Case Study: Higher Education Case – an issue of Morale

Case Study: Higher Education Case – an issue of Morale

Summary of Key elements in the case


Midwest Regional University, MRU, is a regional institution with an enrollment of 20,000 students and employing 650 tenured, 390 adjunct faculty, and 1600 staff members. The institution’s programs target professional mid- and executive-level positions in business and education sectors. Downturnsin the local economy and an outflow of local community members over recent years have caused a shift in composition of the students’ community towards greater enrollment of students from other areas. During the same period, MRU has experienced a high rate of turnover among staff and faculty members and inability to recruit and retain faculty members with excellent skills and from diverse backgrounds. Staff members have identified reasons such as lack of diversity in the university’s community, the rural nature of the university’s location and environment, ineffective support for people of different backgrounds, including race, sexual orientations, gender, and ethnicity, shortages of incentives for professional growth and development, and heavy loads in teaching for graduate faculty members (Higher Education Case, 2012).

The institution has experienced declining state funding and decreasing availability of resources for improvements in capital. To retain students, MRU has preserved minimum levels of increases in tuition, while increases in the salaries of faculty have been limited to 1% living cost rises each year. Staff salary rises have been inapplicable for the past three years, while professional development funding and opportunities for staff and faculty members have suffered cutbacks. Despite these inconveniences, there is little hope for improvements, and the exploration of alternative employment opportunities among the most motivated and talented members of the faculty is influencing an adverse environment across the campus, especially in terms of confidence in the institution’s potential and programs. An environment of depression has developed as the MRU community and faculty members consider the future, and this is influencing heavy costs on the productivity and personal initiative of the staff at an individual level and collectively (Higher Education Case, 2012).


The President has observed that the institution cannot ignore the problems of productivity, motivation, and initiative among staff at MRU. The institution faces the risk of diminishing quality and effectiveness of institutional operations towards the future, and there is need for the design and implementation of strategies to address the deficiencies in staff morale, productivity, and job satisfaction to enhance the utility and excellence of the institution’s operations. The proposed strategy involves focus on the support of faculty and staff development to influence improvements in teaching, scholarship, global awareness, creativity, and research, identifying these elements as essential for the institution’s revitalization towards a model that is efficient and effective in the context of academic standards at the university level. These needs have necessitatedproposals of options to address faculty productivity, morale, initiative, and retention problems at the institution.

These objectives are critical if the institution is to recover excellence and quality in its operations (Higher Education Case, 2012). The Provost has received a mandate to investigate relevant issues in these contexts and propose strategies to incorporate in the institution’s model. Considering the institution’s lack of financial resources, the strategies shall have to focus on alternative but productive means of spurring faculty productivity, morale, and initiative, while enhancing the institution’s appeal to attract and retain high quality faculty members.

Key Players

Key players in the proposed strategies and model to improve MRU’s efficiencyand the faculty’s productivity, motivation, and initiative include faculty members, MRU’s administration, and staff members. Faculty members are the target of the strategies aimed at enhancing their productivity, morale, initiative, and retention rates. This means that the proposed programs and strategies have to be productive, adequate, effective, and acceptable among the faculty members. The strategies have to affect the professional activities and lives of this group in ways that can promote their desire and motivation to participate in the MRU community and environment, facilitating the application of their skills and competences in ways that suit the institution’s model and students’ desired academic outcomes.

MRU’s administration represents the group responsible for development and enforcement of the strategies that are necessary to promote productivity, initiative, morale, and retention among members of the faculty. As the group in charge of decisions on how to allocate resources, structure programs, and implement strategies, the administration occupies a vital role in the effort to enforce change in the institution’s operations and programs. Staff motivation is the responsibility of managements because motivation influences the levels, quality, and durability of organizational performances. The administration shall need to devise suitable methods of incorporating the proposals in the institution’s operations and ensure that the effects have direct implications in the productivities, motivation, initiative, and retention of faculty members.

Staff members shall have the responsibility of accepting, cooperating, and modifying their behaviors according to the proposed strategies to ensure the success of change. Acceptance of change among staff members is vital because willingness and motivation to participate and contribute to it are critical and indispensable if the process is to be successful in accomplishing its aims.

Situation at Hand

The situation at hand involves the need to design and implement suitable mechanisms and programs at MRU to roll back the costs and losses of the past few years. Essential areas of focus involve lack of diversity in the university’s community, ineffective support for people of different backgrounds, including race, sexual orientations, gender, and ethnicity, shortages of incentives for professional growth and development, and heavy loads in teaching for graduate faculty members. The Provost needs to develop effective strategies to address the motivation, initiative, productivity, and retention problems among faculty members to recover MRU’s stature as a quality and attractive regional institution for both students and faculty members.

Case Analysis from leadership perspectives

Perspective I: Structural Theories

Structural perspectives hold that organizational structures that are most effective in yielding positive and effective operations for organizations are those that fit certain factors, called contingencies. Such contingencies include organizational strategy, size, hierarchical structure, authority patterns, and accountability in leadership. In guiding change at MRU, sophisticated understanding of faculty members’ perceptions and relationships is necessary to know how to influence various components towards desired transformations (Isac, Voichita, & Guta, 2009). The institution’s leadership structure features a bureaucratic and hierarchical structure in which communication and relationships between the administration and faculty members play vital roles in determining performance and productivity.

Each faculty member has different roles and scopes of responsibility, in whose performance interactions with members of the faculty and the administration are necessary. From a political perspective, the primary attention of MRU faculty members is on the roles and efficiencies of negotiation processes in the use of scarce resources and the sensitivities of those in powerand authority towards their needs. From a human resources lens, faculty members’ perceptions involve focus on the administration’s strategies and approaches towards accommodating people and promoting their convenience in the work environment and achieving a line of fit between people (employees and staff) and the organizational structure (Corlett, n.d.). In this context, the problems of productivities, motivation, and initiative and low rates of retention of faculty members reflect lack of matches between the organization’s structures and objectives on one hand and its staff’s qualities, competences, and objectives on the other.

Organizational structure concerns definition of the activities that direct an organization’s operations towards achievement of its aims, including task allocations, coordination, and supervision structures. Faculty members at MRU who leave to find other jobs identify heavy workloads as one of the problems that undermine job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity at the institution. The faculty’s dissatisfaction with other elements of administration at the institution, such as lack of accommodation of different gender and sexual orientations, reflect deficiencies in the administration’s allowance for the participation of faculty members in decision-making structures.

Faculty members’ continuous tendencies to search for alternative employment while still serving at MRU demonstrates their frustrations with the lack of effective representation in decision-making structures. This means that faculty members’ views have little significance in affecting administrative actions at the institution (Tran & Tian, 2013). MRU’s administration needs to design its bureaucratic structures and authority mechanisms in ways that spur motivation and healthy levels of passion in assigned roles among employees. Bureaucratic organizations have rigid and tight procedures, constraints, and policies, influencing reluctance to change or adapt according to changing needs. At MRU, the reluctance to change is evident in the perpetual inefficiencies that have caused declines in morale, job satisfaction, and motivation among staff members.

In their decision-making responsibilities, the rigid and unyielding command and control structures at MRU demonstrate a strict top-down flow of information and policy development, leaving little room for the input of faculty members. The General Systems theory observes that interaction of the organization system’s components influences accomplishment of a goal or progress towards an equilibrium point (West, 2005). In MRU’s case, the lack of staff members’ input in decision-making means that there is no equilibrium point in terms of policies and objectives that accommodate the interests of employees and the administration on equal levels. The institution’s processes and structures should feature models and processes that spur, rather than undermine, employees’ participation in decision-making processes and feelings of individual responsibility and value in bureaucratic structures and processes.

Perspective II: Human Resources Theory

Human Resource theories focus on organizational strategies, tactics, and aims to administer procedures and policies relating to employees and their work to influence matching needs, cost-effectiveness, positive relationships, and leverage potential among employees. At MRU, suitable environments in decision-making such as an organizational culture to enhance shared values, suitable norms, participation in decision-making structures, and creation of consensus and avoidance of conflict in employees’ contributions toorganizational activities are missing (Najeeb, 2014). Faculty members are unable to affect the administration’s decisions and advance their interests, as evident in their dissatisfaction with the operational environment and organizational culture at the institution.

The MRU administration ignores strategies such as promoting open and positive communication, matching organizational needs with employees’ skills and professional objectives, allocating tasks according to skills and in ways that foster motivation, and designating responsibilities and scope of work to ensure achievable workloads. The high rates of turnover among faculty staff and inability to attract high-quality faculty members depicts ineffectiveness in the institution’s recruitment processes to build and preserve a community of employees who have high levels of skills and competences that are useful for the organization. The value of human resources is dependent on their ability to influence development and achievement of competitive advantages and core competences in the organization’s operations (Mazur, 2014). In MRU’s case, the structures and practices of work are unsuitable because faculty members feel overburdened. They lack the motivation to participate and contribute effectively in organizational processes because of perceptions that the working environment does not match their needs and preferences.

Perspective III: Political Theories

Relations between employees and the administration are dependent on the success of allocations of power and authority across the hierarchical structure.At MRU, the political activity system features an unbalanced and inappropriate environment for power play, influencing conflicts and interpersonal intrigues that divert the flow of organizational activity and undermine effective contributions and participations of staff members. The interests of faculty members and their possession of power constitute important factors whose effectiveness affects the institution’s operations.Interests in this case concern faculty members’ needs to have effective influence in the administration’s decision-making and development of a workplace culture that accommodates people from different backgrounds, fosters incentives for professional growth and development, and averts heavy loads in teaching for graduate faculty members(Widhiastuti, 2012; Bolman & Deal, 2013). It is clear that faculty members consider operations, relationships, and processes at the institution as unsuitable for their interests, in terms of tasks and careers.Faculty members’ perceptions of lack of diversity in the university’s community, ineffective support for people of different race, sexual orientation, gender, and ethnicity backgrounds, shortages of incentives for professional growth and development, and heavy loads in teaching for graduate faculty members reflect the unsuitability of MRU’s environment for their interests.

Organizational operations feature distribution of authority and provision of an environment for the exercise of power. Effective decision-making structures and processes at MRU would offer opportunities for employees to represent and achieve their interests at work through negotiation, bargaining, and active contributions to policy and organizational culture (Widhiastuti, 2012).Faculty members at the institution lack the capacity to express their views effectively and have the administration incorporate them in decisions and workplace policies. Faculty members’ dissatisfaction, the institution’s lack of appeal among highly qualified faculty members, and perpetual search for alternative employment among faculty members reflect problems in MRU’s decision-making structures and processes.

Leadership Recommendations for Key Players

The problems of low productivity, initiative, and motivation at MRU reflect leadership failures at the institution. Bandara and Weligodapola (2012) demonstrate the intricate relationship between productivity and motivation by arguing that motivation serves as a driving force for achievement of goals, while labor productivity is dependent on the effectiveness of motivation. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies five levels of motivation, explaining that fulfillment of one level allows focus on the next one on the hierarchy until the individual achieves the ultimate level of personal potential (Bandara & Weligodapola, 2012). Ovidiu-Iliuta (2013) contends that organizations’ acknowledgment of employees’ important roles and influence on organizational effectiveness represents an essential condition for their ability to retain the best employees and achieve a high level of competitiveness. Human capital is an organization’s main asset with the potential to lead to success with appropriate management. With no job satisfaction and low levels of motivation among employees to perform in organizational tasks and achieve set objectives, an organization is unlikely to achieve success.

