ORGANIZATIONAL FACTORS THAT INHIBIT CANADIAN R&D SUPERVISORS/TEAM LEADERS
FROM BEING EFFECTIVE IN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT LABORATORIES
Thomas E. Clarke, M.Sc., M.B.A
For the past 30 plus years, Clarke-Reavley Consultants (formerly Stargate Consultants Limited) has been presenting R&D personnel management workshops to scientists and engineers from every science-based Canadian federal government department and agency.
As part of the workshops, participants are asked a series of questions about the quality of the organizational climate within which the scientists and engineers must work. One of the questions deals with the organizational factors that, in the opinion of the workshop participants, inhibit the ability of first-line and middle level R&D supervisors/team leaders to be as effective as managers as the believe they can be.
The following are some of the answers given during recent presentations of two different workshops attended by scientists and engineers from several federal government laboratories in the Ottawa area.
The inhibiting organizational factors that they mentioned are:
- ever changing priorities/lack of stability;
- cumbersome decision approval processes;
- HR practices that prevent the hiring of the best candidates for the laboratory;
- budgetary processes and policies that do not favour R&D;
- insufficient freedom to collaborate;
- heavy workload/short time lines for project completion;
- inadequate resources (e.g., people, funding, and equipment); and
- downloading of administrative processes.
As a comparison, the following are a sample of the organizational factors mentioned by federal government scientists and engineers who attended similar R&D management workshops, 10-15 years ago, from government laboratories from Victoria to Halifax.
- rapidly changing priorities or direction that is poorly managed;
- too many levels of senior management involved in decision-making (i.e., decision process is slow);
- unwieldly and inflexible personnel management systems that limit the ability to hire people with superior qualifications, or to get rid of “deadwood”;
- overly bureaucratic purchasing policies;
- insufficient resources for the assigned work (e.g., aging equipment, not enough time, people or money to do the work properly);
- suffocating bureaucracy, administrative constraints, and red-tape (i.e., lack of trust, empowerment, delegated authority, and flexibility); and
- low morale.
It appears that little has changed in the past 15 years. The research supervisors/managers of today still face almost the same impediments to their effectiveness that their predecessors did.
This begs the question, is there anyone in the senior ranks of the Federal Government who has the interest and/or the authority to improve this sad and debilitating situation, and allow the federal government R&D supervisors/managers to perform to the best of their ability, and in so doing, improve the level of productivity, creativity and morale among scientists and engineers in the Canadian federal government laboratories?
Thomas E. Clarke, M.Sc., M.B.A.
Nanaimo, B.C. V9X 1A3