Lessons from a transformational leader

At our last ODHE meeting in February, we were lucky enough to hear from a transformational leader, Professor Bob Cryan, Vice-Chancellor of Huddersfield University. Prof Cryan was recently awarded The Guardian Inspiring Leader award, and his presentation certainly inspired me to reflect on some of his leadership philosophies.

People not structures: Prof Cryan spoke about how his focus is on the leadership in the University, not about its structures. In his time at the helm, he hasn’t changed anything structurally.  I find this remarkable when I think about the amount of structural changes happening in HE across the sector. I wouldn’t like to guess how much OD time is spent helping management teams plan and enact structural change, when much of it seems to be cyclical. Schools, Units and Faculties merge, only to be split again a few years later.

Simple hooks: Prof Cryan asks staff ‘What have you done to be inspiring, innovative, and international?’ By keeping things simple and memorable, the University can pare its desired staff behaviours down to three key elements. I think about the lengthy and generic values statements I come across, and I think, here too, there’s definite mileage in brevity and simplicity as Cindy referred to in her last blog post.

Never stop learning: Prof Cryan outlined his career-long learning approach, comprising top management programmes, postgraduate study, and even recently returning to undergraduate study to gain an understanding of the modern student experience. It made me reflect on how many leaders don’t prioritise and protect time for their own development. One of the challenges in my Institution is engaging academics in development who (often by virtue of their superb research skills) suddenly find themselves with management and leadership responsibilities. Having a senior leader model the way is admirable.

100%: Prof Cryan mentioned that he sets 100% targets “so that there’s nowhere to hide.” For example 100% of academics should research, 100% of academic staff are HEA Fellows etc. This made me reflect on whether my targets are ambitious enough. By aiming for 80% or 90% completion on tasks, or on satisfaction ratings, does this allow everyone to psychologically take their foot off the gas?

It can’t be easy to be a transformational leader, but I’ll be mindful of Prof Cryan’s approach and aim to factor it in to leadership discussion and thinking in my own Institution.

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Passport Renewal: An OD case study

Passport Renewal: An OD case study

One of the things we’ve been trying to do at the University of St Andrews is change the staff culture with regards to how people view CPD.

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Prior to 2011, although there were a range of courses and workshops offered freely to University staff, there were no structured development plans in place for different staff cohorts.  Data from the most recent staff survey suggested that managers lacked confidence and competence in tackling some aspects of their role.  There was also an indication that staff from different cohorts felt that the training on offer was often not fully relevant to their needs.  Human Resources had also reported that performance was not managed as well as it could be across the organisation.

The challenge was to develop an innovative range of development packages, designed to meet the learning needs and strategic goals of the organisation, and encourage staff to invest in their CPD.

The route-map

The desired outcome was to create a range of blended learning programmes, known as ‘Passports to Excellence’; Passport to Management Excellence, Passport to Administrative Excellence; Passport to Cleaning Excellence; Passport to Environment Excellence and (specifically for students) Passport to Professional Skills Excellence.

The aim of the passport programmes was to create a culture of learning throughout the organisation, and this was achieved through using the skills and expertise of staff and students to develop their colleagues. Workshops and courses are therefore delivered by University staff (academic and support) in addition to professional internal developers and external experts, with online resources also utilised. A Train the Trainers workshop was developed for to support those who were new to training colleagues. The diversity of the staff involved in the project was integral to creating an organisational sense of learning, which resulted in the successful outcomes now being observed.

The final destination

The passport programmes share a number of common objectives:

  • Enable staff to be confident and competent in their roles.
  • Enable staff to recognise they are part of wider groups across the organisation and encouraging them to work cross-functionally and build their own networks
  • Build on prior learning and knowledge.
  • Create a group of mentors and coaches to help develop less experienced staff in the future.
  • Construct a mechanism which can link to Q6 review and development scheme actions.
  • Equip participants with the skills they need in the modern workplace

There were also additional objectives specific to each passport programme, for example:

  • Passport to Management Excellence: To create a sense of a Management cohort within the Organisation.
  • Passport to Administrative Excellence: To share information about best practice across all School and Service Units, reducing ‘silo working.’
  • Passport to Cleaning Excellence: To achieve consistency of practice across the cleaning staff.
  • Passport to Environmental Excellence: To help achieve a carbon neutral University by 2016 through staff and student behaviour change.
  • Passport to Professional Skills Excellence: To increase the employability of students and add value to their student experience

The suitcase contents

Each passport comprises core and optional workshops, tailored to the development needs of each staff/student cohort. There are also opportunities built in to encourage independent learning and networking to increase cross-organisational information sharing and support. The learning is recorded in individual passports which forms a complete learning log for the participants.

This engages the staff involved in a learning journey symbolised through the metaphor of travel and collecting stamps in their passports (learning logs).  The metaphor is extended by sending postcards to participants with the latest news about their scheme.


The programmes have proven to be hugely successful in engaging 510 participants (plus waiting lists) within 18 months of the project launch. This includes a large number of participants who have long service in the organisation, yet who had never previously engaged voluntarily in any development activities.

  • Managers have reported behaviour change in themselves and their staff members.
  • Managers have reported increased feelings of competence and confidence in carrying out the roles, having participated in at least 12 core workshops, networking events and independent learning.
  • Students have reported increased confidence in applying for professional jobs and appreciate being able to enhance their CVs through participation.
  • Staff reporting that they have taken active steps to reduce energy consumption as a result of the Passport to Environmental Excellence.
  • Staff have reported success in applying for promoted posts which they partially attribute to participation in the Passport scheme.
  • The passport programmes have increased the learning and development ‘reach’ within the University. Many participants are engaging in voluntary training and development for the first time in their (often long) careers.
  • 54% increase in participation in learning and development events.
  • Increase in sharing of information across the Institution through the formation of linked networks.
  • A reduction on the reliance on external training consultants as more staff come forward to act as internal trainers.
  • A shift in the mind-set of staff members from seeing training and development as a sporadic activity, to one of continuous learning and development .
  • The passport programme has led to an increased sense of professionalism amongst staff in the University.

The success of this project has led to additional demands from staff groups for a Passport to Warden Excellence, Passport to Technical Excellence, and Passport to Catering Excellence which will be delivered in summer 2013.