Motivation serves as a powerful tool in reinforcing behavior and triggering the urge to continue applications of effort towards achievement of objectives. Human resources have immense potential to create and sustain an organization’s competitive advantage, and employee motivation is a prominent factor in employee performance. In an ideal scenario of employee motivation, employee productivity, and organizational performance, highly motivated employees have their objectives aligned with those of the organization, influencing their corresponding direction of effort. Highly motivated employees seek ways of improving their productivity. Ovidiu-Iliuta identifies the role of leadership as vital in influencing employee productivity and motivation in organizational settings, especially in the contexts of teamwork, decision-making mechanisms, organizational culture, and empowerment in the allocation of tasks and responsibilities (Ovidiu-Iliuta, 2013).

Naile and Selesho (2014) observe that motivated employees represent one of the most important outcomes of effective leadership. Successful managements influence employees to assist wilfully and effectively in the accomplishment of organizational objectives. However, in achieving organizational aims, achieving and sustaining employees’ motivation is inadequate, and managers have to incorporate mechanisms to assist employees to accomplish their professional and personal objectives. The effectiveness of leadership is contingent on abilities to motivate subordinates towards collective objectives. In this context, leadership adopts the form of social influence for the achievement of societal and organizational objectives (Nanjundeswaraswamy & Swamy, 2014).

Beyond the roles of financial resources in motivating employees, factors such as discipline, effectiveness of communication methods, group dynamics, leadership styles, and training are vital in leadership to influence productivity and dedicated employees’ performances (Naile & Selesho, 2014). The quality of a leader or manager’s relationship with employees represents the most powerful component of employee motivation since a quality relationship influences professionalism, respect, and positive attitudes that are likely to promote employees’ enjoyment of work (Burns, 2010). Kurt Lewin observes that management and leadership styles that prevail in an organization have a determining effect on employees’ motivation, job satisfaction, and morale levels, which represent the central issues facing MRU.

Some of the most prominent researchers on leadership, Kurt Lewin, and Rensis Likert, identified the democratic or participative style of leadership as the most effective in influencing employees’ productivity and motivation. Categorizing leadership styles into exploitative-authoritative (system 1), benevolent-authoritative (system 2), consultative (system 3), and participative-group style (system 4), Likert utilized research to establish that managers utilizing system 4 were the most successful in strengthening employees’ productivity, job satisfaction, and motivation. On their part, Lewin, Lippit, and White categorized leadership styles into autocratic, laissez faire, and democratic. They observed that the democratic style’s approach of encouraging subordinates’ participation and input in decision-making, delegating authority, and utilizing feedback from employees to improve working conditions and organizational culture represented the best strategy in fostering productivity and motivation (Lee, n.d.).

MRU’s management should apply the participative style of leadership to enhance faculty members’ motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction and reduce turnover. This structure would involve allowances for staff and faculty members’ involvement in decision-making, and management’s constant attempts to obtain the consents of faculty members prior to implementing changes. Other requirements are regular management-faculty meetings to discuss work-related problems and agree on solutions and free faculty-administration communications on all relevant work issues, progress, and group relations. The administration should listen to and accommodate faculty members’ opinions, encourage faculty members’ freedom, inventiveness, and creativity in performance of their roles, assign roles and responsibilities according to individual abilities, and encourage positive, non-discriminative interpersonal relations among staff and all employees (Gonos& Gallo, 2013). The institution should treat all faculty members equally and accept diversity in physical abilities and gender, sexual, and other orientations, while cultivating a culture of freedom and accommodation of criticism of administrative procedures.

In enforcing these changes, MRU should utilize the influence of informal work groups to create positive changes in the attitudes of staff members. Informal groups involve the interactions, activities, and sentiments necessary among its employees in daily activities.In this context, activities are the normal tasks of employees, interactions are employees’ behaviors as they perform their tasks, and sentiments are attitudes at the personal level among employees. MRU management’s emphasis on democratic and humanistic values and authentic relationships based on trust among staff members, and between the administration and faculty members, would foster competence at interpersonal and organizational levels (Ovidiu-Iliuta, 2013). By treating staff members as individuals with needs and offering them chances to influence their relationships with the environment through the leadership structures and processes discussed above, MRU would create ways for its employees to develop positive sentiments in their work, and hence grow more cohesive in their interactions and spur positive expectations and norms (Ovidiu-Iliuta, 2013). By offering MRU employees authority and greater freedom to discover and utilize their full potential, the management would empower them and foster higher job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.

