We need to talk about risk

Chris Taylor, senior consultant, Uniac shares insight into the increasing presence of risk in higher education and invites providers to take part in their benchmarking exercise on risk management. 

What does risk management look like in your institution? Be honest. Do eyes roll and gazes shift when the annual review of the risk register rolls around? Are the risks on the page the risks you are really dealing with every day? Is risk management the preserve of one individual, buried away in central admin and dusted off only to meet the ever predictable demands of the committee cycle? Do you only do it because Hefce says so in the Memorandum of Assurance?

Chances are, if we are honest, that ‘Yes’ will be the answer to at least one of these questions some of the time.

But we are clearly entering an era when the previously ‘high impact/low likelihood’ risk event seems to be a more present danger; from terrorism and fire to the challenges of Brexit and changing immigration requirements. At the very least we have been reminded of the need to ensure we effectively mitigate key risks across all areas. In that context, are we in the higher education sector really doing enough to ensure highly effective risk management processes that genuinely add value and protect the interests of everyone in higher education? We’d like your help to find out.

In all institutions that we interact with the main risk management tool that is used is a risk register; however, even the form of a corporate risk register can vary widely. Different institutions have significantly varying risk frameworks, with some requiring risk registers for all functional units to a fairly low level within the institution, or others where the only requirement is for there to be a corporate register. Additional elements such as risk appetite are implicit in some institutions, whereas others have built up complex matrices to assess the appetite for a particular type of risk.

Now, there is no right or wrong answer to how risk is managed – it is about ensuring that the process supports the institution in delivering its strategic aims and adds the value that Hefce and others, like the Financial Reporting Council, wish to see. Clearly, it must also be in keeping with the institutional culture and fit with other management practices. So, the purpose of our benchmarking exercise is to understand how and where institutions gain most value from risk management, and to set this alongside a review of the frameworks, processes and templates that are used.

The exercise will be based on discussions with interested parties, including non-executives on university boards, the chairs of audit committees, senior managers within institutions, and those who have operational responsibility for risk management. There will also be some desk-based work looking at different institutions’ risk policies and practices. We will also be looking outside of the higher education sector to draw in practices that could add value.

The work will result in a comprehensive report which will provide an overview of the findings of the work and will be of value to institutions in assessing their current practices and providing food for thought with respect to ways in which they can optimise the value gained from risk management within their organisation.

We are keen to involve as many providers as possible. We know how diverse the sector is and that the strength of such an exercise will be enhanced the more participants we have and the better able we are to reflect and account for that diversity.

Jean Brown (jbrown@uniac.co.uk 0161 247 2851) and Richard Young (ryoung@uniac.co.uk) from Uniac will be leading on the benchmarking exercise. Please do get in touch with them if you would like to take part.

Join us at the Leadership Foundation’s first national conference for governors of HEIs and members of the professional support teams who work with governors on Thursday 30 November 2017, Central London. To find out more, click here

Uniac is a shared internal audit and assurance service for universities – some of whom own Uniac and some who are clients. To find out more please visit their website: www.uniac.co.uk

Want to be more successful? Start with the end in mind

Maeve Lankford leads the Vision Workshop. 

Following on from the annual Aurora Conference 2017 Aurora ambassador, Maeve Lankford, shares insights from her workshop, Vision.

There is a saying that many of you will be aware of: “There is no wind favourable to the sailor with no destination in mind”. In order for us to achieve success in life, in our careers, in our relationships, it starts with us knowing what we want. As Stephen Covey puts it, “begin with the end in mind.”

So what are your plans for the next three years? If you aren’t sure then read this blog to develop clear ideas for yourself to take your first steps in successfully achieving what you want.

Identify your longings and discontents

As a leader, it is important to think about where you are in your leadership journey and where you see yourself going next. Ask yourself, how do I want to develop personally and professionally? Perhaps you have just completed Aurora and are thinking about your next steps, or maybe you are planning on doing a development programme in the future? Whether you are at the start or the end of a programme, you need to know where you are heading next!  That is the essential prerequisite to achieving a successful outcome.

The Universe provides us with two signals for growth: our longings and our discontents.  As a transformational coach, many of my clients start with building their vision and goals from identifying the things that they don’t like in their current situation – unsatisfactory commute; no work-life balance; no time for family, hobbies, or the bits of your job you love. Our discontents are often the things that give us clues as to how we’d prefer things to be.

And our longings – our dreams of career success; better sleep or less stress; acknowledgement of our contribution at work, at home or in our community; time and resources for hobbies or holidays, new interests – professional or personal – these too suggest the goals we aspire to.

Your vision and goals

Once you have started to identify your longings and discontents, you can start to define your vision and goals. I recommend you take a holistic approach to this. Look across the four domains of your life – health and well-being; career and creative expression; relationships; time and money freedom – and ask yourself the question – What would I love?

Allow yourself to really dream into that question, using your imagination as vividly as you did as a child. Will you allow yourself to imagine? Does it feel too childish for the grown up academic or professional you’ve become? Remember Einstein who said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Suspend your knowledge of your current conditions and circumstances and imagine the outcomes you would love.

Once you have the end in mind. Take some time to write it all down using the following style:

  1. Start with gratitude: I am so happy and grateful now that…
  2. Write your vision in the present tense. Imagine you are describing a scene from a movie where everything is already happening just as you want it. This is a way for us to bring ideas from our imagination into current experience.

For example, you might open each section as follows:

  • I am so happy and grateful now that I am a successful leader who is admired by my peers and my staff.
  • I am so happy and grateful now that I spend quality time with my family
  • I am so happy and grateful now that I am healthy, well rested, and exercising regularly
  1. Paint the picture. Be as specific as you possibly can because the image you create transmits energy.

When you read it back, you want to get an emotional response in yourself that says ‘Yes, I LOVE this life’.  If it doesn’t feel like that when you read or speak it back, change it: keep changing it until it gives you that enthusiastic emotional response.

Live and breathe it

You’ve set your course for the outcomes you want to achieve.  In the coming days and weeks revisit your written vision regularly, preferably building it into your daily routine, consistently reminding yourself that this is the path you are on. Ask yourself each day, ‘what action can I take today that takes me in the direction of my goals? And then take that action!   As you start to achieve progress, you may well wish to make changes to your vision and goals.  This is normal.  Keep making those changes and tweaks, adding new details and goals as you achieve what you’ve set out for yourself, always seeking that emotional charge – Yes!  I love this life

When things crop up that demand your time and attention, your resources or energy, and if you’re not sure what to prioritise, ask yourself the question: ”does this take me in the direction of my vision and goals or not?” Let this help you decide whether to do something or not. Having this level of clarity and decisiveness alone will catapult you towards your end results.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share two further blogs about how to build your momentum in achieving the goals and successes you want.  We’ve started with clarity about the end result.  Next, we’ll talk about the importance of committing to your goals, and in the final blog, we’ll discuss how to overcome fears and doubts along the way.

Read on: The power of the decision

Maeve Lankford, joined the Leadership Foundation in 2015 as Aurora Ambassador to promote Aurora in the UK and Ireland, having formerly been Aurora Champion for University College Cork. 

Maeve has over 25 years’ experience of working in personal development and growth in higher education and beyond and is currently Director of her own training and coaching company.  Having held various roles in HR, Equality, Learning and Development and Welfare, her principal expertise lies in leadership and management development, group facilitation, action learning, executive coaching, personal development, resilience and well-being.   

You can book the Aurora Conference 2018 on our website. 

Bungee jumping my way to leadership

Payal Gaglani-Bhatt reflects on how her experience at Aurora in 2016-17 helped her find her voice.

It was a cold and grey morning in London as I made my way to the Aurora London 1 cohort in October 2016. I was cold but curious, hungry but excited, slightly sceptical but looking forward to meeting new people.

The day began like any other conference begins, but about halfway through the morning, we had to come up with a visual image of how we see ourselves with regards to leadership. For me this was a very powerful, thought provoking and reflective moment. I saw myself as a bungee jumper – tied to a harness, standing on the edge of a cliff, reluctant to take the next step.  This was a momentous image because it was exactly what my approach, attitude and stance was towards leadership. I was holding myself back, uncertain of my own ability, and reluctant to take the plunge!

That’s where Aurora has really made a big difference. It’s made me confident in my own abilities, it’s helped me channel my thoughts on “what’s possible” rather than what’s not, and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and bungee jump…literally!

