Returning to …

Work? This does not feel like the right word as most staff are still working during the COVID-19 lock-down, albeit remotely, even though some are furloughed.

Campus?  This does not feel like the right word as we are likely to have a phased return to campus and it does not seem appropriate to make a distinction between the value of what is going to be achieved on campus and what will continue to be achieved remotely.

Normal?  This does not feel like the right word as not many people think that we will be returning to ‘normal’ as we knew it.  There are many others who would prefer not to return to ‘normal’ and see this period as the interruption to our ways of working, doing and being that the world needs.  There are just as many others who think that there may be a ‘new normal’, but we are not sure when we will arrive there.  Even the ‘new normal’ that we speak of at this moment is likely to be a transitional phase.

So, we need a new word to go with ‘returning to..’ and it will be interesting to discover what emerges when we press the ‘re-set’ button.

In the meantime, we are already planning ‘the return’ and some are remarking on how this time has helped us to really appreciate the value of human connection, of relationships and togetherness.  The irony of us really noticing the value of human connection when we have physically and geographically been apart is not lost on us.

Much is being discussed about how the ‘restart’ may happen; how it may be phased and how we reintegrate with those who may, in fact, have been working or living on campus through this period.  How we will manage the transition back. How we will learn to be together again – avoiding any friction, as some have remarked on how fractious relationships have been eased whilst working remotely.  And how we will be able to paradoxically mark our ‘re-connection’ within the boundaries of any social distancing.

The Higher Education sector, individual institutions and teams are discussing whether to host certain units, the first semester, or even parts of whole programmes online.  If we choose this route, what will be the impact on campus premium and how will we gain the most value from our campus spaces, many of which have been refurbished and regenerated in recent years?  Indeed, how could we use the campus differently for staff, students and community, all year-round?

Some are speaking of ‘recovery plans’ – but what will we be recovering, and from what may we be recovering?  Those who are resisting a return to the ‘old normal’ are hoping for a renewed culture, improved behaviours, and an opportunity to reconfigure working patterns.  We do not know when we may have such an opportunity to ‘recreate’ our organisations again.  How do we want to use this opportunity?

And how will people be feeling when they return?  Will they be suffering from ‘burnout’? How anxious may they be?  Will the reality of what they have just experienced hit them?  Will there be a turnover of staff who have re-evaluated their life? Speaking of the ‘human’ element that we mention above, we will certainly need to create time and space to process the emotional elements of our experiences; to acknowledge our losses and to deal with anxieties. And to reflect on our learning and what we may want to keep, lose, gain. How will we balance recognition of this as a time of innovation and change at the same time as being a time of grief and loss?

One thing is certain, the economic climate, financial challenges and other decisions that we make along this journey will mean that we will not be the same size, shape or makeup going out of the lock-down period as we were when we came in.  So, let us not just think about ‘keeping the show on the road’ but let us be curious about what we can do differently.

Some questions for us to ponder:

  • What are the first three things we will do when this period is over?
  • How will people be feeling when they return?
  • How will we avoid the rush back to normal afterwards?
  • There are lots of versions of the truth – success for one group may have come at a cost for another group – how will we create space for everyone to tell their story?
  • When is the right time to harvest the learning from this period?
  • What has this time given us?
  • What have we lost? What have we lost that we value?
  • How will we balance recognition of this as a time of innovation and change at the same time as being a time of grief and loss?
  • How can we use this time to break through the routines of the past?
  • If we could carry one thing that has been beneficial from this period forward, what would it be?
  • How might we use our campus spaces differently?
  • We do not know when we may have such an opportunity to ‘recreate’ our organisations again. How do we want to use this opportunity?
  • If this time has been the planet asking us to wake up, what will we do differently now?

Dr Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University, together with colleagues from the Learning from Disruption sessions that took place in April 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down:

Caroline Bryant, Regent’s University London; Lisa Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University; Bethany Hyman, Brunel University; David Wallace, Queen Mary University of London; Rosemary Benson, London Metropolitan University; Laura Brown, University of London; Simon Inger, University of Bath; Sophie Lovejoy, Organisational Development in Higher Education Network (ODHE); Daniela Bultoc, University College, London; Sam McVaigh, Manchester Metropolitan University; Lisa Anderson, University of Dundee; Sophie Sowerby, Durham University; Sara Corcoran, University of Sufffolk; Annette Robinson, Lancaster University; Susan Kane, University of York; Saire Jones, University of Westminster; Trudie Donnelly, University of Warwick; Ailbhe Lynch, City, University of London; Sarah Akhtar, Sheffield Hallam University; Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University

Previous blogs in this series:

What is Ours to Do?  1 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/01/what-is-ours-to-do/

Agility and other ‘…ities’ 5 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/05/agility-and-other-ities/

Communication and Compassion 9 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/09/communication-and-compassion/

The Well-Being Challenge 11 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/11/the-well-being-challenge/

 

The Well-Being Challenge

“Stay safe”, a now familiar sign off at the end of a telephone call or email, appeared early in the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and along with it came a new dimension for health, safety and well-being in organisations.  Around the time that this sign off was entering our vocabulary, a group of Organisational Development practitioners working in Higher Education came together to reflect on what we were learning from this disruptive period.  In this blog we share with you our experiences of the well-being challenge and pose some questions to consider.

