February 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 1 // Commentary // 1COM1

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Commentary II: A New Paradigm for Extension Administration

This is the second commentary of a two-part series addressing Extension administrative practice. Having rejected the classical school of management, this commentary proposes a paradigm based on fresh assumptions about the nature of employees and the work place. New Extension administrative practice is suggested, based on these assumptions. Finally, the profound challenge of this paradigm shift to current Extension administration is discussed

Thomas F. Patterson, Jr.
Lecturer and Extension Associate Professor
Department of Community Development and Applied Economics
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont
Internet address: tpatters@zoo.uvm.edu

This is the second of a two-part commentary on Extension administrative practice. Part one (Fundamentally Flawed: Extension Administrative Practice, JOE volume 35:6) argued that the foundation of many of today's Extension management practices are based on 100 year-old work place assumptions of the classical school of management. When examined, these assumptions fall apart, exposing much of current Extension administrative practice to critical scrutiny and ultimate rejection.

This commentary suggests new ways of administering the Extension system.

A New Paradigm

Paradigm blindness is a term used to describe the phenomena that occurs when the dominant paradigm prevents one from seeing viable alternatives. A dominant paradigm, made obsolete by a dramatically changed external environment, often continues to blind its participants both to its lack of utility and to other potential options. Such is the case with the classical school of management.

A new work place paradigm is forming to replace the current fundamentally-flawed administrative paradigm, with different assumptions about the nature employees and the work place:

  • Mankind does not need external controls and the threat of punishment, but will exercise inner, self-direction and self- control to attain organizational objectives.

  • The average human being can find work a source of satisfaction.

  • Most employees are capable of exercising autonomy and independence on the job.

  • Even the lowliest untalented laborer seeks a sense of meaning and accomplishment in his/her work.

  • Most people come to work wanting to do the best job they can. (McGregor, 1960)

Given this new set of assumptions, what then are some administrative practices that reflect them?

New Administrative Practice

The answers lie within the human relations school and quality management movement that seek to encourage and capitalize on employee trust, loyalty, and cooperation in the work place. Within this new culture of faith, administration's attention is redirected from controlling people to controlling the systems of work. In fact, in a quality environment, 85% of a manager's time is spent on managing and improving systems, while only 15% needs to be spent on managing people.

In terms of human resources, the role of the administrator becomes one of team facilitator, counselor, coach, and encourager, rather than expert, overseer, enforcer, and judge. Time, previously spent managing and controlling people, is freed to manage systems.

Extension work is viewed systemically as series of processes that can always be improved. The main role of administration is to understand and manage these work processes. For example, Extension program development would be viewed as a long-term process to be managed rather than as a way to control people and assess personal accountability and responsibility. People are not singled out for review, rather they are seen as team members, integral to the process itself. Process improvement teams, made up of a cross section of employees, are called together to recommend and follow through with improvements. Essentially, Extension learns how to learn and becomes a "learning organization."

Rather than administering to bureaucratic requirements and constraints, administrators focus on customer satisfaction as their primary goal and the ultimate measure of quality. Both internal and external customer satisfaction surveys are the principal indicators of administrator effectiveness. The role of Extension administrator changes from that of controlling and evaluating subordinates to removing barriers and providing the necessary tools and training so employees can perform their jobs better.

Rather than leading troops into battle (the scientific management paradigm is full of military references and metaphors), the Extension administrator coalesces members of the organization into crafting a common vision and mission, complimented by a core set of values. These public statements of belief are then elucidated by Extension administration, while they are internalized and practiced by every member of the organization. Vision, values, and mission become the benchmarks by which all organizational behavior and activities are judged. In effect, the organization becomes "mission-driven" rather than "rules and regulations-driven." Leadership supplants bureaucracy.

A Profound Challenge

Focusing on managing and improving systems represents a profound challenge to traditional administrative theory and practice. A paradigm shift represents a "world turned upside down" and almost always leads to uncertainty and denial for the status quo.

Bureaucracy and the scientific management school have demonstrated incredible staying power. The classical management dominant paradigm of Extension's higher education, government, and political environment has shown few signs of relinquishing its commanding position. Classical management expectations of accountability and control are still deeply expressed in the language of laws, contracts, memoranda, and rfps.

Still, the recent unparalleled success of human relations management and quality initiatives in the private sector, and, increasingly, in the public sector, gives hope that our clientele and funding agencies will become schooled in new ways of managing. And, being a human resource-rich organization with a non-formal educational mission, Extension seems uniquely positioned to be able to affect its own management paradigm by influencing these stakeholders.

Weigh the assumptions of the 100 year-old classical school with the new paradigm assumptions. Which make sense too you? Which reflect the values and humanity of today's work place? Which would you rather work under?


McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. NY: McGraw-Hill.

For additional insight into management theory and practice, the author also recommends the following:

Gitlow, H., Gitlow, S. (1987). The Deming guide to quality and competitive position. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline. NY: Doubleday/Currency.