All posts by cdv

Head of Organisational Development at University of Kent. Change Academy 2011 member.

Meetings Meetings Meetings – An Overview

By Cindy Vallance


Why do we have meetings? Often our reasons are noble. We want to share information and plans, encourage collegiality, and provide opportunities for consultation, decision making and mutual learning.

Sadly, however, some meetings can seem to make decision making more difficult and feel like a substitute for getting things done. People leave these meetings frustrated or puzzled and wonder why they bothered to attend.

How can we ensure that meetings we are responsible for are organised and conducted in such a way that demonstrates respect for everyone who is giving their time to attend? In turn, if we are asked to participate in a meeting, how can we show respect to the person who has called it?

If I am responsible for the meeting, firstly I need to decide the PURPOSE of the full meeting or each portion of the meeting.

Is it to pass on information? I have news to share with you about …

Is it to gather information? What do you think of …?

Is it for decision-making? What are we going to do about…?

Is it for problem solving? How should we resolve…?

In preparing the meeting agenda, we must be clear about its purpose and make this purpose known to meeting participants.

There are also a range of OBJECTIVES to consider when conducting meetings:

For instance, we may want to:

  • test the reactions of colleagues to our ideas
  • pool ideas and experiences on a subject in order to learn from each other
  • identify when further information is needed prior to decision making
  • build group morale

This might all seem like common sense.

However, meetings provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the old adage “easier said than done.” I know that I certainly have not always given due thought to purpose and objectives with every meeting I have been responsible for. However, that is why reminders  exist…to bring us back to principles that we may know but have sometimes become too busy or too lax to practice with the appropriate rigour. Meetings, like any other professional practice, require thoughtful consideration and intentionality.

Wouldn’t it be great if more meetings were clear on their purpose and objectives before we showed up, poured a coffee, and settled ourselves around the table?

Next time, hints on regular team meetings.

Meetings – How can we reduce the “supertax” of work?

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

I closely follow the writing of Nilofer Merchant who is a thinker, independent author, and regular contributor to Harvard Business Review (HBR) on the topics of culture, innovation, and strategy and who was also recognised as one of the “Most Influential Voice on Twitter” last year by The Independent (UK).  One of her recent posts has stayed with me. In it,  she states:

“Inside our organisations, we ought to re-imagine meetings, because they truly are the supertax of work. If our goal is to create shifts, the role of meetings then should be about the dialogue around an idea so we can understand and learn together. Meetings should not be about regurgitating information that people could read at their own pace. They should allow space for us to hear one another and then to hear the distinctions of the ideas so we can discuss and ultimately learn what criteria matters to everyone — so a clarity of direction can become clear.”

My calendar, like many others across the University, is chock full of meetings. When I experienced a Blackberry synching problem recently, I somehow managed to lose the records of nearly all of my upcoming meetings. While I was momentarily tempted to use this as an opportunity to simply restart my work life with an empty diary, I knew the solution wasn’t that simple. I painstakingly (and with some help) manually recreated all of my calendar entries. So far, I have only missed one meeting and I just have to hope that I have caught the rest.

Last year, shortly after returning from the Change Academy residential programme, I wrote a blog series about the key principles that support a productive thinking environment and which form the basis for productive engagement in the work place including effective practices in meetings. The reality is that re-imagining meetings takes a commitment to positive values and behaviours as well as adherence to rigour in practice. However, while my previous blog series was about creating the right cultural climate for meetings, I didn’t focus in detail on meeting practicalities. Given how important meetings tend to be in our working life, sharing practical meeting considerations will be my goal for my next few posts.

What kinds of meetings work best for you? What tips do you have to share? Feel free to add your ideas and comments.


Conversations, Not Just Words

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

One of my favourite thinkers in the areas of  innovation, strategy and change leadership  is Harvard business professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter .

A blog she wrote has relevance to the Social Sciences Change Academy and to the University more widely. It’s entitled Ten Essentials for Getting Value from Values  and in it she first confirms what we all know – that the ‘values’ words contained in vision and mission statements and in strategic planning documents across many organisations are eerily similar and are usually somewhat generic (eg. respect,  trust, equality, etc. – in fact, some of the same words we have used in describing what we say we care about within the Social Sciences Change Academy).

What can we possibly take from sets of words that could be used to describe any organisation? I agree with the view of Rosabeth Moss Kanter; the value comes not from the words themselves but from the conversations and dialogue that they have the power to initiate.

I was in a meeting very recently where we discussed ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’ as two words that underline what we want to achieve at U of Kent in supporting the student experience. To me, these words describe the values of what the group is working to achieve. As Professor Moss Kantor states “Values are aspirational, signaling long-term intentions that guide thinking about the future.” But how do we make time for these conversations that make values real over time? Aren’t we all just too busy getting the work done? Here are just a couple of options:

One way is to intentionally combine different sets of individuals across a range of roles and functions in project work so that a larger group can contribute to work to be done – individuals who are perhaps beyond the range of what sometimes may seem to be ‘the usual suspects.’ Be sure to include discussion on the values underpinning the work from the outset.

Another way is to find out what others are up to. This then can help us make values connections across seemingly disparate areas. An easy way to do this is through social media. One of the biggest benefits I find from twitter, for instance, is that it gives me quick access to a range of what is going on within and outside U of Kent.

In 10-15 minutes, I can read the latest newsletter from the School of Anthropology and Conservation (@SACA_Kent), catch up on Kent Union Sabbatical Officer Kenny Budd’s most recent blog (@kbuddinyourface) and see at a glance what the THE (@timeshighered) has to say about the latest HE league tables. I can often then have more productive conversations because I know a little to start with about a wider range of activities than I would otherwise have time to explore; how else would I know that a big long term priority for @KentUnion is an improved facility – for, you guessed it, conversation, meetings, and network development.

What can we all do? Get a conversation going about values. Having coffee or lunch with someone we don’t normally interact with is a simple way to start. What are they working on? What is important to them? How might this intersect with the work we are doing? Values then start to become both real and shared.

Is it possible to demonstrate too much enthusiasm?

by Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

I read a recent blog in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) series that struck a chord with me.  Entitled “Are You Hurting Your Own Cause?” Dorie Clark provides five reasons on how we can do more harm than good when we are working to communicate or embed an initiative or concept that we are passionate about.

What does this have to do with Social Sciences Change Academy? I had a conversation with colleagues involved in the initiative which is about encouraging a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.  We all believe in the importance of this purpose but we realised as we talked how we can also fail in our purpose in exactly the ways that are mentioned in this HBR blog.

Let’s consider just one example.

Painting a black and white scenario – Firstly, getting all three of the groups we are encouraging to collaborate to do so is not always possible or even desirable. There are many occasions where focused attention on one group or another is much more useful and effective.

We can, for instance, consider induction. There are many types and purposes – central events for all staff, events that focus on the particular needs of incoming students, events that are tailored for specific staff groups, Faculties, Schools, or Departments. There is certainly no one right way of ‘doing’ induction or just one purpose for holding an induction event. Determining the ‘why’ is key. For instance, what is the desired outcome from an induction event (transfer of information, building a community or network between staff members or between staff and students, soliciting ideas from those who are new to the organisation to help plan for the future, etc.)? Once the event organisers determine the ‘why,’ the event can be designed accordingly.

Dorie Clark discusses a few other areas where we can end up not helping ourselves to further our vision. These include:

– Offering our opinion when it hasn’t been requested

– Assuming we already know the other person’s viewpoint

– Making it ad hominem (‘against the person’ /viewing differences as personal and related to the individual rather than based on ideas)

– Launching into a description of our passion before we are asked

We can all think through these pitfalls and ask ourselves with each one how we are managing the fine balance between sharing our passions and enthusiasm for a goal and taking it just a bit too far, with the very real danger of turning people in the exact opposite direction.