Early in the lock-down period when people first began to work remotely, there were early signs of promise that this would herald a quieter time, time to stand back, take stock, catch up, take a breather.  Not perhaps for HR and IT departments who were busy supporting the transition to remote working, but many others saw this as an opportunity to work from home, saving time on a commute, with less meetings and interruptions, time to concentrate, to change pace and to achieve a more effective work-life balance.   Possibly the first week was like this for some.

What actually happened was that there was intensification around our ways of working.  We hurried to put things in place to work remotely, clearing offices and filling homes with work-related paraphernalia.  We quickly learned new technologies to support remote working.  School closures and home-schooling made work-life balance challenging for some.  Back-to-back virtual meetings introduced a different kind of ‘presenteeism’; virtual meeting overload led to headaches, backache, fatigue, and a dearth of meal or comfort breaks.  We had moved into survival mode.

We experienced a time of loss.  Some were grieving the loss of family, friends, and colleagues without their usual support structures around them.  Several organisations put new support in place for bereavement.  And some experienced a sense of loss of identity as they began furlough.   Debates about who should furlough now, who later, what that said about the value of their role, the impact on culture and the unknown legacy added another layer of anxiety. And the impact of this time on sector finance, personal finance and the economy more broadly brought with it cuts to budgets and the threat of redundancies.

In many ways the pandemic was declared at a helpful time; anxiety levels were high, and a long Easter weekend followed by a string of customary holidays in the UK served to provide a little respite.  Several institutions gave staff an additional day off attached to one of the long weekends and one institution gave every member of staff an additional five days holiday.

We swiftly moved to identify and bring together resources for staff to manage their well-being.  One university aptly labelled their resource portal ‘Remote Not Distant’.  In another university personal trainers from the sports department worked virtually with individuals to develop a support plan for the lock-down period.  Despite these efforts, there was concern that resources were superficial and that this was just putting a sticking plaster over a wound.  There was a sense that the longer-term mental health implications of this time could be far greater than we were providing for, and that no real assessment was taking place to check how the resources were perceived/used/valued.  Rather than accept these competing views, we crafted a question to bring these two dimensions together: How can we monitor engagement with, and the impact of, well-being resources to inform the support we will need to put in place for the longer term?

There have been encouraging stories of how leaders and managers have really valued and supported their people during this time and treated them as a ‘whole person’ rather than just an employee.  Experiences though have varied.  Some staff have spoken of being trusted to work from home; some have felt forgotten by their line manager and waited six weeks into lock-down before a catch up; others have spoken of being micro-managed with daily check-ins. One of our party asked:  How can we sensitively have conversations with line managers about their blind spots when they are struggling themselves?

Leaders and managers have been stretched as they wrestle with both remote working and remote leadership.  They have struggled with the best way to manage performance at this time; their levels of confidence in asking staff how much it is possible for them to achieve at home have varied according to their level of maturity as a line manager.  And they have concerns about the legacy of giving people a bit of grace to work or not work depending on what their circumstances allow; and how to motivate those who are slowing down.  Some have expressed concern that resistance to any form of flexible working may be futile in future now that people are demonstrating how it can work.  Several institutions put in place explicit well-being support for managers to assist them in managing staff in this new environment; to reassure that it was ‘OK to not be OK’ during a period of adjustment.   One institution provided 65 individual coaching sessions to managers in one single week early in the lock-down.

For some working at home has been a challenge.  Lack of space or technical equipment and home-schooling have stymied productivity.  Others who have been accustomed to some homeworking and used it as a time of focus and quiet concentration, or to flex the timing of their working day to suit their natural rhythms (or for practical reasons) have found this space interrupted by relentless meetings, sometimes called spontaneously on the day rather than with the traditional lead time.  We asked: How can we best balance the benefits of homeworking with the expectations of a traditional workday to maximise work and personal performance?

Some have been surprised and delighted by the benefits of: a lack of commute; more time for work or leisure; no travel costs; advantages for the environment; and the sheer joy of being at home more. Such benefits have encouraged them to rethink their way of life.  Similarly, many of those on furlough have been pleased to spend time doing things that they have longed to find time to do.  In fact, some have reported that they do not wish to return to the relentless way of life that they were living before the lockdown. Others are concerned that we may lose talent as people decide that they no longer want to live and work as they did before.  In many organisations more female workers work part-time than males; we wondered what may happen to the gender pay gap if males decide that they prefer to change the pace of life and opt for part-time work?

We noticed that some people were really ‘stepping up’ at this time, demonstrating skills and strengths that may have previously gone un-noticed.  At first, we thought that this might be a good time to spot talent that has gone under the radar.  However, we quickly realised that not everyone is able to ‘step up’ even if they want to, due to the challenges already outlined above.  This brings issues of fairness, equality, and equity into sharp focus.  We tussled with ideas about how to recognise contributions during this period.  Should we recognise those who have struggled as well as those who have shone, or would this be patronising and unwelcome?  How can we recognise the contributions and diversity of staff experiences working remotely in a way that is fair?  Should we even hold staff award ceremonies this year?

