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Job Enlargement and the Core


College and universities should desire to get the most out of the people who work in and give life to their institutions.  Some jobs are more critical than others.  People should be assigned tasks from critical areas on campus while ensuring that all functions of the organization are performed.

Traditional organization theory describes organizations as made up of functions that comprise the “core” of institutions and those that provide support to the core.  The core of the organization is like the core of a person’s body—where the head and trunk of the body contain the vital and life-sustaining organs.  The arms, hands, legs, and feet are tremendous complements to the core, but can be sacrificed if needed to ensure the survival of the core.

From the perspective of the human body, the arms, hands, legs, and feet are used to support the functioning of the core.   Without any arms and legs, people would have extreme difficulty caring for themselves—finding food, eating, building shelter, and putting on protective clothing.  With the loss of only one appendage, however, people could still manage to provide for themselves with minimal difficulty.  While the core is the most critical part of the body, it is dependent upon the appendages to provide the resources needed to survive and thrive.

The concepts of core and non-core functions are similar to the organization theory concepts of line and staff positions.   When you picture an organizational chart with the positions in an organization drawn out, you see pictures of boxes or circles connected with vertical and horizontal lines.  Organizational charts show the line and staff positions in the organizations.  Line positions are those that directly participate in the primary mission and purpose of the organization.  Staff positions are those that provide support to the core positions.  Within staff units, there are also line and staff positions—some staff positions do the direct work of the unit and others in the unit support those working in the line.

In colleges and universities, the core functions are those related to the academic mission of the institution.  Universities exist to educate students; that is their primary mission.   All of the positions that are directly involved in teaching and instruction make up the core of our institutions.  Professors, academic department heads, deans, academic vice presidents, and college presidents are the core and line positions in colleges and universities.   All other positions provide support to the core and the line positions.  Library, residence life, development, maintenance, information management, admissions, and alumni offices all provide support to the teaching positions.

When colleges and universities have to cut positions, it is rare that they begin by eliminating line positions.  Rather, the positions that are first cut are those furthest from the core.  Staff positions that provide the least critical services in support of the core are those that can be sacrificed first. 

Among staff positions, there are some that provide more critical support to the core than others.  Staff positions that provide services to those in the line of the organization are more imperative than those that are farther removed from the line.  In higher education, development and recruiting are the staff functions that exist most closely to the core and provide the resources that the core needs most to survive.  Development officers find and secure the financial resources needed to support programs, scholarships, and faculty compensation and development.  And without effective recruiting personnel, classrooms might not have students to engage in the educational process.

Following the development and recruiting functions, facilities, financial aid, and student development are probably the next most critical support functions.  Facilities must exist to promote effective teaching and learning.  Classrooms, research facilities, and offices are needed to bring about student-teacher interaction.  Additionally, resident students need adequate living quarters.  Financial aid services are needed to help students find ways to pay for their education.  Student development functions attend to the personal and social needs of students.

Within almost any large-scale organization, there will be workers who do not have enough productive work to keep them busy.   C. Northcote Parkinson described the tendencies for organizations to become big and wasteful (click here to read an article about these tendencies).  For organizations to remain lean and effective, they must periodically assess the allocation and quality of work and make corrective adjustments.  As argued in the previously cited article, non-profit organizations probably have a greater tendency to become and remain inefficient because they lack competitive pressures to remain lean.

At times, college and universities might find it necessary to eliminate positions in order to become or remain lean and efficient.  When new leadership takes control or when new administrative philosophies and programs are enacted, it might be tempting to release workers or discontinue programs.  When services and programs are wasteful and unnecessary, such elimination might be called for.  Similarly, if the organization employs workers who are unable or unwilling to perform their jobs and contribute to the institution, the best course of action might be elimination.

In some cases, it might be desirable to condense or combine jobs without releasing employees.  Instead of releasing employees who don’t have enough quality work to fill their workdays, colleges and universities should consider enlarging their responsibilities to critical staff functions.  Underworked staff members from all areas of campus could round out their work assignments by providing support functions to critical staff offices.

Most small, independent schools fight for charitable and foundation dollars against enormous development departments from bigger schools with many times the number of development officers and staff.  Small schools also compete for students against competitor institutions who have considerably more recruiting staff and resources.  Instead of hiring more development and recruiting staff, schools should explore the possibilities of using existing staff members to fill basic support duties for critical staff functions.

Staff members of all types could lend their expertise to their institution's critical staff units.  Administrative assistants from across campus, who are already experts at letter writing and mailings, could help put together mailings for development and recruiting offices.  Other staff members could be trained to make personal phone calls or send personalized e-mails and notes to prospective students and their parents.  Staff members could become points of contact with area high schools, community colleges, churches, and other organizations with prospective students.

Staff members could also be trained to help with development activities.  Sending letters and notes of thanks, helping plan and organize alumni and development functions, researching grant and fundraising opportunities, and keeping track of records could all be added to staff responsibilities.  They could work with local and area businesses and use their own personal and professional contacts for the good of the institution.

With proper communication, the new responsibilities could be motivating to staff members.  When they realize the importance of their new work to the organization, they should become more committed to their jobs.  For employees tucked away in remote and seemingly obscure areas of campus, the involvement in critical campus functions could enhance their involvement and motivation.   Increasing the number of skills required to perform a job has been found motivating for workers according to the Job Characteristics Model.  Enlarging the jobs of staff employees into areas with added skills and responsibilities could prove motivating for workers and greatly beneficial to their institutions.  

The time investments in the new responsibilities would not have to be extraordinary—perhaps no more than several hours a week.  Across a semester, a single staff worker could call and write many prospective students and parents working only several hours each week.  If dozens of campus staff workers would engage in such support duties for their institutions, tremendous benefits could be seen—all without any additional salaries and benefits.  These same concepts can be applied to other vital core staff units—including facilities and student development.

It seems that many institutions are becoming more and more desperate for vital resources.  They have to develop creative ways to gain advantages over their competitors.   One creative way to build up their development and recruiting efforts is to use productivity from all areas of campus.  Workers and departments from less vital areas of campus can contribute to their institutions’ core areas.  Since many staff employees do not possess the academic training and preparation to directly support the academic core, they can lend their expertise and efforts to the vital staff functions of their schools.  By shifting employee work from less critical areas to more critical areas through job enlargement, colleges and universities can more efficiently make us of their human resources and become more effective in their functions.


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