This is my wheelhouse. Give me all the numbers, analysis, systems, structures, processes, procedures…
According to the leadership assessment conducted in the first class session and my own experience, I know the structural frame is the frame that I operate most comfortably in and allows me to thrive. Structures and efficiencies are like fresh towels straight out of the dryer. Fluffy. Warm. Comforting. They even smell fresh.
The structural frame allows me to use many of my signature themes associated with Gallup’s StrengthsFinder: analytical, learner, achiever, restorative, and strategic. I learn about the organization. I analyze the whole into its various pieces and parts. I strategize how the pieces could fit together in new and innovative ways. I restore the pieces into a new whole to hopefully create a more collaborative and innovative whole. Finally, I make small achievements by accomplishing goals and tasks along the entire process. Much of this process mirrors the Principles of Successful Structural Change highlighted by Bolman and Deal (2017), so that is affirming.
In fact, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the structural frame and working from that perspective.
I view the structural frame as an intense examination of processes, efficiencies, and systems. Bolman and Deal (2017) utilized the analogy of a factory. Coincidentally, my father is a machinist, and I worked with him while I was growing up. Though not technically a factory for mass production, there are many similar components in a machine shop. The main concerns are accuracy and efficiency. A machine is programmed to do the job. The worker has to make sure that the machine runs constantly and as smoothly as possible. As the worker, I have to determine how to make sure the mill has the least amount of downtime. At the same time, I have to make sure that it is still functioning and producing parts that meet the required specifications.
To meet these ends, I create a system. I study the run time of the machine to complete the part. I examine when tools change. I establish how long it takes for me to insert raw material in the clamps and then to remove a completed part. I determine how much time from hitting start I have to do other tasks: clean and deburr the part; check the part specifications; and, stack, box, and package completed parts. This would be done for thousands to tens of thousands of parts depending on the job.
As I complete more parts, I look for ways to trim time off the various tasks. Is there downtime during a tool change that I can quickly switch out a completed part with a new piece of raw material? This would decrease the amount downtime for the machine. Do I need to check every completed part, or can I check every tenth part? This would allow me to check a different component of each part while still maintaining quality control. Is there a better way to package the completed parts that reduce shipping materials? This saves the company some money and adds to the bottom line. I keep making tweaks until I get to a point where it is seemingly impossible to trim any more time.
I get the system as efficient as possible and then create smaller output goals for myself to stay focused. I knew what other employees produced and I always strove to outdo their output. If I knew I should produce at least 30 parts an hour based on the system, then anything less than 30, was a disappointment and I need to fix something in the system, myself.
I was provided the autonomy to do what I thought would be best to produce the required parts as quickly and efficiently, as possible. My work there was a combination of an industrial analyst and scientific management dream: optimal efficiency and specification. Shortly after I started working with my dad, I was primarily placed on jobs that had short machine run times and high part counts. Mass production jobs with short timeframes for completion.
This environment allowed me to do my best work. I was not bothered by other people. They let me do my work and complete the task at hand. I only stopped to eat lunch. I figured out how to incorporate bathroom and drink breaks into machine run times. It was almost as if I was trying to be a part of the machine.
Higher education does not necessarily work the same way, yet fascinates me. To me, it is a highly inefficient system with the utmost potential.
I WANT TO FIX IT! Addressing some of the structures could assist with that process.
Bolman and Deal frequently used Harvard as an example of a decentralized structural system, yet highlight its success through the structural frame. However, they also recognize that Harvard operates in a space, unlike public institutions. I have primarily worked in regional, public institutions of higher education. None anywhere close to the prestige, or the endowment, of Harvard. However, other schools could still reach and surpass, the effectiveness of Harvard through a structural frame.
At UNF, a perceived issue is the siloing of various offices, departments, and divisions. Are there small attempts to break these walls down? Of course. The problem is not the effort of a few individuals to try and create a more collaborative environment. It is often the various structures that affect the behavior of the people. As Bolman and Deal pointed out, most of the time the person will cave to the culture of the organization instead of a person shifting the culture.
Institutions of higher education are highly complex organizations; often operating in the divisionalized form proposed by Mintzberg’s model. Different schools and divisions will have variations of the size and how the five-sectors (operating core, middle line, strategic apex, technostructure, and support staff) interact with each other. Within these divisions, there will be varying structures (simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, adhocracy). As one can see, this would create a highly complex, and often confusing, environment for a new employee trying to manage and understand how to accomplish simple tasks that may cut across these divisional lines. At the same time, this structure makes it difficult, institutionally, to create change and support innovation.
As Bolman and Deal highlighted in the latter part of chapter four, UNF is starting to experience significant restructuring. With the advent of a new president, many people are freaking out about the possibility of “what could happen.” Whereas, UNF has been going through this growing pain for the past few years. Starting with the appointment of Dr. Earle Traynam as Interim Provost, UNF has seen quite the transition in leadership and with that restructuring within various divisions, academic units, and departments. This process will only continue with a new president, and that process has already started with the departure of some senior-level leaders.
This will be my third time being at an institution that has gone through a significant change in leadership either at the presidential-level or massive restructuring of divisions. I have seen the ushering in of a new president and the complete dissolution and absorption of divisions. Every time this happens, people have to make difficult decisions about their own future in the emerging landscape. Most of the time, the panic many people experience, especially those who are part of the operating core, is unwarranted because not many things change. Some priorities may shift, but the overall goal of the institution remains the same: graduate students.
AS MUCH AS THINGS MAY SEEM THEY MAY CHANGE, THEY USUALLY STAY THE SAME!
Bolman and Deal stated that change in higher education typically is glacial. I have to agree. Where smaller units/departments may be able to turn on a dime, it takes a far greater effort to turn the Titanic. I don’t believe that UNF is going to sink, like the Titanic, simply that it will take a monumental effort to change the school’s current trajectory. There has always been a plan for growth (up to 25000 students), many would agree that there needs to be a stronger emphasis on research (as this can supplement decreases in state financial support and increase the university profile), and there needs to be greater emphasis on performance associated with the SUS Metrics (this is our reality). These are not new things. The change may be how we go about addressing these goals.
It will be interesting to see how this latest transition will play out. My perception of Dr. Szymanski is that he operates out of the structural and political frames more than the human resources and symbolic frames. This is from an EXTREMELY small, and somewhat unreliable, sample size of an interview, anecdotal information, and rumor. It is also somewhat different than President Delaney, who I would argue most frequently implemented the human resources and symbolic frames. As this transition occurs, I am interested to see if the structure (culture of UNF in this case) bends our new president or if the new president bends the structure.
Ultimately, the process will be a fascinating case study of leadership; one that I am looking forward to witnessing and experiencing. Being a part of it and examining what takes place from my preferred structural frame is exhilarating.
It’s like the dryer just buzzed and I have a fresh load of towels to remove and fold.