Leading from the Middle

At my appraisal last year it was suggested that I attend the University’s second line manager’s development course. This was delayed by a year because the course was under redevelopment by HR in conjunction with our Business School’s Corporate and Professional Education (CaPE) team. The new course, now branded as ‘Leading from the Middle’, is a fully accredited post-graduate module resulting in a Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Change upon successful completion. I don’t have a lot of information at the moment but I suspect that assessment will involve a portfolio of evidence, and in any case I’ll want to blog about the course as it develops, so I have created a new page specifically to collect these posts together using the ‘LFTM’ tag. The taught sessions on the course are as follows:

  • Induction and Academic Skills
  • Knowing Yourself, To Lead Others
  • Strategic Leadership and Culture and Context (2 parts)
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching at Work (3 parts)
  • Understanding Finance
  • Collaborative Conversations
  • Creativity and Entrepreneurial Learning
  • Leading Change and Transition
  • Leading High Performing Teams
  • Leading Equality and Diversity

Session 1: Induction and Academic Skills

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This first session of Leading from the Middle provided us with background and context of the course, including how the course has been designed and developed from what has gone before and the experience the CaPE team have gained in providing leadership and change courses for private enterprise over the last few years. Also covered were academic skills and writing conventions, resources available from the Library and HR, and what is expected from us as students, particularly around assessment.

The course has a single, two part assessment which comprises a 5,000 word narrative report which demonstrates personal transformation throughout the course, built around a work-based project, and a separate portfolio of evidence, around 1,000 words, which backs up the narrative report and is mapped to the learning outcomes.

Given the reflective nature of the assessment, a large part of the session was devoted to reflective practice and introduced us to concepts including Dweck’s growth and fixed mindsets, and Kolb’s learning cycle. The image above shows Snook and Nohria’s ‘Knowing, Doing, Being’ model where ‘Knowing’ is your education and experience, ‘Doing’ is your skills and competencies, and ‘Being’, a commonly neglected area which describes your beliefs and values. Also discussed were some common management styles – the seagull, the mushroom and the plate spinner – and the place of middle managers which we identified as both the most difficult position to be in, having to keep different layers happy, but also possibly the most influential.

The specified aims of the programme, as quoted from the module guide, are:

  1. Personal development of students;
  2. Develop transformational leadership;
  3. Lead and manage change;
  4. Transfer learning into the workplace.

There are detailed learning outcomes broken down into knowledge and skills, but there is also a more concise summary in the module guide which is it also worth quoting:

  1. Increased confidence in undertaking management responsibilities;
  2. Self awareness of preferred leadership style and preferences when communicating with, and influencing others;
  3. Understanding leadership theory and the principles of leadership, particularly within an HE environment;
  4. How to work with your staff to create a high performing team;
  5. Be equipped with skills and knowledge to hold conversations with a purpose such as providing feedback and communicating during times of change.

With regards to the work-based project, some initial thoughts I have are the implementation of a call logging system for the team, something I’ve wanted from day one but which could be difficult for political reasons, as the university does actually have a system in place but it is just not suited to our needs and so doesn’t get used; something around making improvements in accessibility of the VLE and learning materials, something I am already involved with but it could be firmed up to become a proper project with definitive outcomes; or developing some bespoke learning materials for our Oculus Rift, something I would like to do but it would need an academic partner and have some real pedagogic benefit to warrant the development time that would be required. HR will be approaching line managers during January to discuss possibilities and scope as it is a desirable aim of the project to get some concrete benefit for the university out of it, though from the perspective of the course the outcome of the project is secondary to how it is managed and how we change and use what we are learning in the delivery of the project.

A very positive session on the whole, and I hope that the more I learn the more I will be able to resolve the tension I have between being a developer and wanting to make things and help people, and being a manager with a duty to lead my team and take responsibility for all of our work collectively.

