Sunday, December 02, 2007

CTE'S goal: a culture that is both results oriented and affirming

At the begining of the fall and spring semesters, The Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) publishes a four page newsletter that is distributed to faculty and staff. My column, "From the Director" appears on the front page. Recent titles have included 'AU's New President: Grounds for Optimism from a Compelling Book' (Jim Colllins, 'Good to Great') and 'Winning the Battle for Brainpower.' My column for the spring semester number follows.

Each August, a new cadre of part-time staff members join CTE. At orientation, we discuss seven principles entitled ‘Serving the AU Community and relating to one another.’ I believe the most important principle is this:

In CTE, every staff member, from the Director to our most junior hourly worker, is expected to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, irrespective of their job descriptions. Even more, CTE staff members are expected to proactively and creatively seek out what needs to be done, without waiting to be told. How can I make a difference? How can I strengthen the results we produce? How can I improve the quality of work life and the quality of human relationships in CTE? How can I create positive Karma? These are questions we must ask ourselves every hour of every working day.

Not long ago, I shared our principles statement with Traci Fenton, a charismatic former AU graduate student. Traci is founder and CEO of WorldBlu an organization whose mission is to promote and celebrate ‘organizational democracy’ particularly in the private sector. WorldBlu’s research has shown that democratic organizations are often more efficient and profitable than their competitors.

In return, Traci sent an article ‘Engines of Democracy’ from the management journal, Fast Company (#29 – Oct. 1999, pp. 174, ff.). It described the achievements of GE’s jet engine assembly plant in Durham, North Carolina. This 170 employee facility leads not only GE but the world in the efficiency and quality of its work. It has the lowest defect rate and best record of on-time delivery. It has reduced production costs by 30% in ten years. It was selected as the sole source provider of engines for the new Boeing 777. Its employee turnover rate is the lowest in the business.

GE Durham embodies the principles of Organizational Democracy that WorldBlu promotes. There is only one boss, the plant manager “which means that on a day-to-basis, the people who work there …essentially run themselves.” A “culture of continuous improvement” is pervasive. GE Durham employees, “have challenging jobs that matter, they have a degree of control over their work that is almost unprecedented, they adhere to demanding performance standards, they receive the training and support they need to do the best work they can – and, as a result, they do just that.”

Traci shared “Engines of Democracy,” she told me, because my description of CTE reminded her of the GE Durham plant. All of us were gratified by her complement. CTE has a long way to go before matching GE Durham’s world-class performance standard and affirming culture. But we are working on it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Thanks so much for the blog post and the mention. And thank you for providing a wonderful model for the academic world of organizational democracy with CTE. I wish you the best!

Traci Fenton

11:43 AM  

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