In the end, the Social Sciences Change Academy vision is to build momentum in working towards its purpose for the sake of more than a single group of people or a single faculty. The challenge is to do this with a sense of collaboration, not competition, with colleagues across the University.


Change Academy meeting – bad news and good news…

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

Here we are, two days from week zero and everyone is frantically busy so I thought I would share just a few thoughts.

We had our first Change Academy meeting of 2012/13 yesterday. It certainly had the great effect of reinvigorating me and the rest of the group for the year ahead as we reflected on the purpose of Social Sciences Change Academy – to encourage a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.  A few highlights include:


BAD news – since everyone is so busy, we only had six of our twelve group members who were able to attend the meeting.

GOOD news – we managed to still have representation from our full complement of academic and professional services staff and students.

SOLUTION to BAD news – we will have two meetings a term since we know that given the group’s diverse composition, it is nearly impossible to get everyone together at the same time. We will also continue to have sub-group meetings and informal caffeine breakout sessions.


BAD news – my Blackberry blasted the song “She Wants to Go to the Seaside” by the  Kooks in the middle of our meeting.

GOOD news – the disruption did not affect the positive and productive discussion, plans began to be formulated and we all worked very hard not to interrupt each other and to ensure every voice was heard.

SOLUTION to BAD news – remember to set Blackberry ‘silent’ feature in future.


BAD news – we ran out of time to work through our SharePoint demo.

GOOD news – we will take forward a number of specific ways to support Social Sciences and to work to continue to build momentum around our ethos over the coming year.

SOLUTION to BAD news – two of our members will arrange dates for the SharePoint demo and another member is on hand to provide further practical support.

We will continue to write more about Change Academy and change in general in our blogs. In the meantime, best wishes to all for Welcome Week and keep up by following some of the new University of Kent twitter feeds mentioned here. You might also want to consider how you’re working with social media regardless of your role at the University by having a look at the materials on Moodle from the Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching’s (UELT) first E-Learning Summer School held last week at Kent.


What do holiday snaps have to do with the University of Kent?

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

I couldn’t help but think of the University of Kent during a recent trip to France. I stayed at a hotel one night that had an intriguing history.

The hotel was once a wing of a fortified castle constructed in the 11th century by Robert de Dreux, grandson of Louis VI, King of France. The castle was passed down through various royal family members and enjoyed by kings, from Louis XII to Charles IX, for 200 years through to the 16th century. Its history then became more volatile until the 18th century when the castle was inherited by Philip Egalite who in his efforts to seek approval from the Republicans ordered the partial demolishment of his own chateau and sold many fixtures and furnishings from the castle. The present chateau, once a wing of the Royal castle, rose again through restoration in 1863 and was ultimately converted to a hotel in 1956. Further refurbishment was continuing when I stayed there; rooms were being redecorated and a spa was being added to the site that will include underfloor heating (harkening as far back as Neolithic times). Restoration work was also underway on the existing ruins to preserve a lasting legacy for those who visit.

So why did this make me think of Kent? For me, the castle/chateau and its many transitions throughout history tell me a story of survival and of success. The chateau has reinvented itself multiple times while still retaining an appreciation and sense of its colourful and rich history.

When I came back to work, I couldn’t help but notice afresh the building and renovation work happening here at Kent and the hive of activity within the walls where staff and students are making decisions about what actually happens here.

As we continue to find our way through times of uncertainty for the higher education sector, what buildings, traditions, practices and offerings will we retain and what will we change to meet the needs of our future students? As we think about Kent’s 50th anniversary in 2015, we are given the opportunity to consider what our story has been and what our story will be 5, 10, or 50 years from now. What will Kent look like – a crumbling ruins or an exceptional destination that is proud of its heritage and that looks unwaveringly to its future? I personally firmly believe that our collective talents, knowledge, and commitment will serve us well in preserving Kent for generations to come.

