Category Archives: Professionalism

The myth of restructuring

 

Re-structuring and re-organising is probably the most common change management method used in organisations. It is the organisational equivalent of management accounting – moving things to make an impression that things have changed.

managers like to make an impression, and many are prepared to even if it involves complete illusion. The problem with restructuring is twofold.

First organisational structure has much less influence on organisation performance than does organisational culture. uit is the behaviour of

The phenomenon is not new. In the magazine article “Merrill’s Marauders” (Harper’s Magazine, 1957)  Charlton Ogburn described his experiences in the british Army during the  Burma Campaign of World War II thus:

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend [as a nation] to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

If you want to look busy spend your time, and other people’s time doing a restructure. Aside form wasting time and resources (including redundancies, pay rises, consultants fees, etc) it will have the added benefit of making things worse.

On the other hand act professionally, use knowledge accrued by organisation development over 50 years and consider the overall system of work, what is affecting people’s effectiveness and work with them to make things better. It involves everyone, fixes the problems which people are actually experiencing, and is a lot cheaper.

Reading:

Beckhard, R. (1972) Optimizing Team Building Effort, J. Contemporary Business.  1:3,  pp.23-32

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

 

Let’s focus on ‘what’ and worry less about ‘how’

Right Way and Wrong thingsThe emerging consensus in discussions about leadership and management behaviour in recent decades  has focused on ‘changing the way that you lead’.

Although the ‘how’ you do it and ‘what’ you do both contribute to effective leadership, the research literature is overwhelmingly focused on the how (Kaiser et al, 2012). Hunt (1991) reviewed the body of published scholarly articles on leadership and estimated that 90% of them were focused on interpersonal processes. It is also most likely that the majority of leadership developers and consultants have a ‘how’ bias, which may influence the debate. The focus is on how you go about things.

But do leaders know ‘what’ to do? Should we agree aims, develop a vision, inspire people, create teams, empower, engage, delegate, set targets, punish, reward, restructure, enable, measure results, improve services, prioritise, plan or problem-solve? What do these things mean? Which are helpful and which just cause problems?

Of course, HOW we think about these things is important. What is the logic behind reward, recognition or blame? Is it sound logic, or convenient logic, or unfounded assumption, or testable theory (if you are into that). Do we really know what we are doing and assuming? These things must be tested in our own minds, or else we are doing little more than sleepwalking. But the outcome from this thinking must start with what needs to be done. Otherwise we will focus on the hows e.g. (doing it nicely or respectfully or considerately) and end up doing the “wrong things righter”!

Let’s be clear, of course, there is never any excuse for ‘doing the wrong things wronger’, and little benefit in ‘doing the right things wrong’. So this doesn’t let bad management off the hook. Instead, getting our own thinking right (‘what’) is an important start point because it drives better consideration of ‘how’ to go about our business.

Our own styles and preferences (hows) are different to the preferences of each member of our team. We need to be able to adapt in order to interrelate with others effectively. Whilst positive interactions with people are sometimes the icing on the cake, the cake itself must be always be sound. Remember – if we don’t get the ‘whats’ right we will only be deluding ourselves.

Hunt, J. G. (1991). Leadership: A new synthesis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Kaiser, R. B., McGinnis, J. L., & Overfield, D. V. (2012). The how and the what of leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 64(2), 119.

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

You reveal your commitments in what you say and what you do

Deke Slayton
Not a banal team building task…                    Deke Slayton’s CO2 scrubber fix, designed to save Apollo 13 astronauts from asphyxiation.

When it comes down to it, what are we really committed to? How can we test our integrity, our true priorities and principles? How do people judge our choices and interpret our values? How do we show what we think is important? The answer is startlingly simple. In the words of a valued former colleague, Derek Middleton, whom I worked with many years ago,

  You show your commitments by what you say and what you do

Derek implied that he was quoting someone else, but I have yet to find a source in the intervening years, so I will attribute it to him.

 The statement is far from a banal truism. It is a test of character:

  • Do we link what we say with what we do?
  • Do we do the things which we say are important?
  • Do we say the things which we know are important?
  • Do we prioritise  our actions just as we do our words & ideas?