We started this blog with ‘stay safe’, a now familiar sign off at the end of a meeting or message.  An already familiar greeting when we meet someone has long been ‘how are you?’  This time has taught us that we may never really have meant it in the way that we mean it today; when we say ‘how are you?’ today, what we really mean is ‘how are you – really?’  And nowadays we seem find it easier to share how we really are.  So maybe something that this time has taught us is how to open-up, to be honest, to share and discuss feelings and emotions, and to tap into the fantastic well-being resources and services that universities have developed over recent years.

At last, the door has been opened to ‘really’ address the well-being challenge in our organisations, in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Some questions to ponder:

  • How are you – really?
  • How can we monitor engagement with, and the impact of, well-being resources to inform the support we will need to put in place for the longer term?
  • How can we sensitively have conversations with line managers about their blind spots when they are struggling themselves?
  • How can we best balance the benefits of homeworking with the expectations of a traditional workday to maximise work and personal performance?
  • In many organisations more female workers work part-time than males; what may happen to the gender pay gap if males decide they prefer to change the pace of life and opt for part-time work?
  • How can we recognise the contributions and diversity of staff experiences working remotely in ways that are fair?

Dr Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University, together with colleagues from the Learning from Disruption sessions that took place in April 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down:

Caroline Bryant, Regent’s University London; Lisa Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University; Bethany Hyman, Brunel University; David Wallace, Queen Mary University of London; Rosemary Benson, London Metropolitan University; Laura Brown, University of London; Simon Inger, University of Bath; Sophie Lovejoy, Organisational Development in Higher Education Network (ODHE); Daniela Bultoc, University College, London; Sam McVaigh, Manchester Metropolitan University; Lisa Anderson, University of Dundee; Sophie Sowerby, Durham University; Sara Corcoran, University of Sufffolk; Annette Robinson, Lancaster University; Susan Kane, University of York; Saire Jones, University of Westminster; Trudie Donnelly, University of Warwick; Ailbhe Lynch, City, University of London; Sarah Akhtar, Sheffield Hallam University; Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University

Previous blogs:

What is Ours to Do?  1 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/01/what-is-ours-to-do/

Agility and other ‘…ities’ 5 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/05/agility-and-other-ities/

Communication and Compassion 9 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/09/communication-and-compassion/

Communication and Compassion

Early in the COVID-19 lock-down a group of Organisational Development practitioners working in Higher Education came together to collectively notice and reflect on what we were learning from this disruptive period.  At a time when the sector had moved swiftly to remote working and online learning environments, we identified several ‘shifts’ in our communications.  These examples are, perhaps, helpful nudges towards things that we may choose to alter or sustain in the future.

Informal and enjoyable

Suddenly, communicating at work has become informal.  Seeing people in their home environment, wearing a tee-shirt instead of a suit, the kind of books that they have on their bookshelves, their taste in wallpaper or art, all conspire to create a more informal environment in which to ‘do business’.  In some cases, children slip into the room and, whilst parents seem embarrassed and move to discourage the ‘meeting bomber’, others appear to enjoy the interruption.  All these examples remind us that we are real people, with real families, with lives outside the organisation – a real connection of human to human, instead of role to role.

We have found ways to enjoy communicating online.  Virtual coffee breaks have replaced spontaneous office banter; and starting a virtual team meeting with a quiz has helped people to feel more comfortable adapting to online environments.  Time and again those inclined to introversion have shared how much they prefer being able to turn off the video and to contribute to a meeting via ‘chat’ rather than having to speak up – and how much they have welcomed not having to engage in ‘small talk’ in the corridor, or at the start of a meeting.

Belonging and bumping

Many universities moved swiftly to engender a sense of belonging for staff joining during the lock-down, moving to a revised model for induction with onboarding taking place online.  And we grappled with ways to celebrate and recognise with dignity the contribution of those who had belonged to the organisation for some time and who were leaving and retiring during the lock-down.

Less positively, people who joined just before the lockdown have described how the ‘rug was pulled from underneath them’ as they did not have an established network in the organisation and were now working in isolation.  Yes, buddies and line managers have been supportive, but they do not replace building relationships with the wider organisation.  We recognised the value of ‘just bumping into people’ on campus, informally or in a more formal setting, making connections, discovering common ground, discussing experiences, seeking inspiration, and constructing networks.  As time goes on it will be interesting to discover how we create something akin to ‘bumping into someone’, but in a virtual space.

Timely and imperfect

Several commented on the necessary speed of communications, for example to keep pace with daily advice from government.  Interestingly those institutions described their communication as ‘more effective than usual’.  When we examined what this meant we noticed how the need for speed in communication eclipsed the need for perfection.  The usual mode for business communication has been several drafts, approvals and sign off, with each stage losing just a little of the purpose and the passion along the way.  This new way of communicating has been timely, relevant, just a little ‘rough around the edges’, but more authentic because of that – and ‘nothing bad has happened’ because of ‘less than perfect comm’s’.