Aspirations are not enough…

By Cindy Vallance @cdvallance

In my most recent blog I discussed the ambitious vision, purpose and values that those in the Social Sciences Change Academy are working to exemplify, individually and collectively.

But are aspirations sufficient? Of course not. Ideas make us feel good only for the amount of time we are in a room talking about them or only for the amount of time it takes to share an email with yet another good idea.

We could…we should…why don’t we?…

That is not to say we shouldn’t share good ideas. The last thing we should do is stop the flow of creativity that can lead to positive changes. But whose responsibility is it to implement these good ideas? Who are the “we” that we so often reference?

I have written quite a lot about self awareness and personal responsibility in these blogs. I firmly believe that what each of us does is key to our collective success. There is a common expression that there is no “I” in team (in English at least), but every action within every team’s plan needs an “I” to make it happen.

If I have an idea for something that should happen or change it is my responsibility to take the next step to try and make it so.

If it is in an area within my range of responsibility to make happen then ‘the buck stops with me.’ If it is a simple thing I can do on my own then I should just get on with it. If it is more than a one person job and I have people within my immediate frame of reference that I can galvanise, then I need to determine how to get these people on board to agree and to support putting the idea into action.

If my idea is one that is beyond the scope of what I can personally do anything about to make happen but I truly believe in it, I still need to find a way to influence people who can then decide to make it happen.

If it is an idea I really care about, I must not give up.

But successful implementation is one of the most difficult parts of change and a significant reason why change efforts so often fail. So what do we need to do? Here are some simple questions to ask ourselves

What is the outcome I/we want to achieve? (vision)

Why should I/we do it? (purpose and values)

How should I/we go about achieving it?  (implementation plan)

And on the implementation plan…for the team this must include: what will happen, when it will happen, and who will take responsibility to make it happen. The implementation process for each person within the team is the same:  what I will do, when I will do it, and my commitment made real by reliably delivering on what I have promised.

How should I/we track progress? (project management)

How will I/we know if we have succeeded? (evaluation/reflection/adjustment)

So how do we turn aspiration to implementation? It is up to me… It is up to us.



One small group, one set of values, one ambitious purpose and vision…

By Cindy Vallance (@cdvallance)

Last week’s blog focused on the importance of values. But some wonder, wouldn’t they be pretty much the same for any organisation? The reality is that the subtleties count.

For instance, compare these: The UK army’s values are: courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment whereas the 2012 Olympic/Paralympic values are respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration, and equality. Yes there are some similarities (courage, respect), but some real differences too in the words as well as the intent behind the words. For instance, courage in the sports arena undoubtedly looks quite different from courage on the battlefield. However, both of these organisations have determined that choosing these values to inform their actions is useful. Many organisations today share this view.

To bring values closer to home, how can we make these real at the University of Kent? Well, here is one example. Back when the Social Sciences Change Academy group first gathered in September 2011, we decided at a grassroots level some values that were important to us – in fact, so many values we had difficulty remembering them all (after all, 11 values is a lot and we even added a 12th – learning – based on our collective experiences this past year).

LESSON 1 – most people can likely remember no more than seven key words; five or six values are much more manageable than twelve.

And how did we get from twelve values to our final five? It was quite simple really. Firstly, we refined our existing purpose and vision through a lively discussion with everyone taking part and working to ensure we didn’t get too precious about who came up with which idea. We ended up with some refinements to our working statements created this past year.

Our Purpose

To encourage a stronger community of learning through collaboration between students, academic staff and professional services staff.

Our Vision

We will be stronger by working together through times of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. We will inspire creative partnerships that deliver positive organisational change.

LESSON 2 – leaving egos at the door to allow for an open discussion is critical in obtaining consensus on purpose and vision.