Lets face it – are we really committed? We can apply this to our ethics, our respect of others, our work values, our plans, goals, priorities, sense of self, use of time. It forces us to be honest with ourselves, to reject the  excuse: ‘I haven’t got the time‘. It is about self-management and real priorities.

Analogies from the worlds of sports and entertainment tend to fail in these discussions; dedication tends to be relatively time-bound (to achievement, excellence or skill acquisition) and is a relatively poor relation to true commitment; what we say & what we do.

Reading:

Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Lovell, J. and Kluger J. (1994) Lost Moon – the perilous voyage of Apollo. Houghton Mifflin, NY

Creating job titles that mean something

Hello-My-Job-Title-Is

In relation to job titles, feedback from our colleagues at the Liquid Café (Excellence Through Partnerships) event in November 2014 included:

“The term “Clerical” is very outdated and job titles should reflect this”

“We need clear definition of job titles and job roles”

Colleagues in administrative roles are of the opinion that some job titles shape stereotypical impressions or contribute to old fashioned notions of subservience and reinforce the historical hierarchy prevalent within some university environments.

This is where we need to work more in partnership with managers who write job descriptions and with our resourcing colleagues in HR.  Firstly, it is important to ensure gender-fair language to ensure that job descriptions are not inadvertently linked to either masculine or feminine characteristics.   Over the past few years, there has been a lot of articles and studies about the glass ceiling, about the struggles women face at the top, yet there has been barely a murmur about the gender imbalances at the bottom of the corporate ladder.   Perhaps we should consider eradicating the title of ‘Assistant’ in some instances, and replacing it with ‘Coordinator’, ‘Advisor’, or ‘Officer’.  At the end of the day, assistants often do so much more than purely ‘assist’, anyway, and by removing the subservient connotation that the word ‘Assistant’ can imply, we might also remove the bias many men have toward these roles. Likewise, the term ‘Clerical” smacks of the 1930’s/50’s and it is a time a new job title was defined for colleagues performing a front line student advisory service.

To this end, and as part of our project “Who do we think we are – the professionalization of administrative staff”, we have asked our peers in the Sciences Faculty to let us know what they really think about their job titles; what they prefer, and what they dislike.  We have even asked colleagues to think of brand new job titles which they feel adequately describes the function they perform, that in an ideal world, they would use.  All the results we receive will be relayed to our colleagues in HR in order to better inform them of employees thoughts on this issue.  Indeed, there does seem to be a case for letting employees choose their own job titles as demonstrated at the Make-A-Wish-Foundation  Here employees who created their own job titles were left feeling positive by the experience and felt that their new titles provided self-verification and helped them express more of their own identity and personality.

Let’s start creating job titles that actually mean something and reflect the professionalism of the roles that we perform and the value we bring.

 

What’s in a name (or job title)?

whats in a name

Invariably, when you walk into a social gathering and realise you will have to introduce yourself to others, your mind races, thinking ‘What should I say?’, since job titles form an important source of social standing and personal identify.  What most people want to know, indeed, they will often press you to find out, is what you do for a living?  What is your job title?

In today’s society, we have become significantly defined by our job titles, and we often define ourselves by our titles.  Job titles serve a number of roles; communicating your authority on a subject to people, letting people know what you do in your job, in a short-hand way.

This is what a job title does; it gives people you meet, and your customers and clients, a clear idea of where you work, what you do and at what level you do it at.  It should give you credibility in your field.  It’s something you use as a springboard on your career ladder.  A good job title can acknowledge the value the company sees in your efforts and earn you respect from your peers and customers.  It can indicate importance or “reward” employees in lieu of a salary increase.

You want a job title that not only accurately describes the work you’re employed to do, but also a title that reflects your pay ranking and seniority within the organisation.  Job titles can be used as a measure by those who hire and recruit – they are a sort of yardstick.   Recruiters gauge career progression by job titles (job titles are indicators of that progression as long as they are accompanied by job description and achievements that back up the title). In many cases, having a strong job title is your catapult to your next job.

