Friday, March 01, 2013

The scleroticism of modern management - a comparative case study

From time to time I talk about the growing scleroticism of modern management, especially in the public sector. As everything hardens, becomes more rigid and controlled. decision making and delivery become slower. When things have to be done fast, mistakes are more likely. Everybody works hard, they just don't know how to work fast. Indeed, they can't because of the controls.

I was reminded of this by a column I have just written for the Armidale Express on the very early history of the University of New England. This grainy shot is a photo of the workers hired to upgrade Booloominbah, the heart of the new New England University College. In February 1938, they were still working when the first staff and students arrived. Further comments follow the photo. 

Workmen, Bool 1938

This is your challenge.

You have been charged with the role of creating a new university college. You can't do anything in an active sense (planning is possible) before legislation is passed. Then, when legislation is passed, you have to organise the appointment of a new head of the College. In conjunction with him, it was generally a him in those days, you have to organise the conversion of a building without town electricity that has been unoccupied for five years into  a place of learning. New staff have to be appointed, while the entire paraphernalia of a new institution havsto be created. How long would it take you?

I'm sure that you get the picture. In this case, the legislation was passed in December 1937, with the College opening for business in February 1938. Could you do it today?

If there was enough political will, I am sure that you could because that would over ride normal processes. But could you do it in the face of some opposition while observing the rules? I doubt it. That's the point I'm trying to make. 


Annoyingly, there is a chronological problem in this post. It doesn't affect may argument, but I hate making stupid errors, errors that I should have spotted. I am going to have to go through to check dates.

Still, the whole thing has had a useful result. I am going to do a comparative chart of the dates involved in the final establishment processes for both the Armidale Teachers College and then the New England University College. Both were established in very narrow time windows.

If the start of the Teachers College had been delayed by just twelve months, the onset of depression would have led to its closure. If the start of the University College had been delayed by just twelve months, the Second World War would have led to its closure. As it was, both were sufficiently down track to survive.

From the viewpoint of this post, it's not the speed that is interesting, but also the timing. In an unstable world, timing is just so important. From the viewpoint of the history of New England that I'm trying to write, it adds texture to the story. The players in the establishment of both institutions were much the same.  They knew the importance of speed.

Further, By 1937-38 Drummond as Education Minister and Bruxner as NSW Country Party Leader had formed the view that war was inevitable. Drummond's views had been formed in part on an official visit to Germany in 1936; added force was given to this by a series of books charting the threat from Japan. Drummond had also formed the view that the results of any future war would be determined by air power. Here Australia was woefully ill-equipped.

Drummond and Bruxner's views were not universally shared. Despite that, in part because of that, they began to move NSW towards a war footing. In Drummond's case as Minister for Education, he began as to push for changes in the technical education system that would increase Australia's capabilities especially in aeronautics.  

There is an interesting story here in it's own right, one that I have written a little on. For the moment, it may help to explain the urgency in 1937 to get the new College up. It wasn't the contribution to any future war, the University College was not seen in that context, more that it added to the need for haste given the Armidale Teachers College experience.

Again, chronology is important and needs to be checked. But it's all very interesting for someone like me!


Rummuser said...

Let me give you two links and leave you to come to your own conclusions.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Ramana. Will read with interest.

Unknown said...

I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post."