Finally, with our purpose and vision in mind, we individually voted on our top 5 from the 12 values we had developed. We used post-it-notes to write these down, and then posted them up on the wall. We then counted them up and took stock. We found there was some repetition with wording when we considered values compared to our purpose and vision and after some further discussion, ended up with the following five values.






It is our goal to exemplify these values, both in our day-to-day behaviours as well as how we approach activities within the Social Sciences Change Academy initiative and with regular check ins against our purpose and vision.

LESSON 3 – take the time to set strong foundations and then use this as the basis to develop something the group believes in and can be proud of.

What kind of environment might we build if we all did our best to live these values at the University of Kent?


Social Sciences Change Academy – what’s next?

By Cindy Vallance

In his most recent blog, Simon Black posted a wordle that highlighted topics from his recent blogs as part of the Change Academy initiative. Change, people, values and behaviours all feature heavily. I thought this was a great idea so decided I would do the same. Here is my own completely unedited blog wordle:


Not surprisingly, given my recent blogs, trust features predominantly. Also included is an emphasis on  creating a thinking environment. The big question in my mind is what we can now accomplish if we have so far managed to build a foundation of trust based on thinking with others.

Our group is meeting this week to discuss our activities since first coming together last autumn and to consider where to focus our energies in the coming year. To date, it has been very much about embedding an ethos of collaboration – consciously working to increase partnerships between students, academic staff and professional services staff in everything we are already doing. After we meet, I will report back to share some further detail about what we have done and what we are hoping to do.

One thing we have discussed is how we should try and get the word out about this way of working that takes into account a wide diversity of perspectives and provides equal opportunities for all to express their views.

If you have enjoyed reading these blogs over the past few months and following our twitter link @cdvallance, then spread the word and share these links with your colleagues – both staff and students. Perhaps also think about commenting within the blogs since we do want these to be a forum for discussion as well as self reflection.

 And check back to hear our plans; we want to hear from you on these as well.

Are we really different beasts?

By Cindy Vallance

In my recent blog about student blogs, I mentioned that one of the key reasons for the existence of the Social Sciences Change Academy is to recognise and do our utmost, as individuals and as a collective group, to demonstrate the power of bringing together the complementary viewpoints, experiences and capabilities of students, professional services staff and academic staff.

By focusing on activities that demonstrate our commonly shared values, we demonstrate our commitment to a vision of an inclusive yet diverse educational community – one in which everyone is treated with dignity, respect and fairness; an environment in which collaboration and innovation can thrive.

This healthy environment will only develop if we get beyond stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘student’ an ‘academic’ or an ‘administrator.’ One practical way to do this is by listening to others; for instance by tuning in through social media to what students are saying. Another way is to consider the words of John Gill, THE editor, from an article in the Association of University Administrators (AUA) magazine. He states:

“The view that administrators and academics are different beasts who will never get on may still be deeply entrenched in some people’s minds, but it cannot be right in the 21st century. Yes, they are different, and yes, academics will never appreciate intrusive or overbearing management, but when it is supporting the institution, supporting research programmes, and – perhaps most important of all from the point of view of professional services staff – supporting students, then I really don’t see how anyone can object…”

I must, of course, add to this quote that professional services staff will also never appreciate conspicuously uninterested or arrogant academic practice, and that similarly, students appreciate none of these negative qualities; qualities which we see demonstrated on a day-to-day basis more than we might like to admit.

It is up to each of us as individuals to question the received wisdom that has led to these divisions separating ‘us’ and ‘them,’ to constantly challenge these unhelpful behaviours and to work to exemplify their opposites.

If we do not, then all we are left with is empty rhetoric about equality and diversity and a weakened belief in the  power of education to change lives in a positive way. And isn’t our belief in the power of education a large part of why we have chosen to be members of a University community in the first place?

Reference: Profile Article: John Gill, THE Editor, AUA Newslink, Issue Number 73.