On-boarding coaching: the positive difference

By Karen Carter, University of Gloucestershire, Organisational Change and People Development Manager

We piloted on-boarding coaching earlier this year, with four members of staff who had been newly appointed or newly promoted to senior management roles. We started to consider this following feedback from some participants on our senior development programme (that was initiated and rolled out last Autumn), that they would have found coaching at the entry point to their roles particularly helpful.

We know that joining organisations at a management or executive level is a demanding experience, both for the individual & the organisation. This is all the more so when the organisation is also undergoing rapid change. Further exploration reveals that the failure rate of executives in UK organisations is rarely a failing in the hiring process, but more commonly a failure to recognise the difficulty of joining and leading in a new organisation.

Our pilot participants included a Head of School, a Head of Institute, a Dean of Quality and Standards and a Subject Group Leader. The intervention consists of a one and a half hour coaching session with an external coach within the first four to six weeks of starting, that helps with orientation, includes a health check on how the person is getting on, and sets a plan for the coming months. Some participants chose to have one or two further coaching sessions.

The evaluation showed that the most helpful aspects included: feeling valued and having confidence in the University, because it had invested in them from the start; putting ‘new person’ fears into perspective; and receiving reassurance that their experience was ‘normal’, given the organisational context, rate of change, and culture. Outcomes included: setting expectations around developing a face to face communication culture; changing behaviour to be consistent with positive intentions; committing to mindfulness practice; and snapping into a broader focus congruent with operating at a higher level.

As a result of this positive feedback we have incorporated on-boarding coaching into the induction programme for all new senior managers.

After six months in post all senior managers go on to participate in the senior management development programme, which consist of 360 feedback and a coaching session. This gives them the opportunity for coaching support at the point when they are challenging the status quo, as well as assessing their connection with colleagues, hearing observations around how they lead and feeding development actions into the continuous Staff Review and Development process.

Why I Wasn’t In Bournemouth

“This is odd, I’m nervous. It’s been long time since I went to a conference where my main feeling is trepidation.” Such were my thoughts as my train trundled towards Roffey Park for the second annual conference of the fledgling OD Network Europe. Why trepidation? I recognised just three names on the list of 130 participants; only one was from a university. It’s a long time since I was so thoroughly among strangers. I also have a scientist’s aversion to the tortuous and woolly language of some of the ODN abstracts and articles. Well, that’s good. I’m an introvert who came here to broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone. Notice what you’re feeling, it’s all about the whole self, right? I was going to blog comparatively about this and next week’s UHR conference, but this stuff is so bursting out of me that I have to catch it now, as I trundle back again.

 Roffey was itself a comfort zone, as usual, but boy were my horizons broadened. In a good, scary way. Immediately evident were the networks that already exist, often rooted in the various expensive and committing qualification programmes people had been through.  But of course we’re a warm, humanistic community, so it’s hard to be friendless for long. The range and depth of experience and knowledge in the room were breathtaking, and I got a sense that many were grounding their practice more explicitly in the underpinning scholarship than I do. It was like happily pursuing a profession – geologist, say – having done an A level, then finding yourself in a room full of geologists with degrees.


Among the wide-ranging sessions a recurring theme was the emergence of a “next generation” OD frame, taking in complexity, connectedness and non-linear systems. In keeping with the conference theme of “collaborating and innovating in social systems,” there were highly resonant tales of successes and challenges in dialogic, co-creative approaches. One session that used art to tease out our own development journeys gave me two major “ker-zzzingg” moments that I hadn’t expected (like a-ha moments but more fizzy). An “innovation” sampler was the loudest, funniest, happiest workshop group I’ve ever been in, but also deeply educational. Mots du jour included “constructive deviance” and “rhizomatic,” but beware: “engagement” has joined “empowerment” in the bucket of jargon terms to make knowing, ironic jokes about.


Someone commented that there was a sense of excitement, potential and experimentation, which they found absent from the slightly grandee-dependent meetings of the larger US parent network. This momentum is being tapped by a set of action-research clusters that we formed in the final session, hubbed by Roffey but aimed at turning ourselves into a community of researchers in the support of practice.

