Is HE governance the best there is?

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Mary Joyce, Leadership Foundation governance and leadership associate, considers the dynamics and impact of good governance and whether boards should be looking beyond compliance.

What were your experiences of what it was like working with your board this year? How did you manage those strategic discussions before and after the vote to leave the European Union? Are you changing the composition of your board and its ways of working? These are live questions for many boards at the present time, in all sectors across the UK. They represent factors that are an additional disruption to the already delicate and largely unseen dynamics of work on boards.

A glance at the past year’s news stories reveals the extent to which ethics, unchecked egos, financial constraints and increased regulation dominate much of the anxiety felt by non-executives as they discharge their responsibilities on boards. Interest in good governance and its importance in organisational life is only set to increase as the pace and scale of change in the public, private and charitable sectors gathers momentum. And, as more stories of failing and dysfunctional boards appear in news stories and official reports, the typical response is to produce even more formal guidance and codes of conduct.

Yet, in 2009 when Sir David Walker published his findings on corporate governance in banks and other financial industry entities (BOFIs), he found that:

“the principal deficiencies in BOFI boards related much more to patterns of behaviour than to organisation.”

While the focus of the Walker Review was on the financial sector, many of its insights and recommendations for good governance and apply to all sectors. The best strategy for developing the capacity of your board to work well together and use all its talents in decision-making is one that focuses not only on technical know-how (legal, financial and sectoral), but also on boardroom behaviour and leadership. This will ensure you achieve more than simply compliance in the stewardship of your organisation.

Just over two years ago the Leadership Foundation designed a series of developmental workshop sessions on boardroom dynamics for higher education governors. They were well received, and we built on those foundations to design a special programme for university secretaries and clerks in recognition of their leadership role at the interface between the board and the executive – a difficult role for which there is generally less developmental support. In its launch year 28 people from 25 institutions attended this innovative programme from roles that included not only university secretaries, clerks and registrars but also, directors of strategic planning; the vice-chancellor’s chiefs of staff; and heads of governance.

The programme uses a psychodynamic approach to develop an awareness and understanding of group behaviour and its potential to either hinder or help the board’s capacity to work effectively. Facilitated learning sets offer a unique opportunity for clerks, university secretaries and those working in the governance field to work on their own organisational issues in confidence, and to apply new theories to their practice.

Participants on the programme commented that they were able to make sense of their experiences in a way that helped them to be more effective both in their role and with colleagues. They said:

“A valuable, thought-provoking, supportive and informative programme, putting the role into a wider context.”
Head of Executive Services

“(The action learning experience was) very supportive while being rigorous. It has helped me reflect on my approaches and practice which has been a very valuable element of the programme.”
Director of Strategic Operations and University Secretary

“Great course content and I’ve made great contacts. I would definitely recommend this to all clerks, whether they are new in post or have been appointed for some time.”
Clerk to the Board and Head of Governance

The Leadership Foundation is running the Clerks and Secretaries Programme again in 2017, starting in February, offering another opportunity for governance professionals to develop their skills and leadership. This higher education specific programme consists of three one-day sessions, which will include action learning set meetings, and two additional half-day action learning set meetings.

Join us as we take a look at how higher education governance’s behaviours, roles and remit compare to those of other sectors, and take the opportunity to consider whether higher education is at the forefront of governance as it continuously explores what good governance means and how it can be improved to meet the changing world.

Mary Joyce specialises in leadership development, group dynamics and organisational behaviour, and executive coaching. Her reputation for working ‘beneath the surface’ has developed through a variety of leadership and consultancy commissions in the public and private sectors.

Read our latest Governance Briefing Note – 25: The factors that influence whether governance is effective?

In addition to our highly regarded Governor Development Programme, the Leadership Foundation has a wealth of information, tools and tips on its Governance website, tailored to the specific needs of Governors of Higher Education institutions and colleges. Find out more at: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

Why is HE like a Travelling Circus?

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Doug Parkin, Leadership Foundation Programme Director reflects on why developing leadership in learning and teaching is critical.

After falling on hard times two brothers went their separate ways.

Ivan said to his brother “you can keep the big top, the caravans, the animals and the cages, and I wish you well with them”. 

