Session 15: Health and Safety

velociraptor

The second half day optional module on the Leading from the Middle programme and the final session. Rather than a straight up session on health and safety itself, the focus was on our responsibilities as leaders in ensuring a culture of workplace safety and our responsibilities and obligations under law, specifically as pertains to the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

The session was divided into five units of work. The first unit was on the roles and responsibilities of line mangers in ensuring that the university’s commitment to health and safety is fully cascaded to all staff, and the need for us to lead by example in embedding this culture throughout all of the university’s activity. Leading on from this, the second unit covered the university’s policies and procedures relating to health and safety and what responsibilities we each have for ensuring that the university environment is safe for all. For myself, this includes leading on risk assessments for my team, monitoring the office environment, and resolving any potential hazards as they are discovered or arise.

Unit 3 went into the detail of how to assess and control risk. For a practical exercise in this we were presented with a scenario, a picture of a large kitchen area that you would see in, for example, a hotel, and were asked to identify all of the potential hazards, e.g. open flames, hot surfaces, sharp corners, water near electrical outlets, etc. There was something about the image, perhaps the angle, that reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors got into the kitchen in pursuit of the kids. We were then introduced to the university’s risk assessment matrix which scores the risk of an activity by assessing the likelihood of an accident occurring against the severity of the potential injury on a scale of 1 to 25. I had to concede that though rampaging velociraptors are highly unlikely, there is a good chance of fatality in such a scenario, therefore warranting a score of 5 on our matrix. According to our guidelines, with such a low score no corrective action needs to be taken to lower the risk, but the activity should continue to be monitored.

Unit 4 covered how to investigate accidents and incidents. First we were introduced to two conceptual models on how accidents happen. The Swiss Cheese Model posits that when an accident happens it is because of a series of holes in barriers and safeguards which align, and the Domino Theory which depicts an accident as a cascade of events. We then discussed how to investigate an incident in order to uncover both the direct and root causes, and the university’s obligations under RIDDOR, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations.

Finally, unit 5 covered how health and safety performance is measured at the university. This includes both proactive methods such as audits and inspections which are informed by our policies and procedures, and reactive activities such as recording accidents and near misses.

Session 13: Leading Change and Transition

phases_of_transition

The morning session for today was given over to a discussion on the related concepts of change and transition, and importantly the difference between them, and was heavily contextualised to address the university’s cross institutional review of support staff which is now reaching its conclusion.

We began by considering the drivers for change in the HE context, consistently returning to what we felt was the one huge macro factor acting on the education sector nationally and internationally, and for a number of decades now, namely the process of the implementation of a neoliberal philosophy, and the shift away from viewing education as a public good that benefits the whole of society. This has driven competition between HEIs to attract students, especially in the last few years as the UK has undergone a demographic dip in the number of eighteen year olds while the government has simultaneously cracked down on international student recruitment. This led us to consider how the university has responded to these changes. With students now being the direct source of the majority of university income, one response has been to try and find ways of providing students with a good return on their investment in their education. We have also found new ways of expanding the market, by taking over an institution in Hong Kong for example, and by reviewing our estate portfolio to find efficiencies, and implementing the cross institutional review which was aimed at streamlining the support staff structure.

In this context we were introduced to the work of William Bridges, specifically Managing Transitions. Bridges distinguishes between change and transition by defining change as something that is situational, e.g. getting a new manager or moving to a new office, and transition as a psychological process that people have to go through as they are dealing with change. This, he argues, is something that cannot be rushed, that people have to go through at their own pace, and that the role of a leader is to help them manage this process and guide them with positivity and sensitivity.

He defined three phases of transition, ending or letting go, the neutral zone, and new beginnings. It is the neutral zone and the uncertainty that comes with it that he argues is the most difficult time for people. Part of the reason for this is that there is a temptation for people to either want to cling to the old ways of working, or else move on to a new situation too quickly, not giving them enough time to explore options and possibilities, both of which can cause a change initiative to fail.

This led on to the work of John Kotter who published research in 1996 showing that 70% of change initiatives ended in failure, a figure which has not been shown to have significantly declined in later studies. He suggests that one way to improve this is by involving staff in the story surrounding the change, as it has been shown that people are more committed to something when they have chosen it or at least have had some input.

Something I really liked from Kotter’s article, which was provided as a handout, was the section on role modelling which talked about self-serving bias and how this can be found in leaders who rate themselves as better agents of change than they actually are. The anecdote about Kevin Sharer attempting to get past this by asking his employees ‘What should I do differently?’ stuck a cord with me and is something I may try using with my team to inform my own feedback and for use in the assessment of this course.

The afternoon was given over to the computer based EduChallenge Simulator which was designed to give us experience of implementing a major change in an HE context. The simulator placed us in the position of a change agent at the fictional Humfield University, our purpose to persuade the Dean of the Graduate School of Management to implement the new AcadQual system for improving academic quality which has been adopted by the rest of the university. The simulator gives you six months, 120 days, in which to complete this task.

This was an interesting exercise with a lot of potential. It was good to experience the other side of a change implementation, but it was hampered by the extremely dated software. The main problem being around the way language has changed since the software was written, over a decade ago from what I found in my probing. Activities like ‘Electronic Mail’ don’t work at all as you would expect. Instead, to send a message out to all staff you have to use a ‘Memorandum’. Then there is the obscure and bizarre, the ‘The Sandwich Meeting’ and the ‘One-Legged Interview’ for example. There is descriptive text which is meant to describe what these are, but we found that it was rarely helpful, and only in carrying out an action, using up precious days, did you actually learn what it did. This made the exercise clunky and annoying; it felt very unfair. This is a shame as I can see the value in the activity, it just needs to be updated to make it more intuitive and useful again.