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Animal Care and Management at the National Zoo: Final Report
Provide all supervisors with basic training in making fair employment decisions and understanding the dynamics of a diverse workforce.
Emphasize performance and conduct management, and teach constructive feedback.
Those recommendations so closely match the recommendations detailed in this chapter that it is clear that deficiencies identified by the committee, such as lack of accountability at all levels and poor adherence to the zoo’s own policies, were identified as major deficiencies at the zoo over 10 years ago. It is not apparent that any of the recommendations to address the deficiencies were acted on. In the committee’s opinion, firm action by the leadership of the zoo and the Smithsonian Institution to address the concerns raised by the Alexander report most likely would have averted some of the decade-long decline at the zoo.
For this final report, the committee focused on management in the Department of Animal Programs because this department has primary responsibility for the day-to-day care and management of the animal collections at the zoo. However, we also considered more wide-sweeping management problems at the zoo when there was a clear connection to animal-care and management concerns. On the basis of discussions with zoo and Smithsonian staff, personal observations, and analysis of various documents, four primary management problems were identified: communication, knowledge management, human-resources planning and use, and human-resources development and training. The following sections discus those topics in detail.
It is important to note that communication, knowledge development and transfer, and human-resources planning and development are mutually dependent and determine in large part the quality of performance and productivity of staff in any organization. It might be predicted, therefore, that advances in the care and welfare of the animal collection at the zoo and in the viability of the whole enterprise will be proportional to progress in addressing challenges in a systematic and systemwide fashion.
Communication is a critical determinant of individual, team, and organizational performance. Communication enables information exchange and supports organizational learning. Social interaction facilitates resource exchange among employees and business units, which can lead to the generation of new ideas and enhanced organizational performance (Tsai and Ghoshal, 1998). The same is true within teams, where communication leads to the exchange of task-related information, establishment of intrateam interaction patterns, and the development of team solutions to problems (Kozlowski and Bell, 2003). Both internal communication frequency (e.g., Waller, 1999) and external communication frequency (e.g., Ancona and Caldwell, 1992) have been linked to team performance. Communication is also critical for conveying an organization’s mission to employees and establishing a desired organizational culture. For example, safety-related communication from managers has been shown to increase safe work behaviors and lead to substantial reductions in workplace injuries and accidents (Hofmann and Morgenson, 1999; Zohar, 2002). Open communication is also an important determinant of employees’ trust in their manager and their willingness to engage in desired organizational behaviors (Korsgaard et al., 2002).
Current State of Communication
The zoo recognizes that communication is critical for its revitalization and for ensuring high-quality animal management and care. Several factors pose challenges to effective communication within the zoo. The size and complexity of the zoo make effective communication difficult. The zoo has a hierarchic structure with multiple layers of management. Decision-making authority resides at the top of the organizational chart as opposed to being distributed throughout lower levels. As the number of layers of management increases, communication between the upper and lower levels of the organization becomes more difficult (Tesluk et al., 2002). In addtion, the zoo is functionally departmentalized. Different functions within the zoo—animal programs, pathology, maintenance, exhibits, and so on—are divided into distinct units, and the animal-programs unit is further organized by animal type. Functional departmentalization may be the most logical division of work within the zoo, but it is important to recognize that it creates challenges to organizationwide communication and vision.
The magnitude of the communication challenges is especially apparent in the Department of Animal Programs, where the scope of responsibility is wide, large numbers of personnel are involved, and multiple layers of