‘Unlike you, I never stop thinking…’

Image Respect Trust Termite Assumption
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
Henry Winkler, actor and author

while ago, my colleagues and I gave a presentation  about how university administrators are perceived.  The presentation resulted from our concerns about the negative perception of the role of the university administrators, particularly as inferred by members of academic staff. 

One concern is that, by raising the issue, we could potentially create wider divisions with academic colleagues.  That is far from our intention.  On the contrary, we are all part of a greater team with many different facets. 

Rather than just moan about how we are perceived, we want to actively engage in repositioning the value of our work in the eyes of all staff and students.

In the context of the discussion of ‘inclusive culture’, and specifically professional academics and professional administrators, how are we perceived?  If the person reading these lines is an academic they would think of their own perception.  Conversely, if an administrator reads these lines they would think of their own perception.  From our point of view as administrators, there is an equality between academics and administrative staff regarding professionalism.  Indeed, as my colleague, Catherine Butler, pointed out in her recent blog:  ‘As professional university administrators, we provide high quality professional services, we have developed an appreciation of academic culture, are sensitive to the needs of a variety of diverse clients, accept responsibility for our actions and share expertise and good practice.  As such, the crucial role we play is integral to the strategic success of the University of Kent.’ 

It appears, however, this inclusive perception is not widespread.  Let me give you a couple of examples from my experience of working in higher education administration over the last fifteen years.  A senior academic member of staff once told me:  ‘unlike you, I never stop thinking’.  I found this offensive on a number of levels.   Needless to say, that person was wrong.  I provide a professional service and I am often preoccupied with work long after my working day, just like many of my colleagues.  Was this a singular incident or could this be indicative of a widely held perception?  Alas, a period of time later, I further overheard another academic member of staff referring to the recent promotion of an administrator, saying:  ‘Oh, but she will always be just a glorified secretary’.

Aside from my personal interest, even ‘one-off’ examples like these hint at a more general problem with colleagues’ perceptions of administrators.  Is administrative work seen as less important? Is it seen as less professional? Does the contribution of the administrator to academic work remain unseen and unheard? If so, why – what does that say about how that work is valued – and should it remain overlooked?  A negative perception is problematic and needs fixing.

One output that has arisen as a result of the University’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity is the ‘Valuing Everyone’ programme, in which all staff, including academics, participate.  ‘The Dignity at Work Policy’ further supports this ethos.  I believe this is an important idea and I would like to see it promoted further.  It seems that the University of Kent agrees (http://www.kent.ac.uk/hr-equalityanddiversity/pol-pro-guides/dignity.html).

In a nutshell, what Administrators want is to be treated as professionals and – to paraphrase Aretha Franklin – shown a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”.



Lessons from the 2014 football World Cup!

german teamIn a late response to the drama of the football world cup I have a list of lessons learned prompted by HR Grapevine. I have amended their proposed list and have included a couple of items which I have interpreted quite differently, so here is my personal list:

1: Don’t be too reliant on one star player

A number of matches have shown balanced teams succeed ahead of those that relied on one star player. Argentina’s Lionel Messi underperformed  in the final and the German team got the result. Brazil struggled as soon as Neymar was ruled out through injury. Uruguay were at sea without Suarez. Weeks earlier in the tournament England were too reliant on the Rooney factor and appeared simply not to set up to act as a unit.

The system should be greater than the sum of its parts, and no more so than in a team. Algeria, Mexico and Costa Rica performed above and beyond expectations.

The same is true about the capability of any team.

2: Trying hard will only get you so far

I think the England team were well prepared and earnest in their efforts (despite the hype  – both negative and positive – from the tabloids). Best efforts are often a sure fire way to failure (Deming has a lot to say about this). However mediocrity can be turned around – but this needs a transformation in approach.

A huge amount can be achieved by engaged the people who are ‘good enough’ to enable them to perform even better (see point one above).

3: Utilise technology  – if it makes sense to do so

FIFA endorsed the use of goal-line technology to deal with the age-old problem of knowing whether a ball had crossed the line for a goal or not. This is not new technology – similar approaches have been used in cricket since 2001 and tennis since 2006. The issue is will it solve the problem? It has been a great success.

Another nice innovation was the marker foam to set positions of defenders in a ‘wall’ at free kicks. Again this was a repeating problem – could we make the job of the referee easier to implement? Simple and effective and in this instance no digital technology in sight.

The first question with technology and innovation is – will it improve what we want to achieve?

4: You need to align team and individual goals

One of the big stories for England in the run up to the world cup concerned whether Wayne Rooney would finally get a goal after 3 unsuccessful tournaments. A bigger question for England fans should have been ‘who cares?’. Ultimately the world cup is not about individual players achieving anything it is about a team wining the championship. All else is a side story.

The problems occur when one person’s goal overrides the team’s goals. Did Rooney shoot when he could make passes to better placed team members? Did he dive into shots which other players were about to take themselves? Did he neglect his defensive duties on the left against Italy allowing them to win the match? There is evidence that points to all of these things. Did England switch off once Wayne had ‘got his goal’ in the game against Uruguay ? Who knows?

The winning German team successfully rotated a whole range of players to do the job. The Netherlands played a recognised centre-forward as a wing back (Dirk Kuyt) and he studiously grafted into that unfamiliar role with great effectiveness. The Dutch even drafted a substitute goalkeeper just for the penalty shootout.

5: Clarity of purpose, identity, belonging and vision pay off

Germany’s plan to recapture the world cup (which they last achieved in 1990) started back in 2000 after a poor showing in the European championships. The German Football Federation invested heavily in the future with new academies and a manager with a long-term plan.

They developed an identity for German international football and engaged players on the basis of playing to that philosophy.

A footnote to this is that German midfielder Sami Khedira picked up an injury in the warm up a few minutes before the start of the cup final and had to be replaced. Khedira will be devastated to have missed the game, but it was clear in the post match celebrations that he revelled in the team’s success and fully identified with the achievement of the team for the part that he had already played in the tournament up to that point (see point 4 above).


An alternative view is offered at HR Grapevine: