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McKinsey Assessment

Report finds administration strong, identifies opportunities for improvement

An assessment of Dartmouth's delivery of administrative services, conducted during the winter by McKinsey & Co., the management consulting firm, shows that the College has a strong administrative team, but that opportunities exist to enhance procedures and responsibilities to better support institutional priorities.

McKinsey's key recommendations focused on processes involved in planning and budgeting and on other functions that affect all administrative units, including hiring, facilities planning and construction, payroll, human resources, computing services, procurement, institutional diversity and equity, institutional research, and communications.

It recommended a redesign of the hiring process, clarifying the functions of the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity in the hiring of new employees, development of candidate pools, and the handling of grievances.

In the facilities area, the team recommended that the College work to improve coordination and priority setting among the distributed units responsible for various facilities functions and ultimately consider how they could be consolidated.

"This process has been extremely valuable, and the McKinsey team has helped us to identify opportunities for different and better ways of meeting our goals," President James Wright says. "I am excited to begin the implementation phase of this project."

The president has established the following working groups to address the McKinsey recommendations:

  • A committee on administrative communications and culture, chaired by Senior Assistant to the President Sheila Culbert, will seek more effective ways to encourage administrators to take initiative in providing support to the faculty and students and in the general oversight of infrastructure and resources. Those serving on the committee are Rick Adams, Nelson Armstrong, Ellen Arnold, Josie Harper, Jeff Horrell, Kim Keating, Maria Laskaris, Stuart Lord, Marty Redman, Rosemary Rudnicki, Frank Roberts, Chris Strenta, Amy Stockman, and Michael Wagner.
  • A committee considering ways to improve recruitment and retention issues, chaired by Provost Barry Scherr, will examine the hiring process, the roles of managers and hiring committees, and the systems that enable the College "to hire the very best administrative staff that we can and then retain them here within a culture that demands excellence, that is open to everyone, and that provides opportunities for growth and advancement." Members of this group are: John Crane, Robert Donin, Lenore Grenoble, Joseph Helble, Marcia Kelly, Jerry Nunnally, Marga Rahman, and James Washington. Michelle Meyers, interim director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, and Traci Nordberg, chief human resources officer, will serve as resources to the committee.
  • Working with the vice presidents, deans and executive officers, Executive Vice President Adam Keller and Provost Scherr will develop a new annual budget process that more effectively ties departmental budgets to institutional and administrative priorities.

Other initiatives resulting from the study will seek improvements in procurement procedures, increased attention to performance evaluations, and discussion of changes in organizational structure.

The key findings of the study were grouped into six categories:

  • Growth in positions - Administrative and support functions have shown an annual growth rate in the College of 1.1 percent over the past five years, a figure comparable to those of peer institutions. Professional school administration grew by 5.2 percent.
  • Growth in administrative compensation - Compensation per administrative full-time-equivalent position grew more quickly than position numbers and more quickly than faculty compensation despite higher faculty compensation increases, primarily because of differences in administrative and faculty replacement patterns.
  • Increased organizational complexity - Dartmouth has become more complex in recent years because of new demands of the student body, increases in the academic program and research, and compliance issues, all of which have put increased pressure on the administration.
  • Accountability - Dartmouth has a collegial culture that encourages consensus decision-making, but employees do not always understand who sets priorities and makes decisions. Accountability for departmental and individual performance needs improvement.
  • Budgeting process - The annual budgeting process for administrative services is not explicitly tied to institutional priorities, and there is no formal planning process that creates the necessary linkage.
  • Shadow organizations - Several departments have developed "shadow" organizations for some functions, including fund-raising, communications, institutional research, and information technology. Such decentralization can be effective, but it requires ongoing assessment and effective coordination.

In setting the stage for the project, Wright had instructed the McKinsey team to base its assessment on measuring the administration's response to the mission of providing a transformative student experience within a world-class research environment and exercising a leadership role in undergraduate education and graduate programs in business, engineering, medicine, and the arts and sciences

As the McKinsey group was beginning the assessment process, Wright had identified five priorities for the administration:

  • To support the work of the faculty and students.
  • To recruit and retain talented and diverse officers and staff and to encourage and support their advancement through competitive compensation and professional development programs.
  • To steward the resources of the institution in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner to advance academic goals and community.
  • To communicate effectively across the institution to encourage a sense of a shared Dartmouth.
  • To encourage innovation on the part of officers and staff within a culture of interdependence, transparency, responsibility, and accountability.

The College followed up this assessment project with a comprehensive survey of the administrative staff, with almost 60 percent of employees from all areas of the College participating. Results of this study are being compiled and will be released in the near future.

Read the complete executive summary, including the details supporting the findings and recommendations.

President Wright observes that, "The administrative team at Dartmouth is strong and dedicated and they work incredibly hard to advance the College's purposes and to steward our resources. We will seek in the near term to determine ways to take fuller advantage of these strengths by improving internal communications and by encouraging initiative and new approaches to meeting our mission. As we seek to further enhance the delivery of Dartmouth's administrative services, my colleagues in the senior administration and I look forward to implementing the recommendations that will pick up on the findings of the McKinsey report."

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 11/19/09