Corporate yet compassionate

Sydney J. Harris, an American journalist, once said “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things.  Information is giving out; communication is getting through.’

Often corporate communications are sent with the best of intent; however, they can be characteristically ‘one-way’.  It is not always clear if corporate communications reach their anticipated audience, and it seems that the ‘checks and balances’ that go into sending the communication are not followed through to check how it has been received and interpreted.

We explored the evidence that communication in several universities had ‘landed well’; we knew because, even though their staff were working remotely, they were bothering to give feedback on how they appreciated the corporate communications.  This stopped us in our tracks – what was it that meant that the communications were ‘getting through’?

When we looked further, we noticed that senior leaders were communicating with compassion.  By this we mean that the business messages were still there, but they included a more human touch, empathy even, acknowledging what was like to be working at home with the rest of the family,  how the writer was also wrestling with home-schooling, and in one example how they were finishing work a little earlier to play football with their son.

Along with the corporate message and the empathy, we detected a desire to ‘alleviate the pain’ of these challenging times.  For example, at least three institutions had included in their corporate communications explicit encouragement for staff to balance their home and work life; to flex their time; to focus on their family; to take regular breaks. This permission to ‘take the foot off the pedal’ now and again, the indication that people were entrusted to do their best, to both work and to balance their lives, were received well and welcomed at such a difficult time.

The author Shannon L. Alder said, ‘One of the most important things you can on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.’  This was the success of these communications – a measure of compassion, a sense of community and being in it together, and real desire to minimise discomfort.  In one university, students posted on social media some heart-warming memes based on the person who was sending the communications. The memes demonstrated how they felt protected and uplifted by the person sending the corporate messages.  That is a sentence I did not expect to write in a blog about business communication!

Not every example was completely uplifting though.  We found instances where staff had been encouraged to take care, to balance their work and home life, but the rhetoric and the reality were disconnected.  The messaging was well intended, however forthcoming deadlines were not changed to accommodate the work-life balance that was being encouraged.

This example led to further insight about the complexity of communication.  A decision may be well-intended, wise even.  However, communicated in isolation it is only information and the likelihood of ‘getting through’ is limited.  To increase its power, we observed the need to situate the information as part of a broader organisational story – not just this is what we are doing about ‘x’, but how it fits within the wider picture, how it impacts on ‘y’.  Add to this a dose of compassion – the tone of the message, acknowledgement of how it will affect the person, with a desire to alleviate or accommodate anything unsettling.  And think of pressing ‘send’ on the message as ‘the beginning’ and not ‘the end’, building in some checks and balances on how the message is received and interpreted.  Then we achieve the credential for communication with compassion, and a very real prospect of the message ‘getting through’.

We end this blog with only one question:

  • How can we more effectively incorporate and demonstrate compassion throughout our business communications to ensure that we are ‘getting through’?

Dr Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University, together with colleagues from the Learning from Disruption sessions that took place in April 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down:

Caroline Bryant, Regent’s University London; Lisa Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University; Bethany Hyman, Brunel University; David Wallace, Queen Mary University of London; Rosemary Benson, London Metropolitan University; Laura Brown, University of London; Simon Inger, University of Bath; Sophie Lovejoy, Organisational Development in Higher Education Network (ODHE); Daniela Bultoc, University College, London; Sam McVaigh, Manchester Metropolitan University; Lisa Anderson, University of Dundee; Sophie Sowerby, Durham University; Sara Corcoran, University of Sufffolk; Annette Robinson, Lancaster University; Susan Kane, University of York; Saire Jones, University of Westminster; Trudie Donnelly, University of Warwick; Ailbhe Lynch, City, University of London; Sarah Akhtar, Sheffield Hallam University; Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University

Previous blogs:

What is Ours to Do?  1 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/01/what-is-ours-to-do/

Agility and other ‘…ities’ 5 June 2020

https://odhenetwork.co.uk/2020/06/05/agility-and-other-ities/

Look out for the next Blog in the series…

Agility and other ‘…ities’

Agility – a term that we use mostly to describe the power that we feel and the impact that we have when we move quickly and with ease.  Those of us who work in universities may aspire to agility, however it is not a word that we typically use to describe the ways that universities operate.

All of this changed in the spring of 2020 though.  In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down, the sector surprised itself as it moved swiftly to remote working.   Suddenly activities that could only be undertaken on campus (such as payroll) could just as efficiently be managed at someone’s dining room table – all we needed to add to a secure IT infrastructure was a laptop.  Those who had been reluctant, no even resistant, to move to online learning environments, suddenly found themselves hosting lectures, seminars and tutorials on any one of a number of different virtual platforms, from a standing start in less than ten days.

