Change: the new norm

In my regular conversations with senior leaders around the UK, they usually ask me how their peers are getting on adapting to the new challenges they face. They want to know what I see as best practice, how the best performing universities are building up their capacity to change, to be more proactive and seize new opportunities. Many tell me they want their senior teams to sharpen their skills and drive transformational change in a complex and uncertain world. They want to know how they can do this from within without re-inventing the wheel. How can they learn about change and adopt best practice in the most effective and economical way?

Change is the one constant in higher education – and is becoming more profound. Leading change, leading the organisation, leading high performing teams are part of the essential skill set for leaders and many vice chancellors tell me and colleagues in the Leadership Foundation that they want better leadership in their own senior teams, more effective team working, and more leadership in their organisation to handle their pressing change agendas.

They want to nurture the conditions where faculty continue to thrive, fulfil their potential, secure great teaching and research when resources are tight. Many tell us they must change for a sustainable future, at every level, from student engagement through up-and coming academic and professional staff, right up to senior team and beyond into the governing body.

From its beginning a decade ago, the LF has been helping leaders in their own organisations. A third of our current business is devoted to customised working with organisations to help with their own leadership and change agendas – pedagogic, structural and financial. This is an important complement to the LF’s brand reputation for world class individual leadership development.

The LF lets you choose how we can help. It could be you just need a bit of a vital spark – the inspiration to kick start an initiative, or some diagnostic work, an external and independent view of your challenges. Perhaps you need to see some provocative and insightful examples where something has worked for others and how it might work in your context. Or it is only a matter of helping to ask and respond to the right questions, or pointers to the approach your organisation needs to solve change problems better and unblock the barriers? Often, all you need is a skilled, knowledgeable change advisor to facilitate vital conversations and encourage decision making, to get on the right path.

One university was inspired by participating in an LF Change Academy: they were determined to engage with their staff better, changes that continue to this day. Another has invited us to help them build some fresh thinking and give more energy to an existing change initiative. For some a small development project can bring teams together and inject new thinking. Involvement in the Hefce funded ‘Changing the Learning Landscape’ initiative, open to all English HEIs, may help to unblock old attitudes.

Elsewhere, we have been asked to work with the senior team to help them develop their relationships in handling change, others simply want us to give them an external check on their progress to date. Even small institutions on a limited budget have benefited from our MASHEIN services to help them access change advice. All LF members can call on one free day a year on a change theme of their choice.

How we do it is by choosing the right people, faculty with deep sector knowledge and assignment experience. We support with focused research, on leading edge thinking about how successful institutions change. The LF anticipated a growing demand for the change agenda some time ago and has been building its capability and developing a team of change advisors you can call on to help develop change skills in your university.

We believe you should have real ownership of change by your own leaders, your own staff and students. We are enablers and facilitators of effective change. We don’t tell you what to do or impose a method, which is unlikely to be enduring. Instead we help you draw on your latent talent and help you build from within. If the LF’s role is successful, the outcome for your institution will be doing it for yourself, more self-sufficiency in change techniques and more deeply immersed in change processes.

Dr Mark Pegg is chief executive of the Leadership Foundation
Engage Summer 2013 – Editorial