Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 12 Rules of How Not to Manage an Organization

I replaced my university's name by 'Inept University' to protect the innocent and hide the guilty, and not create further trouble for me.

[INEPT UNIVERSITY] leaders strain to transform [INEPT UNIVERSITY] into the Eminent Management University in Malaysia and possibly the world. I have no idea where the administrators dreamed up this mission statement. Do not get me wrong, universities and colleges are extremely bureaucratic and poorly managed institutions. However, [INEPT UNIVERSITY] is the worst of the worst. Sometimes, I dream I am superman, and I fly around and help people, but I do not go around and tell anyone. Otherwise, people would think I was crazy. After reading this blog about this university, this idea of [INEPT UNIVERSITY] becoming the Eminent Management University is completely insane, but this leads to our first rule. Bureaucratic institutions with severe management problems can craft clever slogans and mission statements and conduct slick public relations campaigns.

Rule 1: Bureaucratic organizations become very good at crafting clever, intelligent mission statements and fabricating excellent public relation images.

I copied this mission statement directly from the [INEPT UNIVERSITY] website. The mission statement is a little wordy but common in the education industry. University informs everyone how great the university is.

"To be a consistently pre-eminent centre of academic excellence in teaching and learning, research, consultancy, and publication in the field of management, and, at the same time, to bring forth highly competent human capital that is commited to serving in the development of the nation and all humanity."

Analyzing this mission statement, parts are completely false. "..excellence in teaching..." Really? Who thought this up? I became shocked and enraged after a student told me most professors do not return exams, homework, and quizzes. In most classes, students do not know how well they are doing or which grade they are earning until after the class ends. I do not think I could do well in these courses because I would not know how long to study, how the professor grades exams and homework.

Problems at [INEPT UNIVERSITY] go beyond teaching. Old computers and equipment that are older than the students sitting in the classrooms fill every classroom. I had trouble with the computer and equipment weekly. Viruses infect at least half the computers while the computers break down frequently. For one class, the electronic lock had failed, and the students and I were locked out of the classroom. I switched classrooms. However, the bureaucrats still found ways to create problems. First year students must scan in their ID on the time clock to record their class attendance. Administrators marked all my students absent that day even after I informed them what had happened with the door.

My university's troubles exceed the false visions and mission statements. [INEPT UNIVERSITY] has evolved into a bureaucratic nightmare, adding layers upon layers of management. I taught in the College of Business, and these managers separate me from the Vice Chancellor:

  1. Vice Chancellor - president of the whole university
  2. Assistant Vice Chancellor - have no idea what this person does
  3. Dean of the College of Business - supervises the economics, finance, and banking departments
  4. Deputy Dean of the College of Business - have no idea what this person does
  5. Department Head - supervises the economics department

Remember that old saying - too many cooks spoil the stew. With [INEPT UNIVERSITY] being overly bureaucratic, the managers insulate themselves in their offices, processing volumes of documents. They never once popped into my office to see what I was doing. I even tried to pop in and ask questions, but most the time, the managers lock their doors and isolate themselves, which becomes Rule 2. They send commands through their staff. Since some professors lack motivation, the staff always demands and snaps commands at the professors. They never politely ask or request for things. You must do it NOW even if I am in the middle of teaching a class! Drop everything you are doing! Come to the committee room now! The dean must see you now! If I were dean, I would not hide in my office. I would be knocking on people's door, finding out what people are doing, and what they are working on.

Rule 2: Leaders who isolate themselves from the workers provide poor leadership. They do not inspire, encourage, or develop healthy relationships with their employees.

Many universities want to transform themselves into a research university because they are prestigious as professors conduct breakthrough research. Furthermore, accreditation hinges on a university conducting research because professors bring that knowledge into the classroom, teaching students the most up to date methods. Unfortunately, many universities focus on research and neglect teaching.

I will let you know a little secret. Many university researchers write research papers that contribute little to their fields, playing a numbers game with the university. If we eliminated 80% of the published research, humanity would never miss it. If we eliminated another 10% of research, humanity would lose some knowledge, but we would survive. In every field, a handful of researchers discover the breakthroughs while the remaining researchers play catch up and regurgitate and recycle the research with new angles.

[INEPT UNIVERSITY] leaders want to transform [INEPT UNIVERSITY] into a research university, but they do not know how to achieve their goals. They created the KPI that outlines the duties and responsibilities of every university employee including the managers. Malaysian government uses the KPI to boost workers' productivity. (Remember the movie - Office Space? KPI is the new TPS Report - a mindless, useless report that all managers want in the movie with the correct cover page). Every few months, the administrators incessantly change the employees' goals and duties, which becomes Rule 3. As an employee, how can I complete a goal if I know my goals will change in several months? I could organize and perform research on a subject that satisfies my current KPI. When the administration alters my KPI, then my efforts and work could become wasted if the project satisfies the old KPI and not the new KPI. After my third KPI, I ignored the KPI and revived the old rule. I will teach my classes and publish research papers that I want.