Finally, as a piece of ‘fun homework’, we were asked to think of a song that describes our management style. I think I have failed in this exercise, but I do think that Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ does a great job of describing the position of middle managers in general!

Session 2: Knowing Yourself to Lead Others

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The first full teaching day on the Leading from the Middle course was delivered by an external company, Insights, who used their Discovery tool, a kind of personality test, to create a profile for each of us before the session, and then used to session to explain the theory and how it can be applied to learn more about our own personalities and preferences, and how to quickly assess others and the best way to interact with them based on their profiles. The basic model is composed of four colour energies, cool blue, earth green, sunshine yellow and fiery red, a concept that can be traced back to Hippocrates’ four humours and developed by psychologists such as Carl Jung in the twentieth century. Insights have taken this further and developed their own model, a wheel with 72 types to give a more nuanced view of your personality. These are arranged under eight broad headings which are, going counter-clockwise from blue to red, Reformer, Observer (blue), Coordinator, Supporter (green), Helper, Inspirer (yellow), Motivator and Director (red).

I have to confess to being a little sceptical about this kind of thing. I enjoy studying the underlying psychology, and if it has been presented within that framework I think I would have gotten more out of it, but when they are corporatized and packaged up into small, discrete packages that can be easily sold to organisations by external consultants, and when something seems to be unnecessarily overcomplicated, then a little warning bell goes off in my head.

Nevertheless, you don’t get anything out if you don’t engage, and so I can reveal that based on the Insights Discovery Evaluator, a series of 25 preference statements which you rate to generate your profile, I am a blue, green, red, yellow kind of person. Not a huge surprise to me, and it accords with a self-assessment I made based on a ‘colour summary’ in one of Insights’ handouts in which I ticked mostly blue, quite a few on the cusp between blue and green, and a couple of red qualities, specifically ‘Fears: Losing control’ and ‘Decisions are: Pragmatic’. On Insights’ 72 point wheel, my conscious wheel position is 54, ‘Coordinating Observer (Accommodating)’, and my less conscious wheel position is 14, ‘Coordinating Observer (Focused)’. This is a bit of an interesting position; if I had to pick where I thought I fitted I would have went for either Reformer or Coordinator, though Observer is in the middle of these two so perhaps it’s right. The ‘Preference Flow’ shows that I skew towards red and yellow which, if I understand this right, means that I am making an effort to go in this direction, against my natural inclinations, which is a good thing. Most of my cohort were in broad agreement about where they came out in the evaluation, though a few reds noted that they feel that they are being forced into this category unnaturally due to pressures at work.

It’s not all about colours, and the profile which is created delves into quite a lot of detail about your personality and style, highlighting perceived strengths, weaknesses and communication strategies. I found myself agreeing with most of this analysis, even if the language was a bit over the top at times – “her original mind, fine insight and vision” (urgh) – but some of it was wrong and I would argue that some statements which were presented as positive things are really more problematic. For example, the statement that I am a “no-nonsense person who is not often attracted by the strange, exotic or unfamiliar” is patently untrue, certainly when it comes to my work and technology where I delight in being on the cutting edge. Another statement that stood out to me, as it goes to use of instinct which came up a few times, was “may be rather slow to make decisions as she wants to gather all essential information before acting.” This may be true in an ideal situation, but in reality, when there are deadlines and pressures, or no clear indication on the correct course of action, I am a great believer in going with instinct or in choosing the more positive option, something which I find usually works out well.

One of the most useful things I will take away from the evaluation and the session is the need to adapt communication strategies to match the preferences of the other party, so that you are not, for example, unnecessarily forcing a more red person to give you too much detail before starting work. Also, using the most appropriate colour response to a situation to get the best results, so in my case that could be being more open and sociable in less formal meetings for example. There were also some comments in a suggested development section which I found useful. “Accepting that perfection can be a rather obstructive standard to constantly aspire to” is something that I am aware of and I know that I can spend too much time on something when ‘good enough’ is enough. Also, “never attending a meeting without speaking out” stood out as, thinking about it, I can see many examples where I am very quiet in meetings, and I will be more conscious of this in the future. However, as a counterpoint to that I do feel the need to note that there are so many meetings I attend which are almost completely pointless and accomplish very little.

