by Tom Irvine

Bowie Opening Shot The Breakfast Club

I’m a closet Bowie fan and old enough to have worn 4-inch platform heels with super-wide flared trousers (what were they called?) that had four-inch waistbands with loads of buttons. Bottle green they were – uugh! Probably nothing to do with Bowie but it’s my blog and I can toddle off in random directions if I like!

I had a bit of a surreal Bowie experience at an event that the Leadership Foundation ran just before the summer – a bit random really. The event was a consultation event with about 40 organisational development, HR & staff development folk who had helped us shape our new range of services that we now call “Supporting Change”. The event was a ‘thank you’ to those who had given of their time to help us think this through during the development phase. Towards the end of the event we rearranged the room by moving the tables out of the way and creating a large circle of chairs so we could all see each other. The topic we were discussing was examples of ‘change’ from other sectors. The question was asked “How many of you have experience of supporting or leading change in other sectors?” The response was astonishing – almost everybody put their hand up! People were asked to talk about their experiences of change – and we heard from colleagues who had worked in financial services, retail, and many other private sector and public sector organisations.

My ‘Bowie’ moment came as we were sharing experiences. Here we were consulting about change and the words (above) of ch-ch (you know the rest – sing along!) came flooding back to me.

It was quite clear that colleagues were in their own ways seeking to find methods of supporting change in this most complex of change environments – higher education. And quite aware of what they are ‘going through’. (Don’t know who was doing the spitting, but I’ll have a word).

As the discussion went on colleagues began talking about the challenges they face when trying to support change in the own institutions. Some spoke passionately about how close they felt to the ‘change agenda’ but others felt under-valued and found it difficult to have their skills and experiences of supporting change ‘heard’ or recognised. We spoke about ways of using the expertise from another institution – recognising how difficult it is to be a ‘prophet in your own land’ – but also accepted the practical challenges this posed to the group.

I left the day feeling that we had touched upon a really important issue – how we support those in OD, HR and staff development roles to be agents of change in their own (and possibly other) institutions. What is clear to me is that many leaders in higher education – and I think this is perhaps even more true for academic leaders – have not been trained or developed to lead complex change. The Leadership Foundation has its part to play in making a difference. We have refreshed the Top Management Programme so that it has an even stronger focus on personal and organisational change and we have developed a range of new consultancy services that can be accessed from our web site (visit LF Consulting tab). We can even help train in-house change agents.

The Leadership Foundation has a deep understanding of what makes higher education tick. We have used this knowledge and utilised our expertise to develop consultancy interventions to support the community of professionals who are supporting change in their own institutions. I know there is still more to be done to continuously support the sector during this time of turbulent change. We aim to develop our bespoke offering through regular consultations with the higher education community. I can see this more clearly from my vantage point on my four-inch high platform shoes, but the trousers don’t fit me any more.

Tom Irvine is leads the LF’s Consulting team