Friday, 8 June 2012

Birth, Death and Resurrection of Senior Management Engagement

At the start of the project a new Executive Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Learning and Teaching had been appointed, who was the initial sponsor of the Enable project. The main role of the Executive PVC, was to chair the Senior Management Working Group (consisting of a number of senior faculty staff (Deans and/or Faculty Directors for Learning and Teaching) and a number of Directors/Heads of Services and senior colleagues. 

In addition to the start of a new PVC, the then Vice Chancellor had indicated that she would soon be retiring but had yet fixed a date.  This was subsequently confirmed as January 2011.  As a consequence, the academic years 2008/9 and 9/10 were characterised by certain amount of “planning blight” and senior managers being (understandably) cautious in the face of impending change.

Not only did the executive start the project in some state of organisational churn, so did the department the Enable team were working from. The Learning Development & Innovation (LDI) team had recently been moved (following an external review) from the University’s Information Service to the Academic Development Institute (led by the Director of Academic Development).

After the first four months of the project the Academic Development Institute was abolished and the LDI team (including all Enable project staff) became a standalone team reporting to the Executive PVC.   During this period, senior management engagement with the project was good .  There was also considerable engagement from staff involved in the various change initiatives across the University, and from award leaders, programme managers and Faculty business staff and quality administrators.

About 18 months into the project, the Executive PVC left the University (and was not replaced for about a year). Following a fairly lengthy hiatus during which it was unclear (even to the Head of LDI) who the LDI team reported to, it was agreed that the team and the Enable project should report to the Deputy Vice Chancellor through the Director of Academic Policy and Development.   Senior management engagement had waned somewhat during the “hiatus” (but “spoke” engagement had remained good), however the Deputy Vice Chancellor became very receptive to the ideas on managing change and sustaining innovation being promoted by Enable, and a good period of senior management engagement ensued.  However, this period also coincided with the “last days” of the previous Vice Chancellor and the selection and arrival of the new Vice Chancellor, who took up leadership of the University in January 2011. As a result, although engagement with Enable’s ideals was good, translation of this engagement into action was very difficult.  However, this period also saw the opportunity – seized by the Enable team – to initiate the “FLAG” work of Enable on the back of a number of Senior Leadership Team initiatives instigated by the new Vice Chancellor.

In June 2011, a new Executive PVC arrived at the University.  At this point, oversight of the LDI team moved into the new PVC’s purview although the Head of LDI continued to report to the Director of Academic Policy and Development who had similarly moved reporting lines.  This move created another “disjoint” in senior management engagement as the new PVC obviously had a great many things to take on board and to plan.  

By the end of the project, 7 of the 17 people who attended the first SMWG meeting had left the University, including the Executive PVC. Nevertheless engagement was subsequently renewed and the Executive team has now picked up messages  sent by Enable including the concept of ‘joined up thinking’, and the development of a Change Management role.  This renewed interest was due to the project team able to present a clear message of Enable to the executive thanks to previous experience with communicating with the executive team, along side this the project team were able to use senior management champions to pass the message of Enable on to the executive.

Despite the considerable “organizational churn” evidenced above, a constant and stable factor throughout has been a recognised institutional need to ensure curriculum development is responsive to demand.   This included ensuring that policies, processes, and supporting technologies for curriculum/product development were designed in a way that was responsive to the needs of both faculties and learners.   This required flexible management of the existing portfolio including the process for creating new product, along with guidelines and workflows to encourage a culture of innovation. 

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