To achieve these changes in its organizational culture and operations, MRU should adopt the 8-step process of leading change that John Kotter proposed. First, the institution should conduct an informative campaign to sensitize all staff members of the need for change, and hence create a sense of urgency. Secondly, the institution should create a 10-member coalition of faculty members, including representations of the administration, students, and other staff, to direct the change process. Responsibilities for the group should include accommodating all change objectives in a vision, communicating its elements to stakeholders, and laying out a suitable framework for implementation (Stragalas, 2011). The third step should involve developing a change vision by clarifying the differences that the change shall cause in the institution’s environment and operations for stakeholders.

The fourth step involves promoting stakeholders’ acceptance and active support for the vision. Such support is essential because the cooperation and participation of all is vital in influencing a successful change process. Step five concerns mobilization of all stakeholders to remove barriers and empower broad-based action and cooperation, while stage six involves designation of short-term targets to evaluate progress and spur stakeholders’ confidence in the process. The seventh phase should involve focus on consolidating gains and strengthening progress towards change, based on reassertion of the objectives and necessary actions. The last phase should focus on embedding the new cultural values and approaches in the institution’s culture to allow durable change (RBS Group Document, 2013). MRU’s incorporation of these steps shall enable effective and sustainable change towards the desired cultural and operational environment to address productivity, morale, motivation, and job satisfaction problems among faculty members.


Bandara, K., &Weligodapola, M. (2012). A Study on the Relationship between Labor Productivity and Motivation, with special reference to Hirdaramani Group of Companies. PNCTM 1: 7-12. Retrieved from:

Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2013). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. New York: John Wiley and Sons

Burns, J. (2010). Leadership. New York: Harper Collins

Corlett, J. (n.d.). Systems Theory applied to Organizations. I. Purceco Research Papers. Retrieved from:

Gonos, J., & Gallo, P. (2013). Model for Leadership Style Evaluation. Management 18 (2): 157-168. Retrieved from:

Higher Education Case: an Issue of Morale (2012).

Isac, C., Voichita, L., &Guta, A. (2009). Coordination of Management Activities – a Condition Sine Qua non of a Performance Management. Annals of the University of Petrosani, Economics 9(3): 335-340. Retrieved from:

Lee, Y. (n.d.). A Comparison of Leadership Behaviors in the Financial Industry in the U.S. and Taiwan. Jims journal Article. Retrieved from:

Mazur, B. (Sustainable Human Resource Management in Theory and Practice. Economics and Management 1: 158-169.

Naile, I. &Selesho, J. (2014). The Role of Leadership in Employee Motivation. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 5 (3): 175-182. Retrieved from:

Najeeb, A. (2014). Institutional Theory and Human Resource Management. University of Wollongong Business Paper. Retrieved from:

Nanjundeswaraswamy, T., &Swamy, D. (2014). Advances in Management 7(2): 57-62. Retrieved from:

Ovidiu-Iliuta, D. (2013). Employee Motivation and Organizational Performance. Review of Applied Socio-economic Research 5(1)” 53-60. Retrieved from:

RBS Group (2013). The 8-step process for leading Change: Dr. Kotter’s Methodology of Change Leadership. Retrieved from:

Stragalas, N. (2011). Improving Change Implementation: Practical Adaptations of Kotter’sModel.OD Practitioner 42(1): 1-38. Retrieved from:

Tran, Q., &Tian, Y. (2013). Organizational Structure: influencing Factors and Impact on a Firm. American Journal of Industrial and Business Management 3: 229-236.

West, D. (2005). Vicker’s concept of “Relationship-maintenance” as an alternative to “goal-seeking” Models of Organization: a Difference in the Notion of Control. Systematic Practice and Action Research 18 (3): 261-274.

Widhiastuti, H. (2012). The Effectiveness of Communications in Hierarchical Organizational Structure. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity 2(3): 185-189. Retrieved from: