If it’s not working…

In the second of our series of posts for our spring 2018 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat for higher education leaders and governors, Roger Kline author of The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS and former joint director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard, compares and contrasts approaches to race policy between higher education and NHS.

Eighteen years ago, the Macpherson Report explored institutional racism in the Metropolitan police with implications for UK public services. Research from the time showed that in higher education, black and minority ethnic (BME) staff were disadvantaged in terms of recruitment, employment status and career progression  while BME students were more likely to be found in new universities, were more likely to drop out, were less likely to be awarded good honours degrees and less likely to do well in the labour market.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) set out specific duties for universities on both widening participation strategies for students and strengthened equal opportunities for staff. Despite the initiatives this prompted, progress for both BME staff and students (and in senior governance across the sector) has remained glacial. The NHS faces similar challenges. It had not applied to itself the rigour it expects when analysing clinical challenges. There had been no serious evaluation of existing strategies, and a flawed approach to improvement, underpinned by denial of the scale of discrimination.

There is no shortage of evidence about what does and doesn’t work in workforce equality. The Audit Commission (2004) set out a framework of “what works”, our own literature search (2015) came to similar conclusions and informed a three-pronged approach to NHS workforce discrimination:

  1. Reducing workforce race inequality became part of the national NHS commissioning contract making it mandatory for NHS providers (including private sector ones) to demonstrate they are starting to close the gap between the treatment and experience of White and BME staff as captured by nine indicators.
  2. Such progress (or lack of it) became part of the Care Quality Commission regulatory inspection framework, specifically a significant part of the evidence as to whether NHS providers were “well led” or not.
  3. The data is all published, and benchmarked.

The focus was on measurable outcomes not just on improved processes, and the details of such progress (or otherwise), are published every year. In 2016 we then drew from both the literature and best practice across the public and private sectors the “shared characteristics of effective interventions”. We noted how NHS funding sanctions (and incentives) linked to measurable Athena SWAN progress became an effective means of challenging gender discrimination in STEM subjects in higher education.

We noted six key characteristics, as applicable to higher education as they have been to the NHS:

  1. Acknowledge and name the problem. In the NHS, avoidance and denial became no more acceptable in equality than in other NHS challenges such as infection control or mortality rates. In higher education, the post MacPherson Hefce funding letters were not explicit about race or ethnicity and the performance indicators used related to social class as a proxy instead. As early as 2005 Hefce reported that the initiatives ‘appear to have had the greatest impact on the role and reward of women in the majority of institutions’ and as a result ‘the role of minority ethnic groups.. has received much less emphasis…compared to the emphasis on gender equality’.
  2. Insist on detailed scrutiny of workforce and staff survey data to identify the specific challenges that NHS Trusts as a whole, or individual departments or services or occupations may have on race equality. Don’t hide from uncomfortable facts. Crucially, listen and act on what BME staff and students say.
  3. See workforce equality as integral to service improvement not just to compliance – as part of providing better services and improving staff well-being, not as a separate discrete task. The Leadership Foundation and the Equality Challenge Unit are working to demonstrate the links between treating BME staff well and the benefits to students and the organisation, not just the BME staff. We learnt it is essential to have a powerful evidenced narrative that explains how discriminatory recruitment, development and appointment systems, for example, waste talent and impact adversely on service provision whether it be patient care (or on the teaching and support of BME students, the talent pool for research, and the effectiveness of the university).
  4. Learn from previous failed approaches to workforce equality which relied excessively on policies, procedures and diversity training (including unconscious bias training). The literature demonstrates such approaches (as in tackling wider cultural challenges) will not work in isolation and excessively rely on individual members of staff being brave or foolish enough to raise concerns, complaints or grievances about discrimination. Senior institutional leadership must take prime responsibility, for example, for talent management and career development and be proactive in developing staff and challenging discrimination, in a radical break with the culture of allowing departments to recruit, often developing and promoting “people like us” or those who might “best fit in”. 
  5. Strategies and specific interventions must be evidence driven and be able to answer the question “why do you think this will work?”
  6. Above all, accountability is crucial. Unless leaders model the behaviours expected of others, face uncomfortable truths, are held to account and hold others to account, insisting on evidenced interventions with locally developed targets, even the best intentions will not bring about change.

This approach has shown some early and significant progress. For example, some 2000 additional BME nurses and midwives appear to have gained more senior positions in 2014-2017 whilst the relative likelihood of BME staff being disciplined has started falling.