Session 3: Strategic Leadership, and Culture and Context Part 1

This was the first of two days covering the topics of strategic leadership, and culture and context, with today’s session also having a distinctive theme of reflection running through it. This started with a pre-sessional task to complete a short template document reflecting on an issue of leadership which you had faced at the university, this was then used as a basis for discussion in a group task on the day. I chose the integration of the Turnitin LTI into our VLE, a project which had stalled at the point at which I joined the university, but picked up and drove through to completion. The template we were asked to fill in was very helpful for getting me to think about this issue as a problem of leadership, rather than something technical to be overcome.

The first photo attached to this post shows the result of our morning group exercise, to create a visual depiction of what it means to us to be a middle manager. As a group effort there are various things going on in our drawing; to the bottom left is a comfortable paradise which we are shown to be leaving on our journey to become leaders, the kind that can conquer wild dire wolves. In the middle is someone on a boat, caught in a storm and frantically bailing out water which symbolises the pressures we can be put under, and for some reason there are a couple of people having a birthday party on the beach, celebrating success I think.

One part of this session that I particularly enjoyed was learning about different management styles, the various management theories that have come and gone over the past century or so, and talking about the differences between managing and leading, and how leading can inspire a team and be used to build people up, something we’ll be returning to during the sessions on coaching later in the year. As an aside, I also learned that the origin of ‘leadership’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘laedhere’ meaning guide, and the oldest known written record of this comes from Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ written in Monkwearmouth!

In the afternoon we turned to culture, values and contexts, with topics including the intersections between personal and corporate values, how cultures are defined or formed organically in organisations and the difficulties they face if they wish to change their culture, and how cultures and values can change or be forced to change as the result of external pressures such as, in an HEI context, governmental drive for a return on investment and increasing marketisation, and the changing perceptions, values and desires of students.

The day ended with a discussion on why and how to seek feedback on yourself as a manager and leader. One of the techniques introduced to us was the Johari Window – a concept which defines four aspects, or windows, to knowing ourselves. In the first window, or room, there is that which is public and which we also know about ourselves; secondly, there is that which is public but which we don’t know about ourselves, our blind spot; thirdly there is that which is known to us but no-one else, our private space; and finally the mysterious window of things about ourselves which are not consciously known to either ourselves or anyone else. An exercise we were given to shed light into the blind spot window was a list of adjectives which you give to trusted colleagues and ask them to pick the seven words they think best describe you. I used this technique after the session, giving the list to all of my team and another half dozen people I work closely with, and then collected the responses anonymously. Those responses were then collated to produce the rather re-assuring Wordle above.

The final image for this post is a photo of a disconcertingly simple chart that was drawn during the session showing how managers spend their time, with less time ‘doing’ and more time managing or leading the higher up you go. This has resonated and stuck with me because it helps to make sense of some of the tensions I’ve had in my new role as I am no longer able to spend as much time as I would like doing content creation style work and customer support. How to resolve this tension? Time, experience and this course is helping. It’s helped to define and demonstrate the value and need for my role which is making me more comfortable leading my team and in doing the kind of work that now takes up more of my time. Another option for me, looking a little further ahead, is to cross the line into academia proper, a minor career realignment that I’ve seen many people in my position doing.

Session 4: Strategic Leadership, and Culture and Context Part 2

Part 2 on the themes of strategic leadership, and culture and context started with a group discussion on the exercise to seek feedback on ourselves as leaders, for which I used the Johari adjective list as previously discussed, and then a return to values. This time we discussed the importance of expressing your values and not leaving any gap between your values and your actions, as part of being a good leader means being seen to be living the values you extol.