Lengthy committee meetings, usually reserved for round-table face-to-face discussions on the top floor of a campus building found themselves operating more efficiently as they also moved to virtual platforms, with shorter meetings, quicker decision making and less paperwork.  Attendance at development sessions increased as they moved online.  One institution marvelled at how 100% of invited academics attended a development session on hosting online learning environments – and that meant 90 people; they would have struggled to engage them before – relevance, timeliness and ease of access of course contributed to this.  Very quickly, instead of cancelling conferences and events, decisions were made to host them online, even for large numbers and traditionally tricky audiences.  Where did that quiet confidence emerge from?

A couple of months on and the examples above do not seem as incredible to us as they did a few weeks ago when we first shared these examples – already many are becoming more comfortable with the idea of remote working; relishing the lack of a long commute to work and celebrating the benefits to the environment as we travel only from the breakfast table to the back bedroom to commence our working day.

During April 2020, a small group of Organisational Development practitioners, working in HE, paused to reflect on this new-found agility to consider what we could learn from it. We were amazed at the number of examples of agility that that we shared; how we and our organisations have implemented with speed the actions above that we have struggled to implement in the past, despite strategies, objectives, committees etc conscientiously attending to their likelihood.   This led us to consider not just our agility, but the possibility that it brings us – and a whole range of other ‘…ities’ too.

Sustainability.  Our new-found agility is welcome, long over-due and our natural inclination has been to think about how we can sustain it.

Fragility.  We appreciate that our response up to this point has been ‘fight or flight’, a rush of adrenaline triggered by a crisis.  We acknowledge that whilst for some this has been a highly motivating time; this has been an incredibly stressful time for many.  The fragility of our agility is noted and needs to be recognised – we look at well-being in another blog in this series.

Flexibility.  Just because many (not all) are finding that working remotely suits them and we have, in many cases, been able to mobilise the technology to support it, it does not mean that we have found the answer to agile working.   We have just found more flexibility for the ways that we work.

Quality.  Just because we have moved our development programmes and teaching programmes online quickly, does not mean that the content is quality; that the learning experience is quality; or that the output will be quality.  A more sophisticated approach to pedagogy and andragogy is required.

Stability.  Aghina, De Smet and Weerda (2015) wrote a great article: ‘Agility: It rhymes with stability’.  They challenge us to recognise that agility and stability are necessary partners, as anything agile needs to be underpinned by strong foundations to be sustainable.

We came to notice then, as Pearl Zhu says, that in this context “Agile is more a ‘direction’, than an ‘end’, a philosophy and mindset”.  So, let us consider then our final set of ‘…ities’.

Positivity.  Responsibility. Transfer-ability.  We considered how we can harness the positivity and momentum gained during this period.  To consider our responsibility to ourselves and to others to create an environment where we can pause, notice, acknowledge what we have achieved, what we have started, what we have stopped, where we have increased momentum and to identify evidence of the features and enablers.  And thus, to harness some transfer-ability from this new-found agility, we pose some questions for us to ponder.

  • What have we learned that really matters? What have we stripped away?  Do we really need it?
  • What have we done that is innovative for staff and/or students? Where are we creating space to reflect on this learning and the enablers so that we can build value for the future?
  • How can we harness the positivity and momentum from the early part of the lock-down and use it to take other work forward?
  • How do we use this as an opportunity to work with blind spots…? Remember when we said that X could not be done, and yet how we moved to it with flexibility and agility and speed at this tricky time rather than trying to accommodate all the wrinkles…how do we recreate the momentum that we have had in this crisis when things start to return to ‘normal’?
  • How can we re-create the ‘burning platform’ that COVID-19 has given us in quieter times to ensure that we keep the momentum and agility that we have demonstrated here?
  • What are we unlearning?
  • What stories will we tell about this time?  What we learned, kept, shared, prioritised, how ready we were (or not)…?

Dr Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University, together with colleagues from the Learning from Disruption sessions that took place in April 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down:

Caroline Bryant, Regent’s University London; Lisa Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University; Bethany Hyman, Brunel University; David Wallace, Queen Mary University of London; Rosemary Benson, London Metropolitan University; Laura Brown, University of London; Simon Inger, University of Bath; Sophie Lovejoy, Organisational Development in Higher Education Network (ODHE); Daniela Bultoc, University College, London; Sam McVaigh, Manchester Metropolitan University; Lisa Anderson, University of Dundee; Sophie Sowerby, Durham University; Sara Corcoran, University of Sufffolk; Annette Robinson, Lancaster University; Susan Kane, University of York; Saire Jones, University of Westminster; Trudie Donnelly, University of Warwick; Ailbhe Lynch, City, University of London; Sarah Akhtar, Sheffield Hallam University; Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University

Previous blog: What is Ours to Do?  1 June 2020

Look out for the next Blog in the series…

References:

Aghina, W., De Smet, A. & Weerda, K. (2015) Agility: It rhymes with stability, McKinsey Quarterly,

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/agility-it-rhymes-with-stability [Accessed 31/05/20]

Pearl Zhu is the author of ‘Digitizing Boardroom’ and many other books  https://pearlzhu.com/

What is Ours to Do?

Before we look at what is ours to do, we first need to think about what is Organisational Development (OD) in this context?  I think of it as connecting organisational strategy, policy, process, people, and their development in order that organisations thrive through their people and culture.  When we think of it like this then OD is everyone’s responsibility.  However, structurally it is often situated in HR&OD departments, maybe because of the focus on people and because roles in these departments have the benefit of working holistically across the organisation with a clear line of sight across the connects and disconnects.  However, other roles and responsibilities can also have the advantage of this line of sight: leadership roles, those working on strategy or projects, coaches and business analysts for example.

In our community of OD practitioners across the UK, OD is conceived of differently in different organisations and our responsibilities and intended outcomes can vary.  However, some of what connects us is our ability to see what is disconnected, the skills that we have developed, and our passion for people and culture.

In our recent conversations on learning from the first few weeks of the disruptive period of the COVID-19 pandemic we paused to think of ourselves as ‘an instrument’ in the organisation, noting that where we added value before the pandemic may not be where we need to be adding value now. This does not negate what went before, or what may come afterwards.  However, as with OD generally it is about seizing opportunities – not in a responsive way, but with a recognition of something that would add value to the organisation is now at its most appropriate point.  I often think of this as an idea, action, or initiative whose ‘moment has arrived’.  We also noted how we are missing the opportunistic conversations that we have as we move across campus, that help us to connect and smooth and even disrupt, all key to the ways in which we undertake our roles.

Some are leading teams who are feeling ‘unhinged’ because the things that they had been working on before the pandemic do not have the same imperative during this crisis.  We recognise that it does not mean that just because something that was important before is not important now, it just means that ‘its moment has shifted’ and in many cases is likely to return later.  This helps us to recognise our role as supporting and encouraging our teams not to ‘create unnecessary noise’, inviting them to ‘let go’ and to support them in their transition to reflecting on how and where they can best add value at this time.

In our discussions this prompted us to ask: What are people seeing when they look at OD practitioners at this time? And who do we want people to see when they look at us?    It also begged the question who do others want or need us to be?

In turn this encouraged us think about ‘what is ours to do’ and how we can use our skills, abilities, opportunities, and insights to add the best value.  Whilst some of our colleagues are ‘head down’ in the urgent, immediate, operational challenges of moving to remote working, furlough etc, some of us have the advantage of being able to take a ‘helicopter’ view of what is going on, what we can learn from it, what we can contribute and how we can add value – and that is what prompted many of us to join this discussion.

Rumi, the Persian poet once said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”.   We discussed the role of OD as ‘awareness agents’ and not as ‘change agents’, here to build great organisations

We saw then our role as making time for learning, for sense-making, carving out time to be reflective in the midst of a huge operational brief, the need to pause and take a helicopter view of what is going on and to move into ‘big thinking’ space.   We saw also that we need to be interrupting the thinking of others who are also caught up in the urgent, immediate and operational, who should perhaps now be extracting themselves to think more into the medium and long term – after all if we and they are not doing this, then who is?  It made us think what are the questions we should be asking of others?

We were prompted to challenge and stretch our minds to think about who we could be in this space and who others may need us to be.  And that who they need us to be is not necessarily the same as who they want us to be. Yes, that feels a little scary.  May Sarton, the Belgian-American poet said: “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”

So, we developed a series of questions.  Let us find just ten minutes a day to think about how we respond to one or more of these questions, or maybe discuss it with others. Then capture it, commit to it, and make some use of it this week.

  • What am I noticing at this time?  What can I learn from it?
  • What are people seeing when they look at OD practitioners during this time?
  • What do I want them to see?
  • Who do I need to be?  Who do people need me to be?
  • How does this shift my purpose? My contribution?
  • How do I use myself as an instrument?
  • What new personal and work practices can help me?
  • How do I increase my powers of ‘noticing’? How shall I use this to look for new ways of doing and adapting?
  • When and where am I creating space for others to think past the urgent, immediate, operational?
  • What story would I like to tell about this time?

Look out for the next blog in this series.

Dr Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University, together with colleagues from the Learning from Disruption sessions that took place in April 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down:

Caroline Bryant, Regent’s University London; Lisa Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University; Bethany Hyman, Brunel University; David Wallace, Queen Mary University of London; Rosemary Benson, London Metropolitan University; Laura Brown, University of London; Simon Inger, University of Bath; Sophie Lovejoy, Organisational Development in Higher Education Network (ODHE); Daniela Bultoc, University College, London; Sam McVaigh, Manchester Metropolitan University; Lisa Anderson, University of Dundee; Sophie Sowerby, Durham University; Sara Corcoran, University of Suffolk; Annette Robinson, Lancaster University; Susan Kane, University of York; Saire Jones, University of Westminster; Trudie Donnelly, University of Warwick; Ailbhe Lynch, City, University of London; Sarah Akhtar, Sheffield Hallam University; Colleen Harding, Bournemouth University.

What is OD?

Organisational development (OD) is a deliberately planned effort to increase an organization’s relevance and viability. Vasudevan has referred to OD as, future readiness to meet change, thus a systemic learning and development strategy intended to change the basics of beliefs, attitudes and relevance of values, and structure of the current organization to better absorb disruptive technologies, shrinking or exploding market opportunities and ensuing challenges and chaos. OD is the framework for a change process designed to lead to desirable positive impact to all stakeholders and the environment. OD can design interventions with application of several multidisciplinary methods and research besides traditional OD approaches. Wikipedia

OD is work that focuses on how an organisation functions. In essence, organisational development in higher education is about helping the HEI to harness more of its collective talents in order to succeed in its various joint endeavours: enhancing the quality of the student experience; supporting and directing the expansion and extension of the field of human knowledge and understanding; or establishing thriving enterprise ventures. The benefits from OD actions can be described in terms of an organisation’s capacity to learn and change.

Still iPaddling (but up to my knees, now)

By Simon Inger, University of Bath

My daughter started secondary school this year. They all get iPads, at her gleamingly new, large comprehensive. Parents pay for them, on some scale of affordability so that everyone in a not-very-affluent catchment can join in, but basically everyone has one, and they use them in every subject, home and away. This has significantly changed the IT dynamic in a home that has been slow to build up its collection of devices, has parents that don’t do popular culture, and has very poor internet access.  Despite rural broadband, Minecraft has arrived.

I’ve also watched a change in the ODHE group since those days of Bex and the digital literacy project. For newer members, this was a project in which an expert came to our meetings for a couple of years and tried to help us understand and adopt digital ways of working. Small steps, little at a time, to get with the century. I still remember the debate at Storrs Hall in 2012; a very few members were using mobile devices, mostly laptops, and there was a strong majority feeling that paying attention to screens was disrespectful, that it signalled a lack of attention and involvement.  Doing your emails in a conference session was considered rudest, but there were even scowls of disapproval when a group looked up something that had been mentioned in the discussion, found something amusing and were stifling guffaws. One member was playing chess against a distant Bulgarian. But even then, people were starting to compare such behaviour with more traditional forms of disengagement like doodling and reading, or gazing out over the lake. Who were we, they said, to moralise about e-doodling?

Now we know, of course, that students are arriving in lectures with screens on the go, accessing multiple channels, and it’s normal, it’s the way life is and it’s our academics who have to deal with it.

So fast forward – no, you don’t need to fast forward any more, you can just swipe the slider – to an ODHE meeting in the Midlands somewhere. I walked in before the SIG to find a smattering of colleagues sitting around, mostly separated by several metres, mostly interacting with a screen. Oh, I thought, so we’ve all travelled from around the land for an opportunity to talk to people we rarely meet, for stimulation and enrichment, and actually the screen is more tempting. How far we’ve travelled indeed. I confess to being a bit depressed, but mostly because I didn’t have the techie know-how to send a mischievous message to them all saying “Hi, I’m the one standing by the door in the blue jumper.”

Douglas Adams said this about technology:

1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.  2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.  3) Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.

For me it’s social networks that count under (3). Everything else is evolution (video games, the internet itself, music technology).  I still don’t really get it, why “likes” and “friends” are considered a better measure of status than actually having a bank account, for example.

But remember what Cliff Oswick was saying at the Glasgow meeting; organisations of the future will be more like networks than hierarchies.  People who aspire to lead, manage and transform organisations (that’s us) need to understand and work with that. It struck me only yesterday that even as we put more structure onto our academic endeavour, with management systems, QA frameworks and performance reviews, the world is moving towards what the most traditional academic would recognise and call “collegiate.”  People who talk to each other making things up as they go along to fit the needs of the moment. Sorry, I mean whole-system co-created emergent strategy. With agility.

Buzzword bingo aside, this is what has crept up on me as we’ve changed our digital practice in the OD community.  We work with connections, it’s axiomatic to the OD philosophy, but do we understand well enough how to do that when many of the connections are down a cable? What, in a nutshell, does a University fit for the 21st century look like, and what are we doing to build one?

Kids of today, eh? What are they going to expect of us when they become staff in HE?

Answers on a postcard…

———————————

You can read a bit more about my daughter’s school in the first part of this article; she does the orchids too (“Cool Asia” section; which catches the zeitgeist on the back of a hoodie better than “Cool Britannia”.)

http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30913711

Talent Development – Defining, Identifying and Supporting

In the July 2014 issue of the Leadership Foundation’s publication Engage, Linda Amor and I have published part one of an article on the ways in which we are approaching the challenges of talent development at Bournemouth University.  We have set out to find answers to the following questions:

How do/should we

  • define ‘talent’?
  • identify ‘talent’?
  • support existing ‘talent’?
  • support future ‘talent’?
  • retain ‘talent’?

In this article we highlight just some of the literature that has informed our thinking and explain the steps that we are taking in order to identify the organisation’s response to the questions raised above. We intend to provide a second article in 2015 which will include a report and evaluation of the activities, how the organisation has responded to the five questions raised, and how those responses are influencing our practice.  Please see the article at the link below and read on to find out how you can become involved.

http://www.lfhe.ac.uk/en/research-resources/publications/engage-35–summer-2014/in-practice/index.cfm

A full evaluation of the BU activities will commence at the start of 2014/15 and we will summarise our findings in a second article for Engage. We encourage those who have read this article, who are also working on developing talent within their organisation, to contact Linda and I to share your stories in order that we can also feature some of your approaches in the next article.  Or please feel free to share some of your experiences below and we will contact you!