Despite the best efforts of the Leadership Foundation, Equality Challenge Unit and others in higher education institutions I sense similar challenges to those the NHS faces. The Civil Service have recently adopted a completely new strategy using similar principles. The Leadership Foundation’s Retreat (for senior executives and governors in universities) in April might usefully consider whether the time has come to consider adopting similar principles, including whether Hefce funding should be linked to HEIs demonstrating measurable improvement year-on-year in the treatment and experience of both staff and students from BME backgrounds compared to that of White staff and students. Ministers are supporting that approach in the NHS and the civil service. Why not in higher education?

Roger Kline is the author of The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS and was joint director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard for its first two years (2015-2017). He is Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School.

Read the first blog in this series, Diversity – are universities sincerely up for change? by Simon Fanshawe, Leadership Foundation associate and partner at Diversity by Design. 

Diversity – are universities sincerely up for change?

Ahead of our second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat, Simon Fanshawe, Leadership Foundation associate and partner at Diversity by Design, shares his thoughts on the need to advance diversity by thinking about the culture within institutions more broadly. The Retreat is an innovative 24 hour immersion that challenges senior leaders to redesign recruitment, promotion and staff and Board assessment processes in order to diversify their workforce and governance in order to get the most out of the talent in their institution.

There is much high level evidence that shows the value in having a diverse workforce in our universities (McKinsey 2015 etc). It is increasingly clear however that for diversity to be truly valuable it has to be articulated in terms that are specific to our subjects and fields of passion. For instance,

  • There is a richness in English literature at the moment much of which comes from the great writing in English by authors who are not English. To reflect that global depth in literature how do we diversify our English Department staff culturally?
  • With an aging population, we need to redesign how we use space and localities at home, at work and in the public realm. Diversity will vastly enrich disciplines such as design, structural engineering, and planning if we engage staff who face challenges to their mobility and can draw on their own experiences of the world.
  • If health provision needs to be more preventative how does research and treatment relate to and communicate with increasingly diverse populations? If Population Medicine is to become the norm, how will that challenge the ‘expertise’ of medical professionals who will need to understand people’s direct experience of health and how will that require a wider diversity of people in the management of medicine and health services?
  • If the axis of the world is moving east, what cultural and ethnic combinations of staff do we need in the study of world economic and shifting geopolitical forces to gain real understanding for students and research?

Change and adapt

I heard a vice-chancellor give an inaugural lecture the other day. She identified six ‘couplets’ which both helped and hindered universities to change and adapt.

Three of them particularly resonated with the work we have done on diversity in universities over the recent past:

  1. Universities have a long and distinguished sense of their tradition. But as they draw on this to produce a richness in academic research and teaching, it also produces a conservatism and risk averseness. When we propose a way of assessing candidates for recruitment or promotion so that those that are choosing the candidate are more able to assess the evidence, with their unconscious biases designed out, it always strikes us how much gentle persuasion we have to use against very traditional push back. Academics seem reluctant to change. In the trials we have been doing in universities; leadership, advocacy, and determination for change has been invaluable.
  2. She coined a phrase to describe the internalised cultures that grow up in all organisations, but specifically in universities. She called it: “normalised weirdness”. It struck me that typical university recruitment and promotion continues to be accompanied by expressions of the desire for change, yet with minimal results in the diversity of applicants, those shortlisted and eventually appointed. Such a poor return on the investment of effort would, in any of the fields of study of the same academics, lead to depressing conclusions on the evidence and a radical change in the approach to the solutions. But, instead, the lack of change in the diversity outcomes is rationalised by the “normalise weirdness” of arguing that there is a trade-off between diversity and excellence. And that despite the lack of diversity, universities are nonetheless recruiting and promoting the “best person for the job”.
  3. And her third (out of six) was a strange (my adjective, not hers) fear of experimentation, which is justified implicitly by an idea of “expertise”. There is an underlying sense that the acknowledged expertise in their field necessarily leads academics particularly to the make the right judgements. Even when the fact of clearly less diverse outcomes show clearly that the processes of recruitment and promotion are failing to draw on and boost the full range of potential talent, and instead continue to advantage hugely one group of staff. The poor diversity results nonetheless leave the claims to expertise unexamined and unchallenged.