Something else we revisited and discussed in more detail was leadership types and the role of middle managers. On leadership types, the focus this time was on the dangers of dysfunctional leaders and how that can come about from the ‘loneliness of command’, having doubts about what to do, and an inability to discuss fears and doubts with others. On the flip side was what works – sharing leadership, distributing responsibilities and collaboration across organisational and professional boundaries.

On the value of the middle manager role we talked about how this has changed over time as the increased use of computing and automation has taken over traditional ‘managing’ style tasks such as monitoring workload, becoming instead about coaching and leading your team, having the ability to move between layers and boundaries within and even outside of your organisation, and in tying together strategic objectives with operational issues. I enjoyed this discussion as I came to realise, as others were talking about problems they have had with their teams, that I am lucky to have such a well-established and functional team who know what they are doing and always deliver very high quality customer service. Something else that came out of this discussion was some research about the value, or lack thereof, of traditional performance reviews which people find demotivating due to their backwards looking nature. What does work is putting the focus on coaching and looking forward to what is to be achieved over the next review period. This is something I want to keep in mind when the next appraisal cycle comes around.

The final part of the morning session was on the power of using influence rather than command to achieve your objectives, particularly the Cohen-Bradford Influence Model which argues for the use of reciprocity to gain influence with others, and that this is more sustainable and works better than when tasks are completed by commanding.

Our afternoon session began with an introduction to the concept of stakeholder management, a methodology designed to help ensure the success of projects by getting you to think about who the stakeholders are at the start, how to categorise and prioritise them, the influence they can have on the success of your project, and how to tailor your communications with them based on where they fall in your stakeholder analysis. The technique that was introduced to us was the power / interest grid of prioritisation, a simple chart that places stakeholders in one of four quadrants which shows whether you need just to monitor them, if they have low interest and low power, keep them informed in more detail, if they have high interest but low power, keep them satisfied if they have low interest but high power, and finally manage them closely if they have both high interest and high power.

As an exercise to put this into practice we were asked to create a stakeholder grid for a project we are currently involved with or which is on the horizon. I chose a VLE review, and the three images attached to this post show the grid I produced at different stages. The first is the shockingly poor finger painting I drew on my tablet during the session, the second is a polished version of this with one or two additions, and the third is the one I developed a few days later when I had the time to give it some more detailed thought. An additional detail shown in the second two grids is a categorisation of stakeholder using different colours; green for those who are likely to be advocates, blue for supporters, orange for possible critics and red for anyone who may have the power to be a blocker.

Finally, the concept of the action learning set was introduced, along with our first task. Action learning sets are a form of peer-to-peer learning with small groups arranging their own work between sessions. Our first task, to be completed before the next session, is to meet to discuss progress on our work-based projects for the course and to help each other work out any issues we may be having. To help we were given an introduction to some coaching models: GROW – Goals, Reality, Options (or Obstacles) and What’s Next; and OSKAR – Outcome, Scaling, Know-How and Resources, Affirm and Action, and Review. Also included was the concept of powerful questions which should, if they work, help to shift the perspective of the person being coached and have an impact on them.

Other homework to be completed before the next session is to read up on constructive development theory and to submit our project proposals.

Session 5: Emotional Intelligence

Today’s session began with a discussion of organisational culture, using Johnson and Scholes’ Culture Web as a starting point, then breaking us up into groups to explore each of the six factors making up the organisational paradigm and how they are expressed and represented at the university. Those factors were broken into two groups, representing soft and hard aspects of the organisational culture, soft being:

  • Ritual and Routines;
  • Stories;
  • Symbols;

and hard:

  • Control Systems;
  • Organisational Cultures;
  • Power Structures.

This was followed by a discussion on the differences between, and the problems caused by the discrepancy between how the most senior management wishes an organisation to be perceived and what it is actually like and how it is perceived by others, internal and external. Of particular note was the problems that arise when management tries to change or impose a new set of values.

