How to Manage Multiple Departments

The University of Manitoba’s Paul Kochan offers some proven tactics for overseeing various divisions

Paul Kochan
Paul Kochan (Photo: University of Manitoba)

As the vice president of administration for the University of Manitoba, Paul Kochan knows a thing or two about managing a number of different departments. In his role at the university, Kochan oversees real estate, finance, treasury, human resources, information technology, legal and fair practices, risk management, internal audit, change management, and sustainability. Here are his tips for staying on top of things.

[Editor’s note: for more on Paul Kochan and the University of Manitoba, read his feature from the current issue here.]

Don’t be a silo

Share information among your group of subordinates, and also share this information with your peer group, because it will only foster good team dynamics.

Don’t just “manage” people

This means, don’t tell people what they want to hear for fear of telling them the truth in cases where the truth is not good news. It’s better to be a straight shooter and give them all the facts so that proper decisions can be mutually arrived at. Concealing or embellishing facts can be dangerous.

Show the appropriate level of leadership

There’s a reason you were hired at a high level, and that’s mostly to do what others can’t do. These types of roles have long since ceased to be about technical ability and are now more about leadership, fostering team dynamics, etc.

Master the issues at a high level

It’s not possible to master the minutia in every department that you have responsibility for, and it’s not desirable either. You have to able to speak intelligently about the major “goings-on” in your departments.

Don’t show favouritism

Conflicts occasionally arise within the same portfolio, and favouring one side or the other can cause problems.

Show genuine interest in what your direct reports are doing

People will sense when you don’t care much, and then they will stop coming to you with issues.

Don’t micromanage

Most people, and especially senior executives, want to put their personal stamp on their departments, and of course there are organizational policies, procedures, and culture they must adhere to, but things such as editing every document or censoring communication can be a real drag on morale and performance. Besides, you don’t have time to do this.

Have the ability to switch hats quickly

Difficult and complex issues come up often.

Hire the best direct reports you can

If you do this well, you will not have to go deep into issues that should have already been taken care of, and you will be able to more or less just get out of the way.

Don’t let problems fester

Once you recognize a permanent and unchangeable problem, even as a young manager, you need to deal with it quickly—because if you don’t, the problem will cascade exponentially.