Following the publication in the magazine L’Actualité of the ranking of the province’s seven administrative programs and the last place occupied by their school, many students expressed their dissatisfaction and demanded a profound modification of the program. One of the teachers, Professor White, told the magazine that an in-depth overhaul of the program was needed, thereby supporting the student movement. The committee’s reaction was brutal : because he had broken the internal rules, Professor White was suspended for a period of eight days. To solve the crisis caused by the ranking, opinions on what to do next diverge : the director advocates abstention and laissez-faire ; Professor Laurel wants to challenge the magazine’s ranking by attacking its methods ; and Professor White proposes to invite a student and an expert to a meeting of the program committee. The third teacher, freshly arrived, holds the balance of power. His choice will influence the final decision of the committee.
The main challenges in this case concern three different attitudes for managing the crisis situation: non-intervention, respect for the procedure and conciliation with new ideas. Non-intervention is similar to the status quo strategy in that it attempts to maintain the current state of affairs with a minimum of commitment on the part of management. To use the metaphor of mechanization proposed by Gareth Morgan, a lack of intervention would be tantamount to leaving the machine running all by itself until it stops, confident that the organization/machine will flatten the obstacles in its path, as it has always done in the past. This approach is similar to a second management attitude : respect for the procedure. Personified by Professor Laurier, this attitude is characterized by an almost blind obedience to the rules of the organization, its operating processes and its internal procedures. Furthermore, the third management attitude, conciliation with new ideas, gives us a glimpse of the possibility of escaping the administrative gears of such a situation.
In our opinion, it’s essential to use caution when the time comes to make recommendations. First of all, it would be necessary to have a better knowledge of the culture specific to the establishment before starting a change procedure. Is management more receptive to internal changes or more cautious about innovation? Then, it would be advantageous to better understand the sociodemographic context of students and their families. Is the establishment belonging to a small rural community or an urban context? Finally, the history of the program itself and of its teachers should be explored. Are there internal struggles between different members of the organization and how do these affect the decision-making of the program committee? Unfortunately, as we cannot answer these questions, we present our recommendations with caution.
We would support Professor White and invite external participants to participate in the crisis management procedure. An outside consultant and a representative student should be part of the committee to find a solution to the program crisis. The reasons supporting this choice of action are as follows.
Firstly, by allowing outside actors to join them and give their opinion on the situation, the members of the program committee will be able to gain a new perspective on their way of doing things and thus initiate a lucid reflection on its status and management methods. For example, the external consultant could be asked to write an observation report on the committee meetings and to give his impartial opinion on the measures to be adopted to get out of the crisis .
Then, by giving the right to speak to a student representative, the members of the program committee demonstrate a conciliatory attitude and an open mind which can only have a calming effect on the demonstrations in progress. Even if the presence of a student is contrary to the regulations of the program, an extraordinary meeting can be organized which will allow these external actors to give their opinion on the functioning of the committee. This conciliatory behaviour can only be perceived positively ; it will give the impression that management, teachers and students are united in the pursuit of the same goal : improving the administration program.
Such a recommendation from a teacher who recently came into the program may raise resistance from other committee members. We could expect that Professor Laurel would be opposed to the proposal, arguing that the settlement house cannot be changed or that the methodology used by the magazine was bad. A middle way must be proposed : accept compliance with the regulations with regard to Professor White’s eight-day suspension, but remain firm as to the inclusion of the two external actors in the committee’s work, stressing the advantages of these. In this way, we manage to introduce a first innovation in the mechanics of the organisation by respecting its procedures and regulations.
It is often when faced with a first obstacle that an organization can really take stock of the problems that undermine its functioning. Morgan’s metaphor of the reign of mechanization and organization seen as a machine underlines to what extent the difficulty of getting rid of a mode of operation used for a long time can generate significant gaps in terms of decision-making and in times of crisis, especially when it comes to finding effective solutions to unforeseen changes. A disruptive event, such as the publication of the program ranking in the case we have described, can thus shake an entire organization and reveal its operational shortcomings. To deal with the crisis experienced by the members of the committee, we took the decision to go beyond the framework imposed by the internal regulations and to force the organization to take a critical look at its own functioning. The participation of foreign players in the running of the organization and implementation of an external perspective it appeared we e s as the most effective ways out of the crisis. One can however wonder how much such a reversal is possible when the time comes to have it accepted by fierce opponents. The metaphor of the machine shows us how difficult change is to get across in such a structure. The question is valid. In such a chain of procedures, is the human element the most reliable or the strongest link ?
Morgan, G. (1999). Images of Organization, (Audet, Des Chênes and Chevrier-Vouvé, trad.). Quebec: PUL.