Rule 3: Managers constantly changing the goals, duties, and mission of their employees do not know what they are doing. If a manager knows which goals his or her employees must accomplish, subsequently, the managers would outline their duties and then monitor their progress. Indecision reflects poor leadership and incompetence.

Bureaucrats can divert activities away from its core mission, which leads to Rule 4. A university has two goals: educate students and conduct research. For example, [INEPT UNIVERSITY] wants to enroll more foreign students. [INEPT UNIVERSITY] advertises and sends professors to foreign countries to meet with potential students. Some students become interested and contact the university. Bam! Then the students meet the [INEPT UNIVERSITY] bureaucrats. [INEPT UNIVERSITY] bureaucrats never return phone calls or answer emails and ignore the students. Frustrated students give up and move on to another university. Consequently, [INEPT UNIVERSITY], on one side, tries to recruit students while, on the other side, the bureaucrats are chasing the students away.

Rule 4: Bureaucrats can divert activities away from its core business and in extreme cases can undermine their primary mission.

[INEPT UNIVERSITY] has almost no transparency. I do not think the leaders designed the organization this way, but [INEPT UNIVERSITY] bureaucrats will not divulge any information. Employees wait for commands from upper management, and they avoid trouble by not divulging information that managers will change later. Upper management changes their decisions like the Malaysian weather. Skies are clear and cloudless one minute, and a minute later, thunderstorms are dumping rain from the skies. When I first arrived to the university, no one explained the rules and procedures. I relied on an expatriate professor who has been teaching at [INEPT UNIVERSITY] for a while. For example, no one would say definitively when my contract ends. Normally, the end date is explicit in the contract, but [INEPT UNIVERSITY] starts the contract the first day the professor arrives and not the date within the contract. I could never get a straight answer from the administration, but they keep paying me, so I still stick around.

Rule 5: Nontransparent organizations become susceptible to arbitrary rules and decisions, and in severe cases, fraud, and corruption permeates the organization.

I never seen anything that could be defined as fraud or corrupt, but I have never seen any financial statements from the university and I do not want to see them. However, the rules are arbitrary. For instance, the department will pay professors a bonus for publishing a research paper. Nevertheless, this is not entirely true because at the end of every rule should state "at the discretion of the dean." I learned the administration will pay the local professors the bonus but withhold the bonus from foreign faculty because the foreigners earn greater salaries.

As bureaucracies expand and become more complex, they create complicated budgets that cause bureaucrats to waste and squander resources and money, which becomes Rule 6. For example, the university needs to replace the ancient computers and equipment in the classrooms, but bureaucrats have not allocated money for new computers in the budget. However, the dean for the College of Business demanded every professor to attend training during Spring break in the Cameron-Highlands at the Heritage Hotel. At first, I was happy because the university paid the workers to see another part of Malaysia. However, the organizers turned the workshop into a nightmare as the bureaucrats wasted time and money. They needed to spend all the funds in this one account or the College of Business would lose the money.

Bureaucrats locked us in the hotel for two days, participating in the most boring workshops, stretching half-hour presentation into hours. I became furious on my first night there as the dean kept us until 10 PM. One hundred and fifty people with PhDs and Master degrees filled the conference room. Dean's brilliant team building exercise was to have every team construct a newspaper tent that could support a bottle of water. WTF?

I shook my head in disgust because the university paid a substantial amount of money to transport, feed, and house 150 faculty and staff at a hotel. Yet, I enter my classroom every day to teach, using those damn, ancient desktop computers running XP. Dean could have locked us up in a conference room on campus and made us pay for our own lunches and dinners. Then he could use the money to replace all the old computers and equipment.

Rule 6: Bureaucratic institutions create complicated budgets that cause administers and bureaucrats to waste and squander money on the wrong activities.

Bureaucratic organizations can erect walls and divisions between managers and workers. Managers develop an us versus them mentality. Consequently, managers groom and promote new leaders based on loyalty and not on merit, which becomes Rule 7. In my case, the department paired me with a young professional who was the rising star in the department. We had to coordinate and teach the identical course for multiple sections of this class. It was horrible. She changed things at the last minute and would not inform me such as altering the syllabus and exams. Half way into the semester, she hands me the new textbook where I had been teaching from the older edition book. My personal favorite - she waited two hours before the exam before emailing and asking me to help proctor the mid-term exam. Enough is enough! I told her I refused to work with her anymore half way into the semester. Unfortunately, I sealed my fate and doomed my career at the Eminent Management University.

Rule 7: Bureaucratic organizations promote employees to management based on loyalty and not on merit.

