Managing the University Body

Dear all,

I’m always a little tweaked when people say the university isn’t a “corporation,” when what they mean is that it’s not a contemporary business. We are one of the oldest forms of corporation–one that predates the firm as corporate form–much like the city or the church each predate business corporations. As a university we are a body united together.

Historical quibbles aside, though, there are better and worse business models and perhaps it is time for us to start thinking about that too as a university. I recently happened upon an interview with a CEO in The New York Times, “Don Knauss of Clorox, On Putting Your Followers First,” March 22, 2014.

I’ll attach the link here

There are many interesting ideas in the interview, and I’ll paste in a few passages that really struck a chord with me. They talk about trust. I’ve thought about and taught the importance of political trust by reading Danielle Allen’s Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education. (Great book! You should read it!!)

But the Knauss interview is succinct and to the point. Check it out and let me know what you think.


“One thing I learned very quickly was that there’s a head part and a heart part. The head part was, how are you going to focus the organization? And it had better be simple,…You’ve got to communicate it about 100 times and align your incentive structure to it. It’s about distilling the complex to the simple, and I’ve seen leaders fail because they do the reverse…”

“On the heart side, the lesson is that it’s all about your people. If you’re going to engage the best and the brightest and retain them, they’d better think that you care more about them than you care about yourself. They’re not about making you look good. You’re about making them successful. If you really believe that and act on that, it gains you credibility and trust. You can run an organization based on fear for a short time. But trust is a much more powerful, long-term and sustainable way to drive an organization.”

“The other thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to assume the best intent of people, and that they’re really trying to do a good job. I’ve seen organizations that are based more on fear than trust because senior management really thinks people are trying to get one over on them, that they’re just punching a clock. People really are trying to do a good job, and they want to be proud of where they work. Understanding that helped make me a bit more patient.”

“One of the things I’ve learned is that as you move up in an organization, you’re given more power. The less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people give you, because they think: “You know what? This guy’s O.K.” Persuading people to do things — come along with me because we’re going in the right direction — is much more powerful over time.”