On that very first day, it became apparent that all of us Aurorans were in the same boat: personal insecurities, preferences for a healthy work-life balance and multiple priorities were the backbone of what made us who we are. More often than not, we wear more than one hat in our lives and are inclined to commit extensively to each of our roles – be it as a mother, a mentor, a manager, a volunteer, an author….that’s where I really began thinking more and more about wearing one hat in another context and vice versa.

The reflective practice made me analyse and critically look at the ways I behave, interact, make decisions, influence others around me and most importantly how I was using, or not using, my voice. I knew subconsciously that I often used my skills as a mother with my team and my professional performance management techniques to deal with my kids.

This began the process of vocalising my thoughts and recording the parallels between the two through reflective writing. I found my voice through a blog and after taking on board constructive feedback from colleagues, I had the courage to take the plunge and publish it. In March 2017, I launched School of Mumagement – it is my creative and constructive platform to rationalise what I do as a parent and apply successful parenting tips, techniques, and tactics at work and in management situations to unbelievable success…. naturally this needs tweaking to accommodate varying scenarios, but the theory remains valid.

So, how has finding my voice helped me in my career and what does that have to do with leadership or bungee jumping? Below are three main aspects that “finding my voice” has had an impact on. I believe these are the pillars to being a good leader:

1) Confidence – First is the confidence in my own skills and abilities: in wanting to try new things; in being experimental; in vocalising my beliefs, thoughts and opinions; in standing my ground.  I developed the confidence that my knowledge, skills and expertise were my harness and would always be with me… even as I jumped off.

2) Conviction – Second is the conviction in my passions and energies: in being comfortable in my own skin and personality, in my authenticity and individuality; in my inherent knowledge and self-worth. I found the conviction that I could do it and take the plunge, but more importantly, found the passion and enthusiasm to want to do it.

3) Control – Third is the control over my career trajectory: over my ambitions, my fears and my hesitancies.  I gained control not only on how and when I jumped but also on how I could enjoy the fall, the rise and the bounce and the most important of all, the WHOLE journey.

So my dear Aurorans, I hope you too have found your voice. I hope you have been challenged to step out of your comfort zone, to understand yourself and to reflect on your aspirations. More importantly though, I hope you have found the confidence, conviction and control to bungee jump your way to leadership with authenticity!

Payal Gaglani-Bhatt is Head of Events at SOAS, University of London. She completed the Aurora programme in London in 2017. Since completing the programme, Payal was inspired to create her own independent blog, School of Mumagement.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.


Talent management – for the many or just the few?

Dr Wendy Hirsh, co-author of Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, the Leadership Foundation’s latest research publication, challenges higher education to consider the development of staff in the same way they would the learning growth of students.

Working on talent management with many organisations, their managers and staff, I often encounter unease and even hostility to the possibility that some development opportunities might be offered to some people but not others. So is talent management for the many or the few or can it be both?

If we unpick this issue from the business perspective first, we see that the ideas of business needs and business risk are very central to what organisations in a range of sectors mean by the term talent management. Talent management is absolutely not about giving employees all the development they would like, but about prioritising business investment in development where it will make the most difference to business effectiveness – and decrease business risk. Therefore it must be central to an organisation’s strategy.

However, often in universities, the human resources and talent management strategy (if it exists) sits alongside the core priorities and can become disconnected. This blog draws from new case study research commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to learn about talent management as practiced in other sectors. A key issue for universities like other organisations is whether to focus development resource on the many or the few.  For example, does a university need to invest in senior leadership, mid-career academics and professionals or helping younger researchers gain the skills and exposure to get their feet on the funding ladder? The answer to this question will always be a mix, but it is unavoidable that the decision will be informed by budgets and capacity if nothing else.

The public sector in the UK has traditionally been very good at investing in those just starting out on their careers and those near the top. This can leave the “middle” neglected. The more successful businesses, for example leading technology and professional services firms recognise the importance of prioritising and developing the capacity of the “middle” by redesigning roles, changing work and skill mix and business practices. The message here is this kind of development is not just about courses but about giving well established staff access to new experiences, extending and expanding roles, such as being involved directly in leading change, albeit supported by  informal coaching, mentoring or perhaps learning sets to practice new approaches. We suggest universities might usefully re-examine the capability of their experienced teachers, researchers and professionals, assess the skills gap and unfulfilled potential and use institutional wide talent management strategies as an enabler for success in an increasingly competitive environment.

We also see some talent management priorities arising from labour market shortages in what companies often call ‘operationally critical’ jobs or workforce groups. For example, some universities find it difficult to fill technician roles when long-serving staff retire or find clinical-academics in areas like medicine when higher salaries can be earned outside the academy. These are national, not institutional problems. Pharmaceutical companies adjusted their training pipelines for technician roles many years ago to accommodate both graduate and vocational routes and to raise skill levels to respond to increasingly complex lab techniques and equipment. Such issues could be addressed by universities sectorally or regionally as well as individually.

The second set of business decisions about priorities is trickier. Will we develop everyone in a particular workforce group to the same skill level or will we sometimes select individuals for more stretching development activities? The trend here in other sectors is clearly to aim for a both/and answer to this question. For example, companies are re-investing in first line manager training for all such managers, because good management is so central to the performance, engagement, development and retention of the people they manage. However, on top of this universal development, a talent management approach may also be trying to spot first line managers who want to progress their careers and have the ability to do a bigger or more complex management job. Depending on the context, a university may be wanting to invest in people already thinking about becoming a Head of Department, or looking a bit earlier for individuals who simply want to grow and are interested in exploring their leadership potential. Such individuals may be offered more stretching developmental opportunities to help them progress their careers and also to test their career preferences. The Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programmes and Athena SWAN does something of this kind for women in academia. So taking a business view, different kinds of development investment may address both the many and the few.

Of course, if organisations try and spot potential for career progression, they need to be very careful to avoid managers just developing their favourites or perpetuating inequalities of gender, race and so on. This is why talent management does have to be inclusive and include relevant definitions of potential for different kinds of jobs or levels in the organisation, test and challenge the views of individual managers and integrate talent management with real time tracking of diversity and inclusion data.

Moving from the organisational to the individual perspective, the idea of a Personal Development Plan is long established. However, other sectors are trying to move this away from being just about courses and to make it individually tailored and genuinely personal – that is related to the strengths and needs of each person and their situation. So we would not expect PDPs to give the same development to everyone doing the same job. PDPs are also being modified to include career-related development as well as development to improve performance in the current job. Talent management explicitly includes talking to individuals about their career aspirations and interests. There is little point developing someone towards being a Head of Department if this is simply not something they want to do or if they show no sign of the people skills required to do it successfully.

In essence talent management brings together these two perspectives and has to be “everyone’s business” and not just human resources “baby”. It needs to focus development where it is needed by the business and where it matches the aspirations and abilities of individuals. When it works well it’s a win-win for the “many” in the organisation and also for the “few” at the level of the individual. But to go down this route, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone needs to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The best universities aspire to attend to the individual needs and interests of their students – supporting those who needs extra help and challenging those who can go further. Why would they wish to do less for their staff?

Dr Wendy Hirsh is an employment researcher and consultant specialising in career development, talent management, succession planning and workforce planning. Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, was co-written with Elaine Tyler, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.

Download the report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/hirsh5.8

Academic freedom: autonomy in higher education


Astana, capital city of Kazakhstan

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Leadership Foundation reflects on the successful Kazakhstan Leadership Development Programme and the importance of autonomy in higher education. 

February 14 2017 was a momentous day for higher education in the Republic of Kazakhstan. For the first time, 12 of the county’s higher education institutions were given some degree of autonomy. The government approved new regulations that allowed those high-performing universities to manage their own affairs in a number of crucial ways, from admissions policies and developing degree programmes, content and assessment to defining academic job roles, qualifications and salaries.

Autonomy in higher education is usually understood to mean “academic freedom”, with universities enjoying freedom of discovery, inquiry and the teaching and learning of their students. Higher education leaders in the UK, which is renowned for its institutional autonomy, would no doubt be horrified at the very notion that any of the functions newly acquired by their Kazakh counterparts might be controlled by government.  In the UK, qualifications have long been managed from within the sector itself and research funding policy follows the Haldane Principle which separates government (and potentially politically) driven research agendas from funds distributed by the UK research councils for “general research”.

