more thoughtful about the importance of professional autonomy.

  2. A strong relationship exists between autonomy and stress. The less autonomy workers have, the higher the stress.

    An extension to time I would make is the ability to self-prioritize so I can work on the things I think are important or valuable to the organization rather than the person who has political clout or cries the best. Nothing is worse than managers who want you to drop everything, including the thing that affects 10,000 users and is about to be late, to do the thing for 10 because the person wanting the 10 has clout.

    My ideal manager shields me from junk. The junk are unnecessary emergencies, administrivia, and micromanagement from above. Things like someone wants IT to provide a server to run some software to meet the arbitrary deadline of in two days. Lack of planning should put that at the end of the list not at the head. Part of this may be the manager being accessible to get a heads up on things to push them into planning.

    Also, I want a manager who understands my strengths and interests enough to direct projects where I would be good to me. Assigning me to projects where I lack the skills to accomplish them makes little sense.

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