Best wishes

Colleen

On Academic Writing – from Professor Matthew Bennett

Blog 1 September 2014

 

Hi ODHE Bloggers – you may remember Professor Matthew Bennett who joined us at ODHE in Bournemouth in May.  He is conducting some research into how academics write and I thought that you may be (i) interested in this if you write academic articles yourself and (ii) might know of academics who would be interested in becoming involved in the research.  Please see the call for participants below and forward it to anyone who you think might be interested.

Best wishes

Colleen

On Academic Writing – from Professor Matthew Bennett

 

Writing is not easy, yet academics must write.  Communicating your research and ideas to your peers through writing is an essential part of an academic career, you may be doing brilliant research, you may be a fantastic speaker or teacher, but if you can’t express your ideas through the written word your career may flounder.  Writing lies at the heart of research.  There are no quick solutions, fixes or dodges and I don’t profess to have any, but I am interested in the process of writing and seek your help in exploring this.

 

The importance of writing is no great news and if you are like me dyslexic and find the challenge of writing exactly that, a challenge, then what can you do?  We all have different approaches to writing – our own coping strategies if you like – that allow us to get the words on the page, the thoughts and ideas clarified and expressed.  It is an intensely personal process and what works for me is unlikely to work for you. 

 

So what does works for you?  How do you go about writing that difficult piece of prose? 

 

Have a think while I share what works for me. 

 

How I write

Ideas often flow better for me from conversation, but as an introvert I don’t have much time for conversation!  So I talk to myself, mentally rehearsing what needs to be said, framing initial ideas and nebulous arguments.  I can be seen on the walk to work deep in thought, in fact deep in silent conversation, and not always silent to the amusement of those that walk their dogs in the park I cross each day! 

 

These silent conversations shape my initial draft, since when I sit down to write I am simply noting down the conversation.  I then refine this early draft picking out and questioning the logic, developing the argument as I craft iteratively the text before me.  For me writing is therefore a process of constant refinement, iteration and clarification as my ideas and argument take shape in the words that I write. 

 

It’s different for everyone

Others work differently I know, my mother for example who is a retired academic talked to me recently of how she used to coin a statement, or phrase, something elegant and clever that she then picked at to see if it was true, forming her argument in light of it.  For others it is all about the research question that is being posed and I know that some of my colleagues believe that all your ideas should be formed and in sharp focus before you start to write.  It is a bit like having a beautiful artefact that they can see in their mind’s eye, which simply needs to be described.  I cannot write like this and my approach is more akin to that of Stephen King who, in his wonderful book On Writing, describes the process of writing as the excavation of a fossil with the story slowly emerging from the ground with work and care.  No one way of writing is any better than any other and each may have their own particular style and this may also vary across discipline boundaries which leads to my basic question how do you approach the process of writing?

 

It is this question that intrigues me, a question that I would like to explore for its own sake but also perhaps because it might amuse me in time to write about it in a book or paper. 

 

So what do I need, to help me explore this idea?

 

Getting involved

Well I need the help from my fellow academics, not just geoscientists like myself but social scientists, chemists, historians and engineers.  I am interested to know what helps you to write – a short email with ‘a brain dump’, a couple of paragraphs or a list of bullet points is all I need with your own reflections on how you approach the task of writing.  If you are not an academic but write a lot as part of your profession then drop me a line as well.  In return I will reflect on how I can best summarise, or collate your collective ideas, to play them back to the academic community in ways that would be useful. 

 

So going back to the questions posed earlier – how do you write?  In framing your response it might help to reflect on the following questions, whilst also adding anything else that you feel it would be relevant for me to know.

 

How do you approach your academic writing?  Describe for me the process by which you shape your ideas and craft your prose from conception to completion of a piece, whether it is a journal article, a book or a chapter.

 

What is the most challenging part for you?  And how do you overcome this?

 

Where do you like to write?  Can you write anywhere – on the plane, train or in a stolen five minutes, or do you need a block of time and a quiet place, or a noisy coffee shop?

 

Do you write for a specific audience and journal or in a more generic way formatting once written for a particular journal?  Does this vary depending on the piece?  Do you always know where something is to be submitted before you start?  What in truth guides your choice – clinical analysis, convenience or simply the tradition in your discipline?

 

How do you write collaboratively?  Do you take the lead, or do you write truly by committee?

 

How much are you influenced by the norms of your discipline – and what is your discipline?

 

These are the types of thing I am interested in, I am trying not to be prescriptive and all I ask is that after some reflection you open up an email, insert my address – mbennett@bmth.ac.uk – and write to me something about how you write!  I will respond asking you to sign a consent form and with further details of the study and I promise to preserve your anonymity at all times, unless you specifically state that you are happy to be acknowledged.  Thank you.