Orlov took them and aimed to keep the great traditions alive. Visiting the towns his family had always visited, he had animals doing tricks, stupid clowns being cruel to each other, strong men lifting weights, and lots and lots of dancing girls… and fewer and fewer people came. 

Ivan went to new cities and entertained in venues never visited by a circus before. Humans performed instead of animals, incredible acrobats, jugglers and gymnasts, and in his circus clever clowns created magic and told new stories.

The Travelling Circus – which university are you?

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching: never more important!

When the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (LTLT) programme began the landscape of radical change surrounding learning and teaching in Higher Education appeared significant, and indeed it was, but in the short period of three-years that has elapsed since then the challenges relating to student engagement, transforming curricula, and quality enhancement have become profound. Not just because of the Teaching Excellence Framework, but further catalysed by it and the debate it has fuelled, striving for teaching excellence has become an imperative on all institutional agendas.  And the relationship with students, as partners in not just the learning process but also the on-going development of the institution itself, has created new dialogues, challenges and expectations.  Linked to this there are many other agendas that could be mentioned such as social mobility and fair access, internationalisation, marketisation, technology enhanced learning, employability, expressing learning gain, and needless to say the colossal uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

LTLT is a programme very much of its time. It is aimed at a constituency of academic colleagues whose needs have not been fully recognised by staff development in the past – namely, course and programme leaders, senior course tutors, associate deans and those in similar roles.  A key acknowledgement (and celebration!) this programme makes both explicitly and, perhaps, symbolically is that programme directors and course leaders have become some of the most important people in our universities: if they don’t succeed then neither do their institutions – the traditional travelling circus fades away and is replaced by the nouveau cirque.

The overall aim of LTLT is:

To support participants to develop the skills, approaches and insights needed to lead course and programme teams through processes of transformation and innovation.

LTLT is an inspirational programme in itself. Not because of its content or its pedagogy, although there is much to be appreciated there, but because of the community of practitioners it brings together from across the sector and the quality of dialogue, interaction and exchange it promotes.  This rich thinking environment, with a focus on transformation, innovation and new approaches, helps participants to develop the energy for change in an ever-evolving learning and teaching environment.

Reflecting on the LTLT experience and its impact, the following is some participant feedback:

  • I learned a very great deal about investment by stakeholders, partnership with students, and the crucial importance of negotiation in relation to the curriculum and much else besides. This is the most exciting (and exacting) leadership course I have ever undertaken.
  • I used one of the tools within days of returning to work.
  • I feel empowered to be a consultant/critical friend (in learning, teaching and assessment) within the workplace. This role is essential.
  • I have found this programme to be extremely useful, extremely enjoyable, an excellent networking opportunity, a great way of sharing best practice, crammed full of useful information, and at all times run by experts who are incredibly helpful and supportive. I cannot recommend this programme highly enough.
  • An excellent programme for which I am grateful.
  • The sessions were quite simply the best example of CPD I’ve been on and perfectly pitched, thoroughly prepared and delivered in an engaging manner.

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching is a development programme offered by a sector partnership between the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Higher Education Academy. It has been running very successfully since 2013 and the next cohort begins in March 2017.

Delivered through three modules and two-on-line action learning sets over a period of 6 months, the structure of LTLT is simple. The first module called ‘Getting Started’ is a two-day residential focussed on firstly leading change and enhancement and secondly leading through inquiry and influence. The second one-day module called ‘Getting Going’ is centred around leading engagement and challenge. The final one-day module, ‘Going Forward’, uses action learning to focus fully on the participants’ own transformation pilots, initiatives they are leading in their own institutions, and how to plan for sustainable impact. To continue discussion around progress of the transformation pilots there are then two further on-line action learning set meetings. Key features of the programme include:

  • A Strategic Toolkit of organisational development tools to help support and facilitate transformational change, some of which have been developed uniquely for the programme;
  • A live case study involving a university team part way through a significant change initiative;
  • Engaging with key perspectives on leadership in an academic context, and linked to this a range of relevant change theory;
  • Considering how to lead with influence rather than through authority;
  • Opportunities to develop the skills necessary to become an effective internal consultant;
  • Exploring new approaches to curriculum design;
  • Sessions on quality and pedagogic innovation; bringing students to the centre of the transformation process; the use of narrative for change; and building communities of practice;
  • The opportunity for participants to work on and develop a current transformation initiative, with further support through action learning;
  • Use of Yammer as a social site to provide resources and allow for on-line discussion;
  • Gaining evidence towards professional recognition against either level 3 of level 4 of the UK Professional Standard Framework.

The programme espouses a number of important values and principles including working to a non-deficit model of academic development, the importance of mutual learning through the live case study and working with an appreciative spirit of inquiry. The importance of open, collaborative working and engagement is emphasised throughout.  And above all the programme illustrates how leadership is generative and endorses the notion that transformational change is iterative, emergent and intensely negotiated.

So, the travelling circus must reinvent itself to survive. Why?  Because the world is changing and audiences move on.  To change the course of history we must change the course of leadership, and if universities are to play their role in answering the big questions of tomorrow, then transformational leadership needs our full support.

Those that are excellently inspired have the capacity to inspire excellence. 

Doug Parkin is co-programme director of the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching programme, working alongside Steve Outram from the Higher Education Academy. Find out more and book your place here. Doug is also the author of ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The key guide to designing and delivering courses’.  The book explores contemporary ideas on leadership, engagement and student learning into a practical solutions-based resource designed for those undertaking the challenge of leading a university-level teaching module, programme or suite of programmes, particularly through periods of transformation or change. 

A future focus for higher education

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Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development reflects upon leadership, the future and working with influencers in higher education.

While 9 November 2016 will forever be associated with tumultuous political change in the US, it also brought into stark relief the change process that political decisions unleash across all sectors – and the relationship between our two higher education sectors. In such circumstances, leadership and the ability to think interdependently becomes increasingly important.  On 9 November I was with colleagues from across HEIs – my first formal engagement with the higher education community – at the annual Staff Development Conference. My session was on Higher Education: Future Focus, which fitted with the theme of the conference, Future Fit, and the commitment to developing excellent practice that staff developers share with those of us from external development organisations.

Exploring the five main forces driving change globally “now and next” (using the ideas of futurologist and personal colleague Richard Watson), we first looked at the potential impact of demographic change, including an aging population and aging workforce, for the UK and the challenges and opportunities this brings to higher education. Just hours after Trump’s election victory, the next of the five forces – power shifts east – was also a stimulus in a post-Brexit world that most staff developer colleagues agreed was in sharper focus. The impact caused through being better connected globally (the third force) and sustainability (the fourth force) were concepts that most colleagues found familiar. The last of the five forces, GRIN technologies (genetic prophesy, robotics, intuitive internet, nano materials and artificial intelligence), was found to be of topical relevance as many staff developers were focused on new learning technologies and the impact of these on teaching and learning in HEIs.

When hypothesising about the impact of two of the five forces – demographics and GRIN technologies – staff development colleagues expressed the importance of up-skilling themselves. They also recognised the need to extend their influence to enable a greater number of academic and non-academic colleagues to appreciate the change process necessary for HEIs to face the future with confidence and maximise the potential benefits and challenges.

This session, in tandem with the following session, enabled staff development colleagues to focus on a future that gives priority to growing a learning culture within their organisations and enabling their HEIs to foster cultures which are responsive to changes in their domain and in which innovation will thrive. This is Future Focus.

More recently, following the SDF Conference, I was pleased to facilitate a morning with Richard Watson for senior strategic leaders in HEIs. With Richard’s expert input, it was an opportunity to initiate a conversation with a group of senior leaders on how the five forces Richard associates with global change will impact higher education in the four countries of the United Kingdom.

Richard reminded us of the challenge that leaders in higher education face, contrasting the pace of volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity that characterise this current period with the mindset, tool set and agility needed to tackle the issues this period brings. This is sometimes matched by a cohort of leaders who are anxious and who may appear slow to react as events unfold.

Richard set out the process he follows for building an exploration of the future. This begins with identifying the big questions you believe you might face as leaders in your sector. From these ‘‘burning questions” come a series of trends and patterns related to the questions.  These trends and patterns lend themselves to scenario planning (an activity with which many sectors engage but to which few give enough time). The generation of these future scenarios is often predicated on leaders being able to look at what would need to disappear and, conversely, what new innovative practices and mindsets may be needed for the new possibility to become a reality.

We applied this process to a short guided exploration of the future for higher education from the perspective of this senior leadership group. Reflecting on the burning questions generated by the senior leaders, a number of these were focused on the impact of future demographic trends on higher education. These questions included the impact of declining fertility rates, and an ageing population. In the ensuing discussion, the opportunities and challenges of demographic change led to a possible future trend of growing higher education provision targeting the silver surfer generation and an explosion of concepts such as the University of the Third Age alongside more catastrophic predictions eg university closures due to falling UK student numbers.

Leaders were keen to explore the impact of technology and innovation made possible through the growth of artificial intelligence and the “industrialisation” of learning via enhanced smart technology, as Richard referred to a blurring between digital and physical. This leadership activity requires the strategic change leaders to take a step back and engage in bold thinking. Higher education leaders may not be able to predict all that the future holds in the next 30 years but they can and should be able to influence it.

As the minutes ended on my second interaction with leaders in my new sector, I recalled and shared a philosophy I have held as a developer of leaders for 26 years and across a number of sectors: if we can understand how we learn, then we can understand how we lead.

We are committed to using the insights that this senior leadership group produced in co-creating new innovative leadership development interventions. The graphic above demonstrates the possibilities of working in new ways as we continue to support the Future Focus for higher education.

Ends

Vijaya Nath leads the Leadership Development operation at the Leadership Foundation. The portfolio of development for higher education institutions include options that are delivered face-to-face, online only and also in a mix of both formats (blended learning). They are designed for leaders, managers and those that aspire to such roles from across all disciplines and types of institutions. Programmes and events include one-day events for governors; the flagship Top Management Programme, that has over 700 of the most senior people in higher education in in its alumni including 60 current vice-chancellors. There is also Aurora, the women-only development scheme that has already seen almost 2,500 participants in its first three years.

Watch Vijaya Nath discuss the future of higher education and the need to create political powerbrokers on our YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVUzlTtfCUI 

David Allen OBE: Good Governance in Wales

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David Allen OBE, chair of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw) discusses the importance of good governance for institutions to succeed in challenging political times.

Good governance is at the heart of institutional success. I am immensely grateful to members of governing bodies of universities and colleges who give so freely of their time, expertise and experience to support their senior teams and, through them, students and staff. The Leadership Foundation provides a development programme for governors which enables you to be supported, obtain information and to network.

Governors can only be as good as the information which they receive and seek out. You rely on authoritative, comparative data. You are also very busy and need information to be clearly signposted for you, by your institution, and sector and other bodies. Both Hefcw and the Leadership Foundation provide rich sources of material readily accessible via their websites.

Here in Wales we face a fascinating but challenging time following the Welsh government’s response to and approval of much of the recently published Diamond review of higher education. Diamond is in itself a rich source of information for governors. Commentators such as WonkHE and the HEPI have pointed out that, once (and if) implemented, Diamond provides a blueprint for the most sustainable and stable student support system in the UK for full-time and part-time undergraduates and postgraduates. The report envisages the current tuition fee regime (which benefits only Welsh domiciled full-time undergraduates) being withdrawn over time in favour of grant support for living costs and income contingent loans repayable after graduation to cover tuition for taught programmes at all levels and modes of study. The proposals are accompanied by recommendations, for example, to provide more support through Hefcw for expensive subjects and research. It is expected that the reforms, subject to treasury consent and revised Student Loan’s Company arrangements will be introduced gradually from Autumn 2018, since it will take several years for the existing system to unwind. Welsh domiciled students would receive support for living costs wherever they choose to study in the UK and possibly wider afield.

In the meantime Wales, along with the rest of the UK, needs to face and deal with the consequences and opportunities of Brexit. Research and student support in relation to the EU is currently protected but until we know the shape of the Brexit deal there will be considerable uncertainty for higher education providers. What is certain, however, is that well-led, governed and managed institutions, which are clear about their missions and know their place in the market will, as always, be better placed to succeed.

In the meantime, the Leadership Foundation will continue to convene meetings and seminars to support governors, including the ‘Shaping Governance in Wales’ event planned for Thursday 6 April 2017 and taking place in Aberystwyth, with a live stream to Cardiff. I look forward to seeing you there.

David Allen OBE has been Chair of Hefcw since 2014 and on the board since 2008, has a wealth of experience in higher education leadership, governance and management, having previously held the role of registrar (2003–2013) and deputy chief executive (2009-2013) at the University of Exeter.

For more information and to book a place on the ‘Shaping Governance in Wales’ event for Governors of Welsh Institutions, please click here.

 The Leadership Foundation has a wealth of information, tools and tips on its Governance website, tailored to the specific needs of Governors of Higher Education institutions and colleges. For more information visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

 To see the upcoming Governor Development Programmes please click here

Transition to Leadership: A chance encounter

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Helen Horsman, Research and Business Marketing Manager, University of Bradford attended the second year of our blended learning programme for new leaders, Transition to Leadership. In this interview she talks about her experience on the programme for those looking to develop themselves as an authentic leader.

1. What attracted you to Transition to Leadership?

It was a chance opportunity really, my manager couldn’t attend and asked me to go instead. It was perfect timing as I was just finishing my professional qualification and looking forward to using it in a more responsible role.

2. What were the 3 most valuable lesson you’ve learnt from the programme?

  • Coaching Being able to coach others is a very helpful tool for empowering others
  • Self-reflection Learning about your own styles of leadership and how they can help or hinder you and how this works with others. We all need to flex a bit, but usually have a comfort zone which is easy to slip back into. Being aware of your need to flex makes you a better leader.
  • Managing change Understanding resistance to change and the change process can help you work out how to best assist others to get through it, including yourself!

3. One element of the Transition to Leadership programme is to explore what it means to be an authentic leader. Can you share with us who you admire as an authentic leader?

I’m a huge believer in this. Nelson Mandela has, through the most terrible times, always been true to what he believes in and never veered from that path. It is tempting when becoming a leader to change who you are because of what you think other people want from you. A good leader doesn’t have to actively recruit followers, they just need to be knowledgeable, positive and passionate about what they believe in, listen to others views and change their mind when they believe it’s right, and people will follow.

4. If you were recommending this programme to your colleagues what would you tell them?

That it’s definitely worth doing for new and aspiring leaders, or established leaders who feel like they need a refresh. It will change your perspective on yourself and your staff.

5. Looking ahead, can you tell us what your 3 key leadership challenges for
2016-17?

I have quite a few changes coming up in my role where I will need to write new strategies and get people on board to deliver them. So my 3 main challenges will be to get buy-in from others, create advocates who will support and talk positively about what I’m proposing, and empower the people I need support from to deliver it.


The next run of Transition to Leadership will be in Glasgow and will be taking place through Tuesday 6 December 2016 – Tuesday 14 March 2017 over 3 face-to-face days and 16 hours of facilitated online activities. If you are interested in finding out more about our Transition to Leadership programme, please click here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl 

Watch our Programme Faciltators talk about the benefits of Transition to Leadership in this 3 minute film: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD8FaFHLHp4

Professor Bob Cryan, University of Huddersfield explores authentic leadership in his Stimulating Talk; ‘The naked vice-chancellor’ at our 10 year anniversary event in 2014. Watch his talk here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdQzmo4ckgA

Leadership Foundation Research Impact – Working for Wales

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Professor Fiona Ross reflects on the impact that our stimulus paper on research funding in Wales has had on prompting the Welsh government to make positive steps towards supporting and encouraging research in the nation.

Last year Peter Halligan and Louise Bright (2015) published a paper on the Case for Growing STEMM Research Capacity in Wales. Theirs is a story of research funding for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) in Wales. It provides a powerful review and explanation for what appeared to be Wales’s poor comparative research performance and productivity compared to Scotland. We published it in our stimulus paper series and this blog reflects on its impact.

The Leadership Foundation’s stimulus paper series is designed to support thought leadership and to provide the sector with an opportunity to challenge established perceptions and discuss them from a new position. Independent from disciplinary lobbying, government policy making and mission group, over the years the Leadership Foundation has offered an alternative space for incubating ideas on leadership, challenging the status quo in leadership, publish and disseminate for greater impact through its network of member institutions. We thought this was the ideal vehicle for this research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper is a detailed and longitudinal policy analysis of comparative data on research funding in Wales. It is not for the faint hearted and does not leave a stone unturned! It lays out the drivers behind the Welsh Office, and subsequent Welsh Government’s focus on an input target of total research council income. It argues that policy reliance on securing Wales’s UK share of Research Council funding had contributed to a misleading and reputational damaging perception of the Welsh university research base. To derive a more complete picture of the STEMM shortfall in Wales, Halligan and Bright calculated the total number of STEMM academic researchers in the four UK nations. Using Wales’s population share of total UK academics engaged in research they found that the academic research workforce was some 0.5% below Wales’s population standard share. Despite this discrepancy, the evidence shows that relatively low levels of Research Council income have nevertheless been effectively translated into high impact research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper concludes that the critical problem lay not in the quality of the science being done in Wales, but rather with the inadequate size of the science base and the number of researchers in STEMM. So what has been the impact from the paper and what happened? The Welsh Government listened, the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) acted swiftly though her Ser Cymru programme to deliver an ambitious strategy to increase research capacity in science to enhance economic growth.  To achieve this, the CSA brought together a number of initiatives involving COFUND funding from the EU Horizon 2020 and the European Regional Development Fund in association with Welsh Universities. This amounted to over £50M to support a capacity building programme to fund over 100 new fellowships in science. This is providing support for large scale doctoral training schemes, postdoctoral rising stars and promising research leaders and support for scientists (particularly women) returning to their fields after a long absence.

I am often asked about Leadership Foundation research outputs and what difference they make? The honest answer is it varies. Sometimes we hit on a winner, like Halligan and Bright. But impact does not happen by accident. It is a complex process. Here it took compelling evidence supporting the case for change, authors who were both authoritative and influential, a receptive policy context and respectful and longstanding relationships between government and academic institutions. Our analysis of LF impact shows the secret is about the quality of commissioning, and being able to anticipate the “burning platform” issues, working hard with authors to ensure quality and using the LF network to provide a conduit for dissemination and exchange of ideas. It has worked for Wales.

Professor Fiona Ross is Director of Research at the Leadership Foundation. Fiona leads research and thought leadership with a particular focus on generating learning for organisations on ‘what works’. Fiona has a background in community health and social policy and has worked as practitioner, teacher, research leader and senior manager over a 35 year career in higher education. She has had academic leadership roles at King’s College London, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London where most recently she was an executive dean. She has published widely on policy and care of older people, public engagement, collaborative practice and leadership of change. In addition to her role with the Leadership Foundation she has a part time professorial appointment at Kingston University and St George’s and does research and writes on collaborative governance and evaluating system wide interventions including Kingston University’s approach to narrowing the attainment gap for students from BME backgrounds. Fiona has recently been appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees of Princess Alice Hospice, which delivers end of life care in Surrey and South West London. She was awarded a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for services to health care and higher education.


References

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2014-15.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.2, p.6, p.7, p.16

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2015-16.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.3, p.12

About the research authors

Professor Peter Halligan is the Chief Executive of the Learned Society of Wales

Dr Louise Bright is Deputy Director of Research and Business Engagement at the University of South Wales and the former Leadership Foundation Associate Director for Wales.

About our research
Our goal is to commission, develop and disseminate path finding research and resources which have originality, utility and impact to the sector. To view our latest research, click here

About Leadership Foundation Membership
We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK. Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advice on benefits and services. To find out more about membership with us, click here

Future Professional Directors: The Case Study

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Canterbury Christ Church University needed to change the way it interacted with its students – from first enquiry to graduation and beyond. Could discussing the issues in real time with our new Future Professional Directors group help the university lead the necessary cultural change and achieve its aims? Dr Keith McLay, lead for the project, reports back on a fruitful collaboration.

In March 2016 Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) contributed a live case study to the Leadership Foundation’s new Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme. CCCU was 18 months into a project to re-engineer its business processes for the student journey from enquiry, application, arrival and delivery of the degree programmes to graduation and alumni relations; it was a timely moment to collaborate during the programme’s module focusing on leadership in a culture of change. We used the analogy of a GUM Department store in the former Soviet Union whereby customers joined a different queue for the three stages (selection, payment and collection) of buying something to explain CCCU’s current problem – that separate, multifarious and factional business processes support the students. Our ambition was a seamless student journey throughout, from first engagement to leaving the university.