Job titles also have emotions and expectations attached, as individuals have a need to feel intelligent, influential and important.  Finally, job titles can empower employees, and they may even prompt positive behaviours, such as taking more initiative or displaying greater leadership.  For all of these reasons, enhancing job titles can be extremely motivating to employees.  For example, using the term “Manager” in a title implies that you manage resources, manage clients/customers, their accounts or manage projects.

Having titles that are clear, common, well respected, and well understood is very important.  Having titles that are regularly reviewed is also important.  Sometimes, the title is even more important that the salary.

On being an Administrative Professional

It is clear that the secretary/clerical function has become more professional in recent years and has made work more interesting, allowing staff to have their own outcomes.  However, with this, a few unpleasant side issues have arisen.  Work place stress has occurred; resources don’t always match the increase in student numbers.  There is increased stress, increased expectations, unrealistic deadlines, lunch breaks are often forgone to play catch up, there are more demanding students, a perceived lack of promotion opportunities, and email has made work become urgent and insistent, and most of all, unseen to others.

When discussing the value of those involved in secretarial/clerical and administrative work, it is interesting to note that in the States and other countries, a nationwide event called “Administrative Professionals Day” is observed annually to recognise the work of secretaries, administrators, receptionists and other administrative support professionals. Originating in 1952 (and originally called National Secretary’s Day), it seems worthy to report that a secretary is still the top job for women in the States – this was true in 1950 and was still true in 2010.  The trend shows no sign of abating.

Job titles have evolved over time for a variety of reasons. Some companies have infused creativity into their job titles as a way to elevate otherwise generic-sounding positions. Others have doled out inventive titles in lieu of promotions or pay raises. Common practice these days is for companies to steer clear of gender-specific job titles, or ones that have politically incorrect undertones, to avoid any chance of discrimination and to show that gender is irrelevant to the performance of the job.  Order a sandwich at Subway, and you’ll be assisted by one of their “sandwich artists.”  When perusing the Apple store for a computer or iPad, be sure to ask a “genius” for help.

Within modern day HE establishments, equality issues enjoy high visibility but sadly, historical stereotypes do still prevail in relation to clerical and administrative positions – e.g. sexism, professional snobbery and intellectual elitism.  Furthermore, the government looks at gender disparity among academics yet the secretary/clerical/administrative workers sits alongside the likes of technicians, domestic staff and a whole tranche of university staff who can sometimes be overlooked.

So there you go – call us secretaries, clerical workers, assistants, administrative officers – whatever.  We can do it all.  Whatever you call us, we, as higher education administrative professionals, will keep the offices running, whilst technology and budgets and corporatisation continually shape and influence our roles.   Remember too, we are more likely to be of the female variety.  It doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of doing anything else – it just means we’re better at it – perhaps better at the more detail oriented stuff, which is a necessity in our line of work with students paying hefty fees for a quality service and experience.

admin-without

The evolving and multifarious role of the administrative professional

These days, Higher Education clerical and administrative staff are expected to be equipped with multifarious skills and competences and the role of professional administrative staff is seen as pivotal to the success of an organisation.  Many tasks require a high level of professionalism and education, and some require commercial or political acumen.

blog 3

Within universities, secretaries, clerical workers and administrators have had to acquire specialist skills and knowledge.  We have had to learn on the job, using advanced computer systems and communications.  We have taught ourselves to become experts on university funding, teaching and research initiatives.  The corporatisation of universities has had a profound impact on the way HE institutions operate and our roles have been affected. Our roles have changed to those of higher education professionals and we daily respond to changes, pursue complex tasks, deliver innovative solutions, facilitate learning and development, drive the student experience and effect outcomes.

When universities were established in the 60’s, secretarial/clerical workers’ jobs were much more about paper pushing.  Nowadays, we are much more multi-skilled and we do all the functions ourselves.  The expertise of this body of staff is crucial to the core of the university’s structure and I believe that the professional administrative service is integral to the strategic success of the University of Kent.