We were then asked to reflect on our personal values and how those link to, or are in conflict with the values of the university. This wasn’t too difficult for me. I know myself, and there are some pretty core values which came to mind instantly, including inclusivity, openness, honesty and trust, and I’m pleased to be able to say that these are fitting in very well with my team and the culture at the University of Sunderland in general. It’s been almost two years now and I’m still very happy here and glad I made the leap from Northumbria, an institution where they tried to change the organisation’s culture and values from the top with results that decorum prevents me from commenting on.

This all led into the core topic for today’s session, emotional intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence, henceforth EI, was popularised in the mid-90s by Daniel Goleman, based on the work of Mayer and Salovey. In his 1996 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Goleman defined EI as “… abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” A great deal of research was introduced to us, much of it as post-session reading, going into the history and developments of EI as a concept, and showing that the ability to manage our emotions and relationships has been consistently linked to effective leadership.

A number of self-assessment exercises to measure EI have been developed by psychologists and we were asked to complete one of these, the Schutte Emotional Intelligence Scale, which provided a global EI score and scores in the four individual capabilities:

  • Perception of emotion (self-awareness);
  • Managing emotions in the self (self-management);
  • Managing other’s emotions (social awareness);
  • Utilization of emotions (social skill).

My global EI was 123, with a mean of 125, but my scores in the related capabilities of ‘managing emotions in the self’ and ‘utilization of emotions’ were above the mean, and in the remaining two capabilities a little below the mean. That is a result that rings true to me, and accords with my personality as an introvert and my Insights Discovery profile which pegged me as a ‘Coordinating Observer’.

EI can be developed and improved upon and the session gave us some tools and ideas on how to do this, one of which was to keep a reflective journal, which is handy for me, as that is one of the reasons I keep this blog! Although I must admit that, being public, posts here are edited and tailored for an audience, rather than just being for myself and thus completely candid, and while I do also keep a private journal, work related things rarely make it in there.

The session linked EI back to transformational leadership by introducing us to the Betari Box, showing the cycle of how your attitude affects your behaviour, which affects the attitude of others which affects their behaviour, and that comes back to affect your own behaviour; and highlighting the body of research that shows a strong link between high EI and successful managers.

Finally, Goleman’s work on types of leadership was discussed and we performed an exercise to divulge our own leadership styles and preferences. The six leadership styles identified by Goleman are:

  • Coercive – demands immediate compliance;
  • Authoritative – mobilises people towards a vision;
  • Affiliative – creates emotional bonds and harmony;
  • Democratic – builds consensus through participation;
  • Pacesetting – expects excellence and self-direction;
  • Coaching – develops people for the future.

Goleman argues that all of these styles are of value in different situations, but cites evidence in the form of case studies and surveys that shows that generally some are more effective than others, with a coercive style being least effective and authoritative the most. Note that authoritative in this context doesn’t mean leading by command, by asserting authority, but leading by example and being able to articulate a clear, achievable goal, while giving people the trust and freedom to find their own means of getting there. The self-assessment exercise revealed that I lean towards the affiliative and democratic styles, but shows an interesting gap in how comfortable I feel using an authoritative style and how often I actually use it. Something to work on I think. Something else I’ll take away from the session is a sense of responsibility to be more proactive in setting the mood of the team on a daily basis to help make the university a positive and happy place to work.

Session 6: Coaching at Work, Part 1

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The first of a three day ‘mini-course’ within the module devoted to coaching. Today was all about coaching theory, tomorrow will be practical application, and then in around a month there will be a third day covering how you have implemented coaching in the real world and how to coach teams rather than individuals.

These sessions are being delivered by an external consultant, Matt Somers, who’s coaching model is based on the work of Tim Gallwey who’s work includes The Inner Game of Tennis which Matt recommended in particular for follow-up reading.

The day began with an exploration of what we each wanted to get out of the coaching sessions, and our collected responses can be seen in the first piece of flip chart paper in the attached photo. What I wanted to gain was to learn how to apply the principles of coaching in situations where people and teams are likely to be resistant, to coaching specifically but to any kind of change in general.

