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 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.
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 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.
- 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
- If you would be interested in working with the next Future Professional Directors cohort as a live case study please contact Lucy Duggal E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.