Our response

The pace of change in diversifying our governing bodies is also slow and there is a need to look at the underlying reasons of this. This Retreat aims to provide that opportunity in a collegiate and collaborative atmosphere to develop practical solutions which will diversify staff and Board/Council members. It will run on separate and interlinking strands. Bringing together both representatives from the executive and the Board/Council, we will give participants time to work on questions which are within the separate remits of governance and the executive. And then there will be space for both to come together to look at whole institution responses

Built on these principles, the 24 hour Retreat will offer space to:

  1. Examine the latest research on diversity – the reasons for the relative lack of progress, issues in selection, questions around bias and how to design it out, high performing teams – and apply it to the specific needs of your institution.
  2. Hear examples from the work of Leadership Foundation and Diversity by Design in universities – what has worked, where change needs to happen in processes and the hurdles to overcome.
  3. Develop some practical solutions (in governance and operation) for your institution, working with colleagues from other universities.
  4. Lead even more effectively on diversity.
  5. Reflect on how diversity can drive the core functions of a university – teaching, research, student experience and impact on the world – regionally, nationally and globally

In conclusion, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat has been designed to create a significant difference in how universities can benefit from practical diversity strategies. A huge amount of goodwill and good work is taking place in universities, and this programme seeks to build upon that through the energising of senior executives and governors to enhance their knowledge and tools to support the creation and development of long lasting change.

How to book
The second run of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat will take place in April. Designed for senior leaders and governors it is free to attend. The one-day intensive programme will be delivered by Simon Fanshawe OBE, former chair of University of Sussex, and Roy Hutchins, former director of Astar Management Consultants Ltd, alongside Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation, and Roger Kline, research fellow at Middlesex University and an associate of Public World. For more information or to book your place online, use this link: EDI April 2018

This is one of three blogs that we shall be publishing in the coming weeks by the leads of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat

Innovations in postgraduate education

Kim Ansell asks whether recent Hefce statistics about the rise in taught postgraduate student numbers will trigger some development and innovation in the postgraduate offering. 

Last week Hefce reported that the numbers of UK and other European Union students starting full-time and part-time postgraduate (PG) taught courses increased substantially in 2016-17. A 22% increase in full-time entrants to taught PG courses, and an 8.6 per cent increase in part-time entrants to postgraduate taught (PGT) courses.

While Hefce suggests that “The increases in entrants are likely to be attributable to the introduction of postgraduate loans”, it is possible that there other factors at play here and perhaps the introduction of loans is only part of the story. Putting money into the system will clearly make a difference, but we suspect that one should look further afield for a more holistic explanation, indeed an explanation for which universities themselves can take some of the credit.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the higher education sector is driving some of this change and responding to demand with foresight and creativity. There is a sense that PG education could be a game changer for UK higher education creating a strong economic value proposition in changing times.

A 2014 report Masters with a purpose by UUK and Hecsu reported that ‘Employers’ requirements for Masters-level qualifications are linked to their requirements for specific skills, abilities and knowledge. Employers emphasise the value of practical, work-related experience during Masters courses’.

It goes on to assert that in many areas, e.g. sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, for PGT graduates, employment prospects are good – and better than for undergraduates, with generally higher rates of employment at six months after qualification.

The report also indicates that, those who have a Master’s degree combined with some sort of ‘hands on’ experience, stand out to employers. They see them as more employable and so it is in the interests of the university to understand how they can incorporate those skills into their Masters programmes and understand where their PG fit into the market.

There are other benefits for the university as well as the direct employability of their graduates, tapping into affordable research and development environments being an obvious one for some disciplines.

A number of innovative programmes have appeared in recent years, and it isn’t just student loans which is stimulating this. The rather overused but still very relevant issue of employability is the main one, as graduates look to demonstrate a competitive edge over their peers and move up the career ladder more quickly. Along with career imperatives, advances in technology have made Masters degrees more accessible as they are no longer geographically constrained in many cases.

The Aston University MSc in Professional Engineering and  UCL’s Professional Accountancy Msc, are just two examples of innovation and collaboration in this area.

Beyond the Masters landscape, The provision of professional doctorates in English HE (2016) published by Hefce, is unlikely to have reached the radar of most employers or professional associations, possibly not even all universities. Originally in engineering, education, business psychology and health, Professional Doctorates (PD) have been growing over the last five years and while still extremely modest in volume and in a limited number of disciplines, they are targeted at experienced professionals and practitioners working in a professional context. Professional training and/or development of practitioners is traditionally the domain of professional associations and yet PDs are now moving into new areas such as social sciences, science and technology and the arts.

