‘Do different things and do them differently’ – complexity and culture in workforce efficiency

The HE workforce workstream of the Diamond review was led by a partnership including UUK, HEFCE, University Human Resources, UCEA and the Leadership Foundation. Gwen Wileman provides a brief snap shot of some of the huge achievements in workforce efficiency that are being made across the sector.

A series of case studies commissioned by the workstream all provide powerful success stories and some real measures of impact on efficiency and effectiveness. However, the case studies, which were supported by the joint Leadership Foundation /Hefce Innovation and Transformation Fund, also reveal challenges of culture and complexity and there are many lessons to be learned and shared.

Here are some of the findings from the case studies:

At the University of Swansea, the performance enabling programme was used to drive cultural change through a focus on the performance of academic staff who are at the heart of the delivery of the university’s strategic aims. This was achieved through recognising, incentivising and challenging performance through a range of inter-related and mutually supporting initiatives.  Partly as a result of this, performance against six out of ten university-wide student experience targets and six out of six university-wide research targets increased.

People management

The People Management Framework, at the University of Leeds, with its measurable and quantifiable performance data, supports a high quality approach to people management. This is aligned with university values through VADAOS, (Valuing and developing all of our staff) which is a key strategic enabler for achieving academic excellence.

The University of Birmingham’s sustainable excellence programme supports the development of a high performance culture.  It is a systematic approach of interconnected and integrated people management processes and initiatives.  Changes include reshaping academic units, the Birmingham Fellows programme, a responsive academic and professorial promotions process and the introduction of a new performance review process.  The many positive impacts include: salary cost savings, increased research funding and awards, improved student satisfaction and improved Sunday Times University Guide ranking.

Kingston University carried out a large-scale university-wide change programme which modernised the entire academic role framework and promotional routes. There was a focus on rewarding academic excellence through clarity of academic expectations and career pathways. The initial implementation has been successful with 75% of eligible staff applying in the first round with a 70% success rate.  

Customer satisfaction

A more commercial example of transformational change is the University of Kent’s accommodation services.  Success here can be measured through remarkable financial performance, customer satisfaction and employee engagement as well as prestigious awards.  The focus on staff development and a huge commitment to service excellence and growth underpins the change.

The University of Cumbria case study outlines an outstanding financial turnaround in 2012/13 following severe financial challenges following the merger in 2007/8.  The large scale transformational change focussed on the three areas of cost reduction, investment and process improvement.

The impact of workforce efficiency is not restricted to large HEIs. The powerful cultural shift through collaboration and extensive digitisation of all college systems at Ravensbourne, University of London, is a tremendous success.  This transformation has delivered an exceptional, world renowned student experience as well as cost efficiencies. A new iconic building and new ways of working based on totally shared services and equipment required a fundamental shift in employee engagement.

Other case studies include the contribution to business efficiency through the development and implementation of a management of academic workloads planning tool at Nottingham Trent University. This has enabled new initiatives and improvements to the student experience to be achieved without associated increases in academic resources.

Finally, the changes achieved through the revision of the model statute in several pre-1992 universities, including the University of Leicester and University of Durham who were two of the first universities to embark on this journey, have been very significant. This resulted in vast improvements in the clarity, flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness of key people management processes as the cumbersome and outdated model statutes were replaced by new staff ordinances.

Significant progress

The case studies demonstrate the commitment, significant progress and impact of a whole variety of workforce efficiency activity across the sector. Together they also demonstrate the challenges of complexity and culture which universities face when they set out to tackle major workforce effectiveness and efficiency change projects

The full case study series focuses on: what was done and why, what impact did it have and lessons learned. They will be made widely available to the sector.

In the words of Professor Robin Baker OBE, director at Ravensbourne transformation requires you to – “do different things and do them differently”. This takes courage and resilience. The sector is generous with its knowledge and experiences, the case studies will enable you to learn from the experience of others. Please celebrate your achievements and share your successes!

Gwen Wileman is an associate of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and independent HR consultant and executive coach.