Next was the day’s first exercise and demonstration of the power of coaching. Standing in a circle we had to toss a ball between us, recording how long it took to do so. On our first attempt we did it in 20.1 seconds. Matt then asked us how we could do it in half the time. There were many iterations, and eventually we go it down to an incredible 0.15 seconds – I won’t tell you how, spoilers. The point of the exercise is that after each iteration we all thought we had done pretty well and, after the first two or three rounds, that we couldn’t possibly improve further, but by making us think about how we could half the time, instead of telling us to do so, or that it can be done, or other teams have done it faster, Matt was coaching us to push ourselves, to find our own solutions.

And that is the crux of coaching. It is about drawing people out, releasing potential, helping them to learn as opposed to teaching, training or counselling them. The role of the coach is to ask the right questions, to help motivate people and to remove internal barriers to success – internal interference as identified in the second piece of flip chart paper in the photo. These are factors such as low morale, a fixed mind-set, boredom, stress, low self-esteem, etc. There are also external factors of interference which a coach may not be able to do anything about, such as the influence of others, conflict, office culture and family problems.

Another important factor for success we discussed was motivation, and the importance of motivation in getting people to perform at a consistently high level. We identified three broad categories of motivator – performance, learning and enjoyment – which are distinct from routine day-to-day things such as salary, benefits or job security. What these three factors of motivation have in common is that they are largely internal, and thus can be developed with the help of coaching.

The day ended with another couple of exercises. ‘The Trials of Tell’ was designed to show the limitations of an instructive or commanding style by having one partner in a pair imagine themselves to be an alien who, lying flat on the floor, had no concept of the ability to stand, while the second partner had to instruct them on how to do so. The second exercise contrasted this by having someone who self-identified as clumsy and unable to catch a ball consistently, doing exactly that, with the aid of being peppered with coaching style questions as they were tossing the ball back and forth between themselves and Matt. Instead of commanding ‘Watch the ball’, asking closed questions, ‘Are you watching the ball?’, or asking interrogative questions, ‘Why aren’t you watching the ball?’, Matt started by asking ‘What do you notice about the ball?’ and then followed up with questions about the ball and exercise which were related to the catcher’s responses. In doing so Matt demonstrated two things, firstly the power of using questions as an effective means of getting people to think, rather than giving instructions, and secondly the nature of coaching questions: that they should be open and not closed, start off broad and then get narrower, follow the interests of the person being coached, and use their own words and responses in your follow-up questions to show that you are actively listening and engaging with them.

Finally, I’ll end this post with a couple of random quotes from the session. These are not Matt’s, but axioms he has picked up over his years as a coach and isn’t sure who to attribute them to:

"Quitting and going is bad, quitting and staying is worse."

"Learning is easier than being taught."

Session 7: Coaching at Work, Part 2

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Day 2 of Coaching at Work was about filling out some of the principles introduced to us yesterday, followed by some practical application in a safe and supported environment.

Matt’s completed coaching model takes the form of an equation, Potential minus Interference (both internal and external) equals High Performance; add in Learning and Enjoyment for Sustainable High Performance.

Following a discussion on the purpose of coaching which served as a recap, the conclusion of which was that coaching aims to move people from vague desires to meaningful action, Matt gave us the ARROW model of questioning which consists of five steps, or categories of question:

  • Aims: What do you want?
  • Reality: What’s happening now?
  • Reflection: How big is the gap?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Way Forward: What will you do?

For each of these steps Matt gave us around 6 to 8 example questions which break them down into more detail, and some advice. Possibly the most important being not to stick to the model literally, as people don’t think in a straight line and can jump around the steps in the model. Reality is the most important step according to Matt, as it can take people some time to work out what the situation is actually like, and also possibly the most tricky. We were warned about one question in particular from the examples in this section, namely ‘How does this make you feel?’, which has the potential to be upsetting for some in certain situations. For the Options section answers don’t have to be realistic or even necessarily desirable, the purpose here is to generate many and creative answers which are hashed out during the final step, the Way Forward. What all coaching questions need to have, and which the given examples have been designed to provide us, is the quality of compelling the person being coached to focus and provide more detailed answers than to ordinary questions in another context.

