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This article is taken from the September 2003 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

In praise of middle managers

In praise of middle managers imageMatthew Smith, in conjunction with Jon File (CHEPS) and Marc Vermulen (Tilburg Management School), is currently facilitating a programme to empower middle managers at Technikon Northern Gauteng (TNG). The aim of the programme is twofold; in the short term we hope to assist the managers deal with TNG's forthcoming merger with Pretoria Technikon and Technikon North West, and in the long term the aim is to help make the managers more effective and efficient.

The programme consists of five one-week modules, which involve a wide-variety of teaching and learning techniques (e.g. local experts, videos, case-studies, interactive DVDs), with strong emphasis on participant interaction. The modules include a mixture of theory (e.g. current thinking on change management) and practice (e.g. how to run an effective meeting based on the John Cleese video series: "Meetings Bloody Meetings" and "More Bloody Meetings").

The topics covered in each module are grouped round a particular theme that whilst specific to higher education, draws heavily on current thinking in the business world. In the introduction module, for instance, we explore the key characteristics of a university as an organisation and what it means that institutions of higher education typically have ambiguous goals, rely heavily on problematic technology, have disputed notions of knowledge and are made up on the whole by loosely coupled departments and business units. Added to this a higher education institution relies heavily on middle managers to manage the organisation, which requires the middle manager to play conflicting roles ranging from what Quy Nguyen Huy refers to as "the Entrepreneur and the Communicator to the Therapist and the Tightrope Artist".

Building on this introduction, the second module focuses on governance and leadership issues in higher education. For example, in this module the participants explored the notion of change management within the context of challenges facing higher education such as economic globalisation, knowledge based economies, the need for mass higher education provision and changes in the nature of government co-ordination.

In module three, devoted to human resource issues, the participants discussed and debated issues such as:

  • What is human capital,
  • How to develop an HR strategy or HR model for an organisation,
  • The key factors to developing capacity within an organisation,
  • Different types of compensation systems used to provide incentives for an institution's workforce, and
  • How to motivate one's staff.

Module four examined the planning and financial management within the TNG context, and thus participants begun with the fundamentals of financial management, then moved on to the essential components of a business plan (i.e. mission, objectives, strategy etc.) and the associated budget and budgeting techniques. In addition the group also focussed on financial reporting (e.g. timeliness, accuracy and comprehension) and monitoring. In particular the participants identified relevant financial and non-financial indicators for their department/business unit.

The final module, the Capstone module, saw the participants, working in groups, applying what they had learnt in the previous four modules to a complex case study in which they had to develop solutions to a series of challenges facing an institution. The challenges included a) reduction in government subsidy, b) increasing staff teaching loads, and c) opportunities to increase consulting hours.

 

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