The call comes from the chairman of the board, the CEO of the company, or the biggest contributor to a project. The question is always the same: “How are we doing?” At times in our careers we had a simple response. We pulled up a “dashboard” or set of metrics that were updated daily or weekly and launched into an answer. “Revenues yesterday were $20,000 and averaged $17,000 over the last week. We have $500,000 in the bank and we should be generating cash in three months. We made a key new hire and the acquisition we have been working on fell through.” A few questions about the details on each point would follow, and then we would hang up and go back to work. Of course, these conversations relate to our activities outside the halls of academia.
If a department chair, a dean, or a university president is asked, “How are we doing?” what often follows is a long pause and then a set of questions: “How are we doing with regard to what?” “Who are you referring to when you say we?” “What timeframe are you talking about?” Next comes a long conversation about the importance of priorities, the need for a strategy, and the pressure for clearly defined metrics that answer stakeholders’ questions. Ultimately, both parties need a way to measure performance against a plan and provide focus for an agreed-upon set of activities.
To someone outside the university, this sounds like a straightforward and relatively simple task. In reality, it is extraordinarily difficult for the research university to fos-