Managers and leaders isolate themselves in their offices processing documents and reports. They demand we professors write research papers, apply for grants, and consult for industry. Professors always write glowing reports how we applied for an international grant and give the details, or we recently submitted a research paper. Then the managers pass the reports up the management chain. I would never accept a grant, always sabotaging my efforts. If an international agency had given a grant for research, then the university requires me to transfer the funding to the administration so the bureaucrats can control the money. My colleagues complained many times about their struggles for reimbursement from the administration while reimbursement stretches into months. Accordingly, our leaders have trouble managing and monitoring us, which becomes Rule 8. At one point, I snuck away from the university for two weeks to travel in Indonesia, and no one noticed.

Rule 8: Bureaucratic organizations have trouble coordinating, managing, motivating, and monitoring workers.

As you guessed, workers and professors lack motivation at my university. They arrive to campus and teach their courses. Then they flee the campus silently, avoiding the leaders' offices, just in case the leaders happen to be looking out their office windows. In the academe, I hear the magic number many times - 10 percent. At many universities, 10% of the workers do all the work and carry the 90% who sit in the break rooms, gossiping about the TV shows and the people around them.

Managers have resorted to intimidating the professors to boost the professors' productivity - i.e. that research defined in the KPI. Dean emailed the entire foreign faculty and requested we meet in the committee boardroom. Dean sat at the head of the table while we professors sat on one side of the table lined up like ducks at a shooting range. Then the College of Business department heads, advisors, and coordinators came in solemnly and sat along the wall at their special table like inquisition judges. Dean outlined our research plans, changed our KPI again, and demanded we professors start producing research while the inquisition judges glared down at us. Ironically, most foreign professors had published research while the dean and inquisition judges have produced nothing except for one.

Rule 9: Leaders and managers threatening and intimidating their employees reflect severe management problems in an organization. Consequently, the organization is doomed as employees begin fleeing.

I work for a university where the leaders and managers refuse to communicate to me except when they demand a document. Managers have isolated themselves from us, and I feel no connection or dedication to my employer. I stopped going to my office, and I work at home. I try to teach my classes well, but my morale and work ethic has suffered in the other areas at my job, which becomes Rule 10. I have not committed sabotage or done anything to my employer, but I am far from a good employee. I have a journal article being reviewed. If the journal accepts my article, I will not inform the dean or anyone at the university. I know their KPIs depend on faculty publishing research, so I will not help boost their KPIs. Of course, my managers hold me in such contempt; they probably would not even consider the publication if I had informed them.

Rule 10: Employees' morale and work ethic suffers if the managers and leaders mistreat them. Employees may sabotage projects and deliberately reduce their productivity in revenge, striking back at their bosses.

Sometimes, the [INEPT UNIVERSITY] bureaucrats do crazy things, which become Rule 11. Then couple this with the Asian mentality where a subordinate can never challenge a manager's decision. For example, bureaucrats at [INEPT UNIVERSITY] continually change document formatting. Professors must adhere to the exact format for writing the final exam questions. Last year, professors had to write the exam questions using Arial font and paragraphs were not justified. This year, the supreme committee of upper management in their infinite wisdom had decided, professors must use Times Roman font with justified paragraphs. Then a committee of PhDs breaks out their rulers, analyzing and examining every professor's final exam for question content and formatting. Of course, a bureaucrat cannot create a template and email the template to the professors. Bureaucrats continually create work for the professors. Their pettiness truly dazzles my mind. For another instance, the bureaucrats had rejected my syllabi for my classes. Last year's syllabi had the university's logo while this year, the committee wants the professors to remove the logo. (I am not making this up).

Rule 11: Sometimes, extremely bureaucratic institutions do crazy things without any thought, reason, or logic.

Last Rule, Rule 12, kills organizations, causing them to stagnate and go into decline. Leaders and bureaucrats fostering a terrible, hostile work environment force its employees to transfer and work for rival employers. Even at my university, some workers and bureaucrats work hard and try to do their jobs well. I become disappointed and frustrated when I pop into an office where competent, hardworking people work and learned they quit their jobs and started working for another organization. A new employee takes over and must learn how to do their job and duties. Consequently, a high turnover rate hurts the bad employer in three ways. First, employer can lose institutional memory when fleeing employees take their knowledge and experience with them. Second, competing employers will hire and poach the best employees from rival companies while poorly managed organizations become filled with bad employees over time. Finally, the fleeing employers may work harder for their new employers, subconsciously getting back at their previous bosses.

Rule 12: Severely mismanaged organizations experience high turnover rates with its personnel. Unfortunately, the organization can lose its best employees as competing organizations hire them. Over time, the mismanaged organization becomes stuck with poorly motivated, low-skilled workers.

Many bureaucrats and leaders poorly manage their institutions and would break half these rules continually. However, my special university in Malaysia violates all these rules daily. What is hysterical is the Vice Chancellor gave a good speech about companies and countries that grew fast but went into decline. He said we must adapt and change with our environment and remain competitive. However, the president needs to examine his own institution especially his management team. Bureaucrats and leaders can write glowing reports and documents and blame others for an institution's failures. Many failing companies and stagnating countries institute overbearing bureaucracies that hindered growth and stifled change.

Problems at [INEPT UNIVERSITY] will continually worsen. Bureaucracies grow over time, and the [INEPT UNIVERSITY] bureaucracy already interferes with its mission - conduct research and educate students. Bureaucrats will create new paperwork, procedures, and processes that halt all progress and chase the good employees from the university. Bureaucrats are pesky flies multiplying on the piles of cow dung spread across the college campuses. We professors are doomed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is North Korea being Aggressive?

Political leaders, news reporters, and analysts claim North Korea is being aggressive towards the outside world. However, the U.S. military performs joint military exercises with South Korea. South Korea conducts military exercises near North Korea’s border while the U.S. military flies airplanes near the border. Then the United Nations with the approval of the United States imposed further sanctions on North Korea. When North Korea fired artillery onto Yeonpyeong Island, a disputed territory between South and North Korea, was North Korea being aggressive or sending a message to South Korea and the United States to back off?

The United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea because North Korea is developing nuclear weapons and missile technology. In North Korea’s defense, a country with nuclear weapons has never been invaded by another country. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons depend on early 20th century technology. They are simple devices that depend on refined uranium 235 or plutonium 239. That is the only complexity of developing nuclear weapons, purifying and refining uranium or plutonium into weapons grade. On the other hand, North Korea could be using nuclear weapons and missile technology as a bargaining chip with the United States. For instance, North Korea could suspend its nuclear program if the United States opens diplomatic relations with North Korea and sends more aid. Unfortunately, both sides refuse to talk to each other.

Many Americans advocate invading North Korea. They believe the war would be quick and decisive. This could be a terrible idea. People had forgotten history. The Korean War (1950-53) ended in an armistice. Both the South and North Korean militaries put their weapons down and stopped fighting on July 27, 1953, and they never signed a peace treaty. Thus, the war ended in a tie with no winner. As the United States sends more ships and troops to the Korean Peninsula while South Korea performs military exercises near the border, North Korea had canceled the armistice in March 2013 as tension between the two sides continues escalating.

Many Americans had forgotten the United States military helped South Korea during the Korean War, and that war ended in a tie. Unfortunately, we have fared no better with our recent military excursions. U.S. military has occupied Afghanistan for over 12 years with no end in sight. U.S. military had killed the top leaders of al-Qaeda, but the U.S. military still controls a land locked country filled with sheepherders, mountains, and rocks. Under these conditions, the U.S. government still has trouble controlling Afghanistan even after the Soviet Union had worn down Afghanistan during the 1990s. Furthermore, the U.S. military has invaded Iraq and occupied the country for 12 years with no end in sight. U.S. military has invaded Iraq twice because the U.S. military had invaded Iraq in 1991 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

A new war between North and South Korea becomes likely as tensions intensify. Let us say the U.S. military does invade North Korea. Everyone assumes North Korean missiles cannot reach U.S. soil. They only develop technology to fire mid-range missiles that could reach the U.S. military base in Guam. Experts claim North Korea does not have the technology to fire missiles that would reach the continental United States. Does anyone want to gamble on this? Besides, if North Korea does not have the technology to fire long-range missiles, military can mount missiles onto ships and sail them closer to their targets. Moreover, the U.S, military would have problems fighting a war with North Korea because the military would pull troops away from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, U.S. military spreads the troops and resources over three battle fronts. Opposition and rebels can rise up and successfully attack U.S. soldiers and bases. Napoleon and Hitler had opened two fronts, and both dictators lost the war.

Why must the U.S. government intervene in North and South Korea’s conflict? Where does the U.S. Constitution state the U.S. government must be the world’s police officer? Subsequently, if the U.S. government triggers a war, it must finance the war and its finances are not healthy as the U.S. government debt clock has ticked beyond $17.1 trillion. U.S. economy remains weak with sluggish, nonexistent job growth. U.S. government should worry about the weak economic recovery within our borders because a weak economy causes weak growth in tax collections. Unfortunately, a weak economy coupled with a high debt converts the debt clock into a ticking time bomb.

United States government is isolating North Korea. If the U.S. government wants to change North Korea, then get the North Korean government to open their economy to free trade. Free trade moves new products, services, and ideas across a country’s borders. After the people taste free choice, consumer products, and new ideas and technology, they will demand their government to open up more. We see this happening in China. Communists still control the government in China, but every day, they open and liberalize their economy more until one day, the government will grant freedom to its people. Forcing open North Korea’s economy would change the system more than the United States and South Korea triggering a war with North Korea. Missiles and bombs would not destroy cities, and no soldiers would die.