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Tag Archives: change management

I wrote recently about how concern over commercialisation of the universities was masking the larger problem – and frankly, the scandal – that is the usurpation of conventional management. A relatively new elite have changed the objectives of the universities to their own interest. In doing so they have used a familiar lexicon to disguise their efforts, to make them appear efficient and business-like. They have misused access to information systems to invert the relationship between management information and management objectives.*

My reason for returning to the topic so soon is that reaction to the original piece, while oddly favourable, has missed the point. Many of those who’ve spoken to me about the piece assumed that it was taking sides in the entirely bogus debate that is frontline workers versus administrators. It’s worth emphasising that what has been done to university management is common to many – perhaps most – organisations. I’ve had lecturers and post grad workers say to me that I was right to comment on the growth of admin. staff and the decline in academic staff. I made no such comment.

With the rise of electronic and the decline of paper systems three things were inevitable. Firstly, many of those who operated the paper systems would have to go or adapt. Secondly, the electronic systems would require technical and user support staff. Thirdly, the increase in data production would create a need for more administration. In short, it’s not in the least paradoxical that more efficient systems would demand staff increases. All of this can and should be managed. Change is not a recent phenomenon and has always had to be managed. The contrived specialisation of the likes of “change management” is as much a fetish as the production of management information for its own sake.

Setting frontline workers – be they doctors, firefighters or academics – against administrators suits those who are the real problem. They will side with the frontline workers and condemn administration in the language of efficiency. If successful, they are so well entrenched that it is they who will decide which administrators will go and what is best done by contractors. Thus, aided by their apparent critics in academia, their grip on universities will tighten at the expense of poorly paid staff and those remaining managers who might have offered some opposition.

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* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/cui-bono-the-commercialisation-of-universities-is-more-complex-and-durable-than-many-critics-imagine/

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We need to begin to take seriously the pernicious effect of jargon, guff and blather on our lives. It’s certainly not new; Orwell’s “Newspeak” and Marcuse’s observations that “free” had come to mean “market” and that “intellectual” and “bureaucrat” had become terms of abuse spring to mind. Now that I think about it, Alice in Wonderland springs to mind too! There is of course a wickedly funny side to it. The, let’s call them, “goingforwardeers” and “drilldowners” provide hours of amusement. Recently a PR representative for Bus Eireann told a radio interviewer of plans to “roll out” new buses. Interestingly, the interviewer didn’t laugh.

The sheer scale of the balderdash, the confidence of its users, the lack of media criticism and the rise of a highly paid and unproductive elite suggest that perhaps something rather serious has happened.

It is of course a problem for public discourse when participants will not or cannot speak plainly. In most cases nothing very remarkable is being said; the jargon merely masks a vacuous lack of originality. What is remarkable is the lack of a challenging voice and the failure of media to clarify. It is worrying to think that there is a protective consensus around nonsense.

Anyone troubled by this consensus would be wide of the mark to blame capitalists or business. In trying to identify who gains, look not to the super rich but to a new elite who master the language of obscurity. These are the composers of mission statements, the change managers, the authors of impenetrable reports and pointless restructuring. They are many, they are relatively wealthy, they exhibit an extraordinary degree of solidarity and they are not subjected to public scrutiny. They are a nuisance – possibly, a menace – in that they smother innovation, creativity, and argument. A fake progressive and fake business lexicon is used to mask a layer of drones.

By all means let’s have fun with this. Let’s make the utterance of “key performance indicator” a capital offence! Let’s call for the closure of the Podge and Rodge School of Management! But, let us also begin to end this nonsense. Sooner rather than later searing clarity will be needed in government, business and the public sphere.