The challenge

The Christ Church Process Improvement Programme (CC PIP) project had made significant progress and gained momentum in the 18 months since the first diagnostic review and scoping of business processes had been undertaken. However, as we settled upon four separate, but linked, project streams – data and administrative processes, enquiry and recruitment, attendance and participation tracking and access to student support – it became apparent to colleagues on the programme board that there were significant challenges ranging across the four streams. These challenges, which all coalesced under the banner of organisational culture and the need for cultural change, lay in the way of transferring the projects to “business as usual” for the university.

Rigid local work practices and processes had to be tackled and colleagues needed to be encouraged to appreciate and also embrace the new business processes and procedures. This was the task facing CC PIP. The key question was how to lead that necessary cultural change which underlay the transactional business processes.

The journey

Following a presentation to the FPD group, which set out the road we had travelled so far, we decided to orientate the three themes that would be subject to “live” discussion on this question of fostering and leading cultural change.

The first theme – Demonstrating Benefits and Settling Priorities – asked for assistance in maintaining the programme’s focus and momentum while also holding on to realistic expectations of what could be delivered in the given time scale.

The second theme – Building Capability and Capacity – sought from the participants a route to the future-proofing of the project in a higher education environment that has been subject to fundamental change in recent years.

The third theme – Challenging Established Behaviours and Ways of Working – focused on cultural practices. Here we were seeking from the FPD group insight into reversing decades-old cultural working practice of “doing the nice thing” rather than “doing the right thing”.

Preparing the presentation and working on these three themes, including the outcomes sought, proved in itself cathartic and informative for CC PIP.

It forced those involved to reflect on and analyse the principal obstacles now being faced after what had been a rapid 18 months filled with project industry, endeavour and a number of quick wins. The preparation had revealed a confidence and a positive narrative for the project, needed to avoid looming institutional and organisation stasis of the programme. The CC PIP team looked forward to the “live” partnership with the FPD group, tackling the organisational cultural inertia that was threatening the programme.

The outcomes

The collaboration with the FPD participants proved fruitful and, in essence, that was the key highlight for CCCU. The three themes were each accompanied by three learning outcomes, which were robustly discussed by the participant groups. The discussions resulted in suggestions, comments and specific actions for all of the learning outcomes. CCCU colleagues took these back to the CC PIP programme board for further consideration and, as appropriate, implementation.

On the broader and overarching question of successfully providing leadership of cultural change, the two key action points embraced effective communications and the normative embedding of the new business process in the work life of colleagues across the university. Reflecting on these two broader action points, the CC PIP programme board revised its communications strategy by increasing the frequency and form of communications across the university about the programme. The board also decided to identify a number of other “quick wins” across the project, which should help build colleagues’ confidence in the programme outcomes and increase the willingness to assume responsibility and provide capability for the revised business processes.

We’d be thrilled to contribute to, and share with, another Leadership Foundation programme. The experience was mutually beneficial, positively reinforcing and resonating with respect to our programme and the organisational cultural change it entails. We would highly recommend this collaboration to other organisations seeking innovative interventions in the higher education sector.

Dr Keith McLay is dean of the faculty of arts and humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU). Keith led the team from CCCU to work in collaboration with the Future Professional Directors group to help the university reinvigorate this cultural change project.


More information

  1. The next cohort of Future Professional Directors launches in March 2017. The application deadline is Friday 24 February 2017. To find out more and for details on the application process visit: lfhe.ac.uk/fpd
  2. If you would be interested in working with the next Future Professional Directors cohort as a live case study please contact Lucy Duggal E: lucy.duggal@lfhe.ac.uk
  3. Future Professional Directors has been created in collaboration with nine sector bodies. This collaboration represents its aim to bring together professional service colleagues from across organisations in higher education. Contributing sector bodies include: AUDE, AHUA, AMOSSHE, ARC, BUFDG, HESPA, SCONUL, UCISA and UHR.