After our work on the ARROW model we broke up into groups of three and practiced coaching on each other, using some prepared live work issues we were asked to think about prior to these coaching days.

We ended the day by reflecting on the qualities of an effective coach and getting some more tips from Matt which included the three principles of coaching:

  • Awareness: The ability to focus and give your complete attention to the person being coached, and without passing judgement.
  • Responsibility: The person being coached needs to own their tasks, so don’t take anything away from them. Particularly important if you are the person’s line manager as well as coach.
  • Trust: The person being coached needs to have trust in the coach, the coaching process, and most importantly themselves.

Regarding awareness, we had an aside on active listening with advice which included showing an interest, avoiding interruptions, removing distractions and making good eye contact. All of which are designed to show that you are listening.

Next steps after today are to try and put it all into practice in our own teams before the final coaching day in around a month’s time, and to read some of the follow-up articles and documentation which Matt has provided.

Session 8: Understanding Finance

This was a half day optional session which I unfortunately missed due to illness, but I was able to study the materials and presentation after the event to get something from it. As a non-budget holder it was a session I was particularly looking forward to so it’s a shame I missed out.

The first part was devoted to how budgets are set and monitored at the university, including how they are divided up between faculties, services and departments, and the difference between controllable and non-controllable costs. Controllable costs were listed as staffing levels, contracts and income, purchase of materials and use of equipment, and the remainder of the session concentrated on this area as it is where budget managers have control. Non-controllable costs were given as overheads, rent, insurance and depreciation.

The second part of the session was about how to effectively manage a budget and how to make savings using the three E’s – Economy (cheaper suppliers, having the right staff), Efficiency (doing work faster, streamlining processes, using new technology) and Effectiveness (assessing the service provided, how customer’s needs are met, what new services we can offer).

There was a lot of emphasis placed on the need for budget managers to monitor their actual spent and make sure it stays within budget so as not to add any undue stress on any other parts of the university and to increase future investment. The advice given on how to do this was to pay attention to the daily details and find small savings which add up, and to use the resources available in the Finance and HR departments who can provide support by means of their knowledge of the systems, legislation and the big picture of the university’s whole budget.

Finally there was a discussion of the new finance and HR IT systems which are going to be implemented over the next two years and how those will help by giving budget managers direct access to live data and the ability to update it themselves, streamlining current processes and an efficiency saving in itself.

The Half Way Point

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It’s the half way point in the Leading from the Middle course, and as part of a research project being conducted by two of the course tutors I was asked if I would create a visual depiction of what it means to be a middle manager now that I am half way in – a repeat of an exercise we were tasked with during the third session on context and culture. The first was a group exercise, but this time the artwork is all mine, for which I offer my humblest apologies.

I’m sure my artwork needs no interpretation, but I’ll give you one anyway. I have tried to call back to the scenes, images and ideas of the first image, so you can see the setting of rolling hills and wild countryside has been repeated, and on the far left is the palm tree and little island paradise from the first image, representing that we have now well and truly left it behind on our journey to success! There is, however, one person left alone floating in a pool of their own contentment, as there always seems to be someone who just doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone and join in the adventure.

That’s me in the middle, armed with a sword and shield of confidence, leading my team who are now on a coach as I’ve found the coaching sessions of the course to be particularly enlightening. The sun represents the course itself and the team who are teaching us, casting their rays of illuminating knowledge upon us. We venture forth to face the big scary dragon of external pressures on the university. If you’re reading something into this like the dragon being a metaphor for the horrid Tory government and their insane drive to marketisation, well… that’s just your interpretation!