 It’s proposed to take this European network to the mainland next year. Will I be going? Oh, emphatically yes, even if it means (gulp) missing ODHEG again. The world is wide, and I seem to have found my learning edge.

 (Twitterati can check out @ODNEurope, #ODNE2014)



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.

Embed from Getty Images

Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

By Sally Wilson, Sally Wilson Associates, Coach and Independent Consultant & Trainer to higher education

This is the title of a piece written by Renee Charney (February 19, 2014) that gave me food for thought – especially as I had committed to writing the ODHE blog this month (and have only just made it by a stroke of the keys!). My ‘stuckness’ for a topic was also informed by an ODHE colleague recently circulating an SOS with the comment ‘why do we suddenly go blank when we’re asked to produce something ‘innovative’?!’

This had me pondering on the expectations of OD departments by their organisations and the notion that somehow ‘they’ (OD) will ‘pull something out of the bag’. Mindful of Cindy’s January blog on making the complex simple, I’m struck by the more complex the difficulty facing an organisation, the higher their expectation of OD and the consequent pressure on OD colleagues, together with the pressure they place on themselves to be ‘creative and innovative’.

Being stuck at times is part of the human condition. Charney identifies being stuck as sometimes ‘feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess’ before us. We’ve all been there, and we’ll be there again. The challenge is perhaps determining why we’re stuck.

For example, a project/commission/problem presented to OD can initially sound like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be ‘a bear of a project’. Charney goes on to say her own identification with this is ”I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..”


As in coaching and problem-solving, it starts with a question.  What questions might help to lead us from uncertainty and avoid paralysis?

How willing am I to do something different around this? How much choice do I have about the way in which I act ? What currently stops me taking action? What am I reacting to in this situation? What do I know? What do I need to know? What models/techniques do I have for bridging the gap? Would a graph/visual of the situation help? Should any segments be added to a diagram?

What types of questions help you get unstuck?


What’s Stonewall got to do with OD? Dosey Doe your OD partner!

By Meriel Box, Head of Staff Development, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU)

In 2003, three gay staff (including me) had an ambition to establish an LGBT Equality Network to support our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff – to drive positive cultural change as part of our HR Rewarding and Developing Staff Strategy. Adopting the Stonewall mantra ‘People perform better when they can be themselves’ we wanted more colleagues to be themselves, to celebrate their diversity, reducing personal stress, challenge homophobic behaviour, and fulfil their potential; in essence to feel safe in a ‘gay friendly’ work environment and to be ‘out and proud’ role models for both current and potential LGBT students and staff. For LJMU, we wanted to be a destination of choice to study or work, where LGBT people would have an excellent student and staff experience.

This year we celebrated our network’s 10th Birthday, during LGBT History Month. From increasing understanding of sexual orientation equality amongst staff to improving our University’s external reputation, our network group is a vital instrument which supports our strategic business objectives. As Chair of the network I’m proud of our achievements attributed through the commitment, passion and ‘discretionary effort’ of many academic and professional services staff. Network members include straight staff, alumni as well as LGBT staff and students and external partners who we collaborate with on OD projects across sector organisations and the wider LGBT community.

Each and every member of our network is an equality and diversity champion contributing to our University’s OD profile, recognised by our Board of Governors, VC and Senior Management Team. This is endorsed by and strengthened through our partnership with Stonewall since 2006 when LJMU joined the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme. As a University we annually submit to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to evidence and benchmark our LGBT equality practice at an international level with a growing number of other public and private sector organisations. This year LJMU achieved 28th position in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list, full marks in the ‘Gay By Degree’ HE sector benchmarking exercise for specific services supporting LGBT students and we were awarded Network Group of the Year in the North West.

Stonewall as a key partner has enabled us to realise OD potential, recognising and valuing the difference LGBT people bring to our organisation. I encourage you to dosey doe your OD partner!

stonewallphoto LJMU 

September 2013 LJMU hosts the North West launch of the Stonewall Workplace Guide: ‘Maintaining Network Group Momentum’

LJMU’s LGBT Equality Network webpage

Guidance on LGB workplace equality Stonewall