There does not seem to have been a strong demand from employers at the time the Hefce study was done, with one exception: the NHS funds a PD in Clinical Psychology as an entry route and licence to practise.

The Hefce report recommends that professional sector bodies and institutions develop a more strategic basis for provision of PDs. I personally see great opportunities for such collaboration and encourage universities, professional associations and employers to join forces to take these initiatives forward while the PG education trend is on the up.

Some challenges to be addressed are:

  • PDs thus far have provided little evidence of impact on professional practice, something that professional bodies might be well placed to evidence and measure;
  • Development of PD provision is not a strategic priority for most HEIs, but a partnership approach could address such issues as reach, relevance, return on investment, efficient use of expertise and resource to deliver. The list goes on.

The combined experience of research, teaching, professional expertise and current practice could bring quality and reputation to new products in this arena, and to the stakeholders involved.

Of course there is still the issue of demand but if PDs really have the potential to make a significant contribution to professional practice then it must be in the interests of employers, professional associations and the higher education sector to make it work.

There is undoubtedly this level of collaboration, along with a frenzy of post budget ‘noise’, on Level 6 apprenticeship degrees. For example the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship has been developed by a group of employers, in partnership with a number of universities as ‘providers’ and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). Level 7 Degree Apprenticeships are clearly on the horizon but the prospect of a Level 8 Apprenticeship is probably still some way off, although clearly in the mix when considering the future of PG education.

I wonder how this will impact on PDs and their potential development or demise. Mature students undertaking PG study might opt for high level apprenticeship schemes that speak to the attractive employability criteria mentioned above. The alternative is that universities focus their PG provision on more academic pathways while developing apprenticeship schemes in partnership. A similar question has been asked in open forums about PGT and degree apprenticeships. Where universities have existing programmes with large employers, will new degree apprenticeships programmes ‘cannibalise’ places on these existing programmes?…

So, apprenticeship degrees might not encroach, as such, on PDs, but there will be a delicate strategic planning exercise to ensure that the pipeline of PG products which universities develop fits with the supply of postgraduate students that the university is able to access or attract.

Some of the questions they might need to ask themselves are:

  • Can we better support suitably qualified graduates or experienced professionals?
  • Which of our strategic partners could offer the best chance of success in product development, (however you choose to measure success)?
  • What does our employer network want?

The rise in PG taught student numbers in the UK is very welcome by all stakeholders and I applaud our universities for innovating in this territory but more must be done to harness this success and collaboration is key!

It is a complex landscape and for leaders thinking about the challenges discussed above, and in making these strategic moves/decisions, some assistance in analysing and evaluating the blockages, the enablers, the options and learning from good practice might be required.

Kim Ansell is managing consultant in the Consultancy team of the Leadership Foundation.  www.lfhe.ac.uk/consultancy  Additional research – Will Wade, research and policy analyst.

Leadership and management in Myanmar higher education

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Leadership Foundation working with higher education leaders in Myanmar in March 2017

Andy Shenstone director of consultancy at the Leadership Foundation reports on the British Council led project supporting higher education leaders in Myanmar. Which is part of a fundamental change programme that affects the entirety of  higher education in the South East Asian nation.

Higher education in Myanmar, like many of the country’s public services, is planning major reform under the new government. It’s seen as a high priority in a nation that, in higher education terms, languishes in the bottom group of “countries with a high incidence of pre-modern un-development” (Marginson). In preparation for this higher education revolution, the Leadership Foundation was recently commissioned by the British Council in Myanmar to produce a comprehensive needs analysis for higher education leadership training.

The new government has recently published a five-year National Education Sector Plan (2016-2021) which sets out a transformational agenda, priorities and approaches to education reform, including higher education.

Developing a more autonomous sector is a key feature of the government’s vision for sectoral reform. It encompasses consolidation of higher education policy under a single ministry, establishing autonomous national HEIs and regional HEIs with a faculty system, industry links, joint research programmes and opening up opportunities for private investment.

These plans would result in Myanmar’s higher education system undergoing a transformation that will create a wide range of significant demands upon, and challenges for, leaders in universities and ministry officials.

This is where the Leadership Foundation comes in. Working closely with the British Council we recently completed a comprehensive leadership training needs analysis. This focusses on the need to build leadership capacity and capability in a context of change that is both system-wide and institutional. Evidence gathering involved in-country consultation with ministry officials and 67 university leaders and a comprehensive survey of leaders in a further 60 Myanmar universities.

Our work has:

  • Ascertained the prioritised training and development requirements of the university leaders and key officials, requirements that fully reflected the policy context and objectives for system-wide reform.
  • Devised recommendations for a programme of work that would significantly contribute towards meeting these needs.
  • Set out an action plan for implementing the recommendations.

The leadership challenges are many and varied. At a system-level, transformation requires funding, quality assurance, institutional accountability, information management, planning and reporting. At the institutional level, there must be quality systems to drive improvement in research, teaching and assessment along with institutional strategy development, KPIs and delivery including ‘business’ planning.

Staff in the institutions need training and development in teaching and research skills, while managers need support with leading and managing change; motivational skills; stakeholder management with potential international partners; analysis and critical thinking; effective decision making; and communications skills.

It may seem like a challenging task but, in Myanmar, strong values underpin a spirit of cautious optimism and appetite for external engagement. An underlying ethos of service, combined with personal resilience, energy and enthusiasm, and a strong intellectual drive, augur well for the future of higher education in the country. It promises to be an exciting time of transformation in which UK higher education can play a crucially supportive role.

Andy Shenstone is the director of consultancy and business development, the Leadership Foundation has led or participated in projects in over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. www.lfhe.ac.uk/international


A future focus for higher education


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.


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 

The Brexit blogs: owning the grieving process

Master Photo

Cindy Vallance on the mood and leadership responsibilities after the referendum

Early on the morning that we learned the UK had voted to leave the European Union, I found myself reeling with the news. The first person I spoke to that day was the man who handed me a free newspaper to read on the train. He asked me, “What was the result?” When I told him, struggling to hold back my tears, his response was, “this changes everything.”

On my train journey, I was surrounded by a group of young teens on their way to school. Brexit was their only topic of conversation. Around me, commuters were glued to their mobile devices, plugged into news channels and early morning broadcasts, looking for answers in a world that had seemingly turned upside down.

I was on my way to a leadership programme session with a group of senior staff at one of the Leadership Foundation’s member universities. Travelling to the event, I asked myself, how can I possibly focus on the planned agenda and what will the group want? Will they even come to the session or will I find myself alone in the room?

I was unsure whether to be happy or disappointed when, one by one, the group members entered and sat down. There was a part of me that simply wanted to be left alone with my own thoughts, to grieve. Yes – to grieve. A strong word, a word we do not use lightly. However, when I asked the group how they wanted to spend our time together, one of the first comments a participant shared was “I feel as though I am grieving over something I have lost.”

Somehow, this acknowledgement helped set the stage in a positive way for the discussion that followed. Naming that feeling, naming grief and putting it boldly on the table, meant that we could all be honest and share our responses to the news in a very real way, opening the door for us to also work through other emotions.

Many will be familiar with this sequence of words: grief, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. It is from the grief cycle model developed in the 1960s by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross[1] to describe the process that terminally ill patients progress through when informed of their illness. Since that time many adaptations have been made to the original model and applied to the process that people go through when experiencing organisational change. Here’s just one example of a commonly used ‘Change Curve’[2]:

Change Curve

A positive outcome from that session on the day of the Brexit news was the common conviction expressed by those in the room that one of their leadership responsibilities is quite simply to be there for their staff and students as they work through their own emotions. Naming our feelings and allowing others to do so is a step we must take to work through what is, and will continue to be, a deeply emotional issue.

Cindy, is the Leadership Foundation’s Assistant Director, Membership. She liaises with higher education institutions in London and across the South and East of England developing relationships with our members, coordinating events and leadership development initiatives that support and complement individual institutions’ strategies and the higher education agenda.

[1] Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Macmillan

[2] The Change Curve,  is in our  Knowledge Bank resource,  a Leadership Foundation membership benefit.

Other sources of information

Kubler-Ross’s original book was On Death and Dying – here is the link to the more accessible version of the work: On Grief and Grieving.

A view from higher education using the same model: Seven stages of grief on the way to acceptance



How can universities enhance the strategic development of the academic portfolio?

woman conducting orchestra 

With the publication of a new report (Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes) on how universities manage the strategic development of the academic portfolio, Paul Coyle, i-MAP Director, considers some of the associated leadership and governance challenges.

What is i-MAP?

i-MAP stands for Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes. The i-MAP Project, first published in 2012, considered how universities develop their academic portfolio of taught undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Specifically it investigated whether universities might increase the number of new programmes that recruit a viable first cohort of students by adopting a more market-led approach. The i-MAP Study, conducted in 2014/15, is a follow-up to the original Project. The Study re-examined new programme development and also considered how universities mange the closure of academic provision.