Its autonomy is something the UK higher education sector protects fiercely. The Higher Education and Research Bill – which became an Act in April 2017 – was firmly challenged for encroaching too far into the autonomy of the sector. There was particular concern that the new Office for Students, under the direction of the secretary of state, would assume responsibility for quality and standards from current sector-led arrangements, and even (in early drafts) allowing the secretary of state to direct courses of study. This power was removed in subsequent amendments to the bill in order to protect institutions’ freedom to teach whatever courses of study they wish.

But, while it is clear why institutions themselves will want to promote autonomy, is it really the best approach for the education system as a whole? The evidence suggests it is. A key message in a 2010 report for the European Commission was that basic autonomy and flexibility with regard to staffing policy, financial autonomy and selecting their “academic community” is a hallmark of the most efficient education systems. The report also highlights adequate levels of public and private resourcing, the capacity to meet supply and demand, and attract and retain qualified staff as the enablers or the “right conditions”. This combination of “basic autonomy” and “right conditions” helps tertiary education sectors contribute to the educational attainment and research productivity of their countries. In the UK, universities generate more than £73bn a year for the British economy, contribute nearly 3% of UK GDP, and support more than 750,000 jobs. Relative to the country’s size it has the most efficient research system in the G8 and is second overall only to the United States in terms of research publications.

For the past three years the Leadership Foundation has worked with the Kazakhstan education ministries and higher education institutions in their quest for university autonomy. The Kazakh approach was to provide the leadership development and capability building upfront and then to enact autonomy legislation when capacity had been demonstrably built to operate in this different way.

Our programme focused on the leadership of higher education research, learning and teaching, and entrepreneurial and adaptive universities – helping to enable universities to function more effectively as autonomous entities and within sound governance frameworks, building the capacity for accountability through developing appropriate relationships with the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science and various stakeholders.

The desire of countries to shift to greater autonomy in their higher education systems is a common strand in the leadership development work we have undertaken in more than 30 countries in recent years.  However, a key challenge for a number of countries is that, while they aspire to modernise their higher education sectors, existing regulatory and legal frameworks are not set up to support growth and innovation. It is a challenge to ensure that any ambition for change is aligned with national structures and legal systems because if they don’t develop hand-in-hand, this tension can stop development in its tracks.

In the UK, a combination of competition and autonomy, as well as priority research and development agendas with funding pots, has driven growth and excellence. These in turn have been supported by robust in-sector regulatory checks and balances: quality assurance, the Research Excellence Framework, financial health reports.

At the heart of this is both sector and institutional autonomy – and as universities operate in an increasingly globalised market place, levels and types of autonomy, and how these contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of tertiary education systems, have never been more important.

Since 2007 the European University Association has been undertaking a Europe-wide Autonomy Survey and developed an Autonomy Scorecard in 2011. The Scorecard focuses on four broad dimensions to benchmark the autonomy of European countries’ systems: organisational, financial, staffing and academic. Organisational autonomy relates to the selection criteria and procedures for institution heads, oversight of the appointment of external governors, and the capacity for an institution to decide on its own academic/organisational structures. Staffing covers recruitment procedures; salaries; dismissal and promotion processes. Financial autonomy looks at the types of public funding; ownership over estates; borrowing money and holding surpluses; and the mechanisms for tuition fee and student funding. And, finally, academic autonomy relates to quality assurance, student numbers, design and delivery of degree programmes and admissions procedures.

From these measures alone – even before adding in each country’s unique internal and geopolitical environments and “starting point” in their higher education development journey – it’s clear how complex and varied sectors can be in their range of autonomy across the dimensions.

We’ve seen how Kazakhstan has taken steps to align legal frameworks with institutional capacity building. We hope and trust its reforms will be a success and that, over time, Kazakhstan’s objective of autonomy can be extended to a wider pool of universities.

About the Kazakhstan Leadership Development Programme
Click here to read our international case study on the programme supporting the ongoing education reform in Kazakhstan

About the Leadership Foundation’s International work
We provide a range of programmes, interventions, relationship building and networking activities to the global market. We are uniquely placed as the only higher education specific leadership, governance and management development provider in the world. To get a small snapshot of our wide-reaching services, click here