Sunday, March 09, 2014


UH needs a management overhaul

by Larry Geller

GE’s former CEO Jack Welch isn’t spending his retirement idly playing golf—he runs several management training courses—Google will find them for you. Maybe the University of Hawaii should apply for one.

Clearly, the current UH management style does not make them winners (Jack famously expected each GE division to be number one in its field, or it wouldn’t remain part of the company). Far from winning, as today’s story in the Star-Advertiser highlights once again, UH management isn’t even competent.

If you subscribe to the paper, check out UH's poor oversight adds costs to delayed project, audit says (Star-Advertiser p. A1, 3/9/2014). The story focuses on poor management of improvements to the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex that has resulted in delays and cost overruns.

A report by the UH Office of Internal Audit released Wednesday cited deficiencies in managing and monitoring the project as well as a lack of communication. Board of Regents member Jeff Portnoy has described the issues plaguing the facility as indicative of a "University of Hawaii-wide problem."

Portnoy told the regents, "These are such basic, systemic issues. I mean, saying the (school) and architect and contractor should be meeting on a weekly basis is like common sense. If I'm (adding) on to my house, I have weekly meetings."

Yes, it’s common sense, but it is also rather basic management of a key project, don’t you think?

Or check out the article in yesterday’s paper: UH cost itself millions, HNN asserts (Star-Advertiser p. C1, 3/8/2014).

Until the UH administration learns the basics of competent management, it will be one thing after another: cost overruns, maintenance backlogs, whatever can fail because it was not handled competently.

UH has a style of management that fits the so-called “garbage can model” that I’ve written about several times. I won’t describe it again here—please check the link.

Unless there is an intervention, which could be instigated by either the Regents or the state legislature, there is no self-healing mechanism in that model. Administrators of lower- or mid-level universities and colleges which have not learned to manage their affairs appropriately simply reach into the garbage can each time and go with what they find.

It seems paradoxical that a university can’t learn, but that seems to be a consequence of the model. There’s always something in the garbage can to grab onto, something that was tried before.

By “intervention” I specifically don’t mean another Senate inquisition. What is needed is positive action to improve management skills at the university and to instill a lasting culture of competence that will serve the organization, the students and the people of Hawaii on into the future.

No, it doesn’t have to be a Jack Welch course. I keep my eye on “Neutron Jack” because I worked for GE for more than 20 years. The company went through a number of leadership changes over that time, but its basic management structure was robust and persistent so that the company was able not only to grow and adapt to changing conditions, but to succeed in a competitive environment.

Can the same be said about UH leadership?


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