Friday, January 09, 2004

The worst meetings are strategic 

What's the worst meeting you have to go to? We're currently engaged in another round of strategic planning, and had to sit through another episode of PowerPoint stupidity. The phrase "qualitative key performance indicators" drove one person to despair. Another one complained that he heard in a college meeting that "students are customers and you faculty need to adjust." I've heard similar things though not in the same meeting I went to as that person. It turns out Stanley Fish and I have the same notion of meetings. I have scheduled most of my classes for the same time as dean's council meetings. Most of them do nothing.
Someone from a corner of the university you scarcely knew existed arrives armed with overheads, transparencies, and (now) PowerPoints, and proceeds for 30 or more agonizing, slow-motion minutes to explain how the telephone system works (or is supposed to work), or how purchases are to be transacted and reported (this is largely a recitation of innumerable budget codes), or how nonperforming employees can be disciplined (a process so full of obstacles that an Olympic athlete couldn't jump its hurdles or even remember what they are), or how venture-tech partnerships will finance the college, bring glory to the university, and save the world.

...With that over there's some time left for fake planning. By "fake planning" I mean planning that refers to outcomes that have already been determined in precincts no department head (or dean) ever enters, or to outcomes projected so far into the future that no one in the room will be alive when they are either realized or derailed by contingencies no one foresaw.

Fish hits the nail on the head: A real meeting is really hard work, requiring the president, dean or department chair to actually know what outcome is desired and manage discussion (akin to herding cats in my neck of the woods, your mileage may vary). As a result, our department has one per month except for searches, and they seldom last more than 50 minutes. But strategic planning goes on forever.