How can leaders support portfolio development?

One of the main recommendations made by the Project was that new programme development should be a collaborative process, which enables the contributions of a variety of staff including academics and staff from finance, marketing, planning, quality, and student recruitment. Such a team-based approach can be successfully facilitated by a senior leader, at Pro Vice-Chancellor level or above, who can co-ordinate the work of the academics and professional support staff.

Those university leaders charged with managing this activity need to be skilled at facilitating shared decision-making, whilst also ensuring that difficult issues are faced and resolved.

Where are the challenges?

In 2014, the follow up Study found that universities were still reporting that a significant number of new programmes were failing to recruit a viable first cohort of students. Universities should note that the original Project recommendations remain valid, especially in a more competitive environment. The Study also found that there are significant challenges associated with the closure of programmes, particularly deciding how to deal with “the walking dead” i.e. programmes that had been suffering from on-going poor recruitment for many years.

Might there be an enhanced role for the Governing Body?

The Study found increasing interest from Governing Bodies in academic portfolio management and the connections to financial sustainability. Whilst members of Governing Bodies are unlikely to be involved in decisions about individual programmes, they might provide support for those universities who identified a need for better integration of academic and financial planning. The recently updated HE Code of Governance, published by the Committee of University Chairs, offers useful guidance, although ultimately, the role of the Governing Body is a matter for individual HEIs.

What next?

Both the report of the Project and the report of the Study are available for download. i-MAP consultancy services designed to support universities to implement the i-MAP recommendations are available, with the support of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. A network of interested individuals and organisations, who have participated in the Project and/or the Study, will continue discussions, share relevant information and case studies. New participants are welcome. Further information can be found at http://www.i-map.org.uk

Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes was launched at the Securing Student Recruitment by Managing the Academic Portfolio conference, today (30 September) and the Leadership Foundation chief executive Alison Johns opened the event. The study will be available on Thursday 1 October 2015 at http://www.i-map.org.uk/.

Paul Coyle is a leadership, innovation and change management consultant supporting the development of universities in Europe and the UK. He can be contacted at paul@profpaulcoyle.com

Alumni Leadership Journeys: Transition to Leadership

by Matthew Bellringer, Head of Platform Development, IT Services,
University of Sussex

As I write this I have just completed the Transition to Leadership programme, a new course which aims to give people taking on a leadership role a wide range of skills to effect positive change. Its focus is very much on leadership as opposed to management – relatively rare at this level – and which I found very valuable. It started by developing self-knowledge, putting that in the context of leading a team, and then using that to deliver change. The course took place both in-person and online, making good use of a newly-developed Virtual Learning Environment.

When I started the course I was not entirely sure what to expect as this was my first management-level training. Other attendees were from a wide range of Higher Education backgrounds though all at a similar level in their organisations and many facing similar challenges. The course started by developing an understanding our own leadership styles and how to lead with authenticity. It then moved on to the different preferences in working style possible within a team and strategies for effectively dealing with that. The course ended with how to use that information to deliver and manage change, and an investigation of personal and organisational resilience.

Throughout the in-person and online sessions there were opportunities to develop practical skills in support of the main topics. I was particularly interested in the idea of a coaching management style and we had the chance to put this into practice with peers throughout the course. My group got on really well, providing genuine insight into current issues, and I hope we will stay in touch in future. It was particularly valuable to be on both sides of the coaching sessions and I will use the approach with my team regularly.

Another of the practical aspects of the course was a collaborative project to deliver support materials for managers who need to implement change. This took place both in person and online and made use of asynchronous communication tools provided in the virtual learning environment. It was very valuable to me to see these technologies used in the real world and have some experience of working with a geographically disparate team.

The course facilitators, Jean Chandler and Stuart Hunt, were both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Their areas of expertise and teaching styles complemented each other well. We had some really fascinating classroom discussions and the whole thing very much felt like a collaborative learning experience. This was the very first time the course had been run and it’s testament to their expertise that it went so well. Based on the conversations about our feedback I expect future sessions to be even better.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course to someone starting out in leadership in their higher education institution. It’s given me some useful theoretical background and forward-looking practical skills with which I feel well placed to contribute to positive change within my institution.

This article is also published in the Engage, the Leadership Foundation’s online magazine.

For more information about Transition to Leadership go to http://www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl

No more heroes…? Leading engagement

Toy StoryDoug Parkin, programme director muses on whether our modern aversion to heroes means we are losing some ‘heroic’ qualities.

The “hero leader” has become an unpopular concept. The idea of a charismatic leader swooping in to solve an organisation’s problems, with a way of seeing things that no one else possesses, does not sit well with contemporary ideas of participation, empowerment and collaboration.

Current theories of leadership point us towards the servant leader, the quiet leader, the collaborative leader and the person who leads from behind. In complex organisational environments, in which success is multidimensional and a rich diversity of professional groups must work together, these participative approaches feel both attractive and appropriate.

In my work as a developer I have espoused and promoted them and will continue to do so for their merits are great in this age of accelerating change.  But does our modern aversion to heroes risk throwing out some important heroic qualities – the ability to appeal to the spirit, to generate interest and connectedness, and to create trust through courage?  Worse, are we making those qualities feel out of bounds?

Appealing to the spirit

Engagement is not merely an intellectual process and, when it is, it is likely to be short-lived.  People engage through their spirit as much as for intellectual or rational reasons, and the human spirit is both elusive and ineffable.  Some would say it should also be off-limits in a work context. But engaging the spirit is a heroic quality precisely because it is not “ordinary”.

The spirit is there wherever we find people engaged beyond mere contractual limits; it is either inspired by the work that we do and why we do it or is not. Inspired people are those who have invested their spirit in a cause, activity or undertaking. But it is difficult to be inspired when feeling hurt and, as most of us know, organisational change can cause a lot of pain and hurt, whether or not it is rational. And so, leading change is about both stopping the hurt and inspiring the heart.

Generating interest and connectedness

It is hard to be engaged by something that doesn’t interest you. Capturing people’s interest involves being interested in people, and that means caring enough to really listen to them.

John Lasseter the co-founder of Pixar says that “no amount of technology will make a bad story good”.  And Andrew Stanton, the lead writer for Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy and WALL-E, has the mantra “make me care” which he applies to storytelling.  We could equally apply it to leadership.  It is the “make me care” element that connects people to the organisation and the need for change.  And it is invariably human stories that make people care and inspires them to connect.  Stories that show a positive difference in the world that others want to write themselves into as the future unfolds – this is true vision.

But interest is not about manipulation.  Any successful negotiator knows that step one is to listen, step two is to find a connection and step three is to build a relationship around that connection. Leaders need to build narratives that are both sincere and sustainable.

Creating trust through courage

Trust walks in but rides away” is a great expression. Showing conviction is easy, maintaining conviction is hard, and holding on to conviction in the face of discouragement, adversity and pain requires courage – sometimes great courage.  But it is nevertheless this clarity and consistency that builds trust.  And, without trust, teams and organisations unravel: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together” (Bennis and Nanus, 1985).

One of the chief forms of courage that leaders can demonstrate – and this is another heroic quality – is honest communication. It is a challenge to engage with something that doesn’t make sense to you, or that requires a considerable act of faith and so connecting people with change involves, above all else, strong, clear and honest communication.

For engagement to occur, the project, initiative or transformation process has to make sense in terms that are meaningful to those involved.  They have to see the need, feel the urgency and believe in the vision. If there is a lack of communication and sense making, other voices will fill the void, perhaps with narratives that set a very different agenda to the one needed.  And so the communication, courageous in the first instance, also needs to be consistent and enduring. Trust will quickly “ride away” if the message about change keeps changing.

 “The land of the possible” is a happier place to be

Engagement – a spirited group of people with a shared purpose and/or interest – is about energy: the energy to connect, to commit and to contribute.  Each of us, individually and collectively, has a wide range of energy buttons waiting to be pressed and inspired, and while it is not necessarily the case that leaders can press them for us, they can certainly strive to create the conditions in which we start to press them for ourselves: through trust, through connectedness, through courageous communication and through stories and images that appeal to our spirit.

Above all else, what these heroic qualities enable leaders to achieve is moving people from the “land of the not possible” to the “land of the possible”.  This is not just important for organisational success and resilience in the face of change, but also because the “land of the possible” is simply a happier place to be.

Doug Parkin the programme director for the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme at the Leadership Foundation. He also runs a number of bespoke and core programmes, in addition to international projects. 

The next Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership takes place in Greater London in November.

Application Deadline: 10 November
Module 1: Wednesday 22 – Thursday 23 November
Module 2: Tuesday 30 – Wednesday 31 January
Location: Greater London

More Reading: The Heart of Change, Kotter & Cohen, 2002


Ensuring our leadership programmes succeed


Professor Paul Gentle, director of programmes at the Leadership Foundation responds to McKinsey’s Why leadership development programs fail  

An article in McKinsey Quarterly last year put forward four key reasons why leadership development programmes can fail. This has provoked interesting reflection at the Leadership Foundation and coincided with a year in which we have become particularly thoughtful about how our programmes meet the needs of leaders and managers in our higher education institutions. Here, I’ve turned the four key reasons for failure into four essentials which we take constantly into account when designing our programmes, whether for the open market or on a more tailored basis for specific institutions.

The first concerns the importance of context for participants on all our programmes. We don’t start with a blank sheet, and we certainly don’t work to a list of leadership competencies which we think need to be ‘taught’ on our programmes. Providing an environment of trust and collaboration in which thinking through one’s own leadership challenges in its real institutional setting is critical to the learning experiences we facilitate. In practice, this means stimulating thinking in participants through a combination of encounters with leaders from a range of organisations (both within and beyond the higher education sector) and peer discussion. Reflecting comparatively between institutions can be powerful in developing more profound understanding of one’s own context.

The second essential is about connecting to on-the-job learning. In line with androgogical good practice for student learning, the Leadership Foundation takes heed of the finding that only 10% of what is communicated in lectures is retained. The emphasis on our programmes is firmly on learning by doing, and linking planned actions by individual participants to their jobs is crucial. In many programmes, using an organisational project serves as a key vehicle for leadership learning. For example, on our new Executive Leaders programme, participants are expected to carry out an internal project which requires them to make contact and work with members of their institutional senior management team in order to gain practical insights into how they deliver on their strategic portfolios.

Thirdly, it’s important to address underlying assumptions affecting leaders’ behaviour. Whatever actions individuals may commit to in terms of changing what they do, there may well be factors which make them immune to actually changing (Kegan and Lahey, 2009). We encourage our participants to think about what they do in relation to the organisational culture of their institution, or the part of the institution which they can influence. Emphasising the greater significance of what leaders do, compared to what they say, is really important, and often overlooked in the volatile, pressured environment in which universities are operating. On the Strategic Leadership Programme, for instance, gaining deep understanding of the institutional culture, and how leaders contribute to this individually and collectively, is central to the programme design.

Finally, planning for impact is essential when designing programmes. We’re upfront about the fact that a programme cannot be a ‘silver bullet’ solution which will have a transformational effect in itself. Research shows that how individual participants and their institutions follow up on their learning from the programme links directly to the impact a programme will make. Ongoing dialogue is crucial, particularly with those who have an interest in the individual leader making changes happen. These might include direct reports and line managers who have provided feedback in a 360-degree appraisal process (often included in a Leadership Foundation programme). The Leadership Foundation has recognised the importance of keeping reflection and conversation alive in the months following the end of a programme, and the Programme Plus option is a good example of how this works. For a small fee, participants can choose to have ongoing phone conversations with one of our facilitators who will help to guide them in implementing actions and gathering evidence of their impact. Evidence shows that this is a powerful way of continuing to think about key learning points from a programme – and it can also lead to successful applications for Fellowship of the Leadership Foundation.

Designing in-house programmes for individual institutions involves putting all these essentials into practice, and works most effectively when it works in a spirit of partnership between the university or higher education college and the Leadership Foundation. We are uniquely well-placed to bring to bear our sector-wide knowledge and understanding of cultures and behaviours in the contemporary higher education context to meet the needs of institutions.

The ultimate aim of all our programmes is to make a difference to institutions, and the impact of each programme depends crucially on the learning experienced by individuals who take part. An open-minded disposition towards learning from and with others is likely to enhance benefits for the institution, particularly when the institution engages in dialogue about impact with those they have sponsored on programmes, both during and after the programme itself.

We are constantly refining our practices in all our programmes, and there is always work to do. Feedback from some participants on a recent open programme suggested that they perceived it as being too “facilitator-centric”; this led to further conversations with some respondents to learn more about what they would value in future, and we have now applied this to the design of the programme’s next run!

2015 promises to be another fast-paced and developmental year!

Professor Paul Gentle is director of programmes at the Leadership Foundation and his role includes managing and leading the Top Management Programme.