Corporate Vs. Academic Ed Tech Management Styles

Going up the management learning curve is one of my goals. Great management is like Justice Potter Stewart's description of pornography, we can't define exactly what it is but "we know it when we see it."

March 21, 2012

Going up the management learning curve is one of my goals. Great management is like Justice Potter Stewart's description of pornography, we can't define exactly what it is but "we know it when we see it."

If becoming a great manager was as simple as following an algorithm then we wouldn't have so many atrocious managers. 

We can read as many books and articles as we can about developing effective managerial skills, and take as many management classes as we can. However in the end, I suspect, maturing into a good manager is like the acquisition of any other skill. What is required is lots of practice, lots of experience, lots of feedback, and a strong desire to continuously improve.

What behaviors have you observed in good managers?

How is management within an academic setting different from the corporate or non-profit world?

What skills, abilities, habits, and practices constitute great management within educational technology?

My own management style tends to be more academic than corporate.  This is the only style that I know, and I don't think I'll be able to change, but I recognize the limitations of an academic approach to management. 

How does a corporate style of management differ from an academic style? 

I can think of 5 differences, maybe you can add to the list:

Comfort with Hierarchy: Academic oriented managers really do not like hierarchy. We do not like being above or below anyone else in authority. We believe that the power of ideas and evidence should dictate the course of actions, rather than rank. We notice that in meetings the most senior, most powerful, person tends to speak first and most. A discomfort with hierarchy can lead to positive egalitarian actions, but it can also lead to ineffective and indecisive decision making. Hierarchy, whether we like it or not, is useful and even necessary in complex organizations (such as ed tech departments). Everyone needs to know where the power to make the final decision rests, and where the ultimate responsibility resides. Orderly, timely, logical, and consistent decision and policy making is essential for the productive running of any organization.

Collegial Orientation:  Collegiality among academics is a key, perhaps the key, binding trait within disciplines. We identify first with those of us who have trained in our discipline, and only secondarily with those at our institution. We are loyal to our discipline's methodological and theoretical frameworks.  We share a common language.  And at least in the social sciences, we pay homage to our founders and pioneers. Collegiality is different from sociability. Academics are positively tribal, as a collegial attitude sometimes does not extend outside of fellow travelers within the discipline (or even more narrow discipline sub-specialities). When PhD's somehow find themselves in administrative management the different set of expectations and behaviors amongst our new colleagues can be disorienting.   Not sharing a common specialized language or world view (and what else is grad school really for), we need to find new commonalities in which to connect.   

Goal vs. Process Orientation: I don't want to argue that every academic style manger is process oriented, and that every corporate style manager is goal directed. Seems that we need to be a bit of both to succeed.   But as a self-identified academic type I'd say that I enjoy process more than many of my colleagues. Long meetings don't bother me, I like the conversation. My documents are too long, my e-mails too lengthy. I'll want to read everything I can about a problem or a project before making plans. I'll want to talk to everyone I can before making a decision. All of which leads me to wonder if becoming a better manager will require me to somehow shorten the distance between process and goals, and to evaluate the success of a given project or initiative more around ends than means.

Top Down vs. Shared Governance: The academic decision making model is one of shared governance. Faculty share in the decision making responsibilities of an institution with the administration. Faculty have an independent voice in the running of the institution. They can't simply be told what to do. Yes, I know that this description applies to tenured and tenure track faculty - and leaves off the large number of contingent and part-time instructors.  And yes, I know that this model of shared governance is being challenged by both economic dislocations and the growth of for-profit education. But still, the instinct for shared governance amongst academic types runs deep.  I think that academic oriented managers bring this model to our administrative, technical and professional teams.  This style may not always be effective or appropriate outside of the faculty ranks, but recognizing its origins may be helpful in navigating its weaknesses and leveraging its strengths.

Actions vs. Ideas:  I have an overwhelming admiration for the people who get things done. The people whose actions speak louder than their words. The doers and not the talkers. I worry sometimes that I'm more comfortable in the world's of book and ideas than the world of action. Surrounding myself with doers, and doing everything that I can to support and celebrate their work, seems like the best antidote to the limitations of an idea-centric mindset.

Of course these dyads represent gross oversimplifications.   In reality, the lines between corporate and academic managerial styles will blend. Nothing is black and white. Still, I think we all tend to lean one way or another, and I'm hoping that by identifying and talking about our management biases that we will learn to become better managers.

What type of manager do you find most productive to work with?

What is your management style?


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