Talking to colleagues, here are some anecdotes about how work has changed:

“Our work is often project-based, or we work as a team member on other projects”

“On a daily basis, I am asked to think outside the box, solve problems and come up with new solutions

“Nowadays, I’m always thinking about the bigger picture”

“I manage my own work”

“I make autonomous decisions effecting the way things are done within the university”

It is often the female, clerical and administration team who are the experts at the “soft skills” and the “specialist skills” – counselling the students, greeting visitors, doing the ground work for projects, managing student admissions, balancing the finances, writing the press releases, overseeing course administration, brokering student employment initiatives – all skills which can easily go unnoticed.

It begs the question, if one of these skills was performed by a man, would it have a grand title and be better paid?  We often associate the word “manager” with one who controls.  Feminine administrative functions are perceived as nurturing – feeding, nourishing, supporting, and furthering the development of.  Nurturing is usually quietly done, with much of the work invisible – and this clearly aligns with the perception that clerical and administrative functions can easily go unnoticed and be undervalued.

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Part 2

Secretary-typing-in-old-f-007

For generations of women, secretarial, clerical and administrative skills were valued as essential skills that would be advantageous in the job market and help your career.  The major shift has taken place in relation to class and gender.  Originally, and prior to the 1930’s, nearly all secretaries were men and the role of secretary was deemed in high regard as an executive servant of the government. Clerical work was a male dominated field in which males worked closely with their superiors and were often apprenticed to them; their superior’s success was their success, and they could look forward to a position of management in their later years.  After WWII, when the men returned, secretarial and clerical work was seen as “feminized” and clerks were renamed “secretaries” and “typists”.  Both the pay and the prestige for these jobs took a significant hit!

Through the 1980’s/90’s, many secretarial roles were rebranded as administrative assistants and more men started to apply for such jobs, though in tiny numbers.  Technology evolved – word processing made writing and editing documents much simpler and with the arrival of computers, “typing” became “keyboarding”. Fast forward to 2015, and here you will find that most organisations have ditched the term “secretary” in favour of clerical worker, or administrative assistant/officer, or office professional, to encompass a more executive role.

Universities have adopted the term ‘professional services’ to distinguish staff not having direct academic responsibilities, with the term “administrator” being reserved for staff undertaking clerical or secretarial functions. Currently within Higher Education, there is much debate about the value of junior level clerical and administrative staff, who often consider themselves underpaid, overlooked and invisible.

Yet in the digital age, the roles of clerical and junior administrative HE workers have evolved far more than any job title change suggests.  We’ve experienced massive changes (see Part One of my blog),  including the growth of information technology, changes in the delivery of higher education and the development of a commercial and enterprise culture in Higher Education.  Academic staff have begun to delegate more tasks to clerical/administrative staff and such staff are increasingly playing a role in training and teaching students both informally and formally.   Today’s university administrative worker is responsible for a greater array of complex tasks than any predecessor!

 

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Part 1

My university is celebrating 50 years in the business (1965 – 2015) and as such, I thought it would be a timely opportunity to showcase just how much the secretarial/clerical and administrative function has changed in the last 5 decades.  During that time, I’ve not only studied here, but through both varied, temporary and permanent posts, I have contributed over 18 years of secretarial, clerical and more latterly, senior administrative expertise to the institution.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

During my tenure, I’ve witnessed massive transformations in Higher Education, including changes to funding, increased student numbers, governance, increased corporatisation and commercialisation and the adoption of managerial models which has affected staff at all layers.

If you look at the workforce that I’m talking about, you will not fail to notice that we are a predominately feminised workforce and this can partly go some way in explaining our lack of visibility and some of the problems encountered along the way by us (e.g. a belief that we are not interested in academic endeavours or systems.  Unfortunately, some outdated stereotypes also exist (see my blog ‘Just an administrator‘)  but at least in the 21st century, we are able to challenge some of the long-held masculine views/behaviours on the definitions of female administration roles (i.e. being administrative and being female – i.e. not male and not academic!)

Many universities in the UK were established in the 1960’s and along with them, the roles of the university secretary and clerical/administrative worker were borne.  Such roles were referred to as “non-academic”, yet the mere use of the word “non” conjures up negative associations and leads to the labelling and definition of a whole section of the work force in describing what we “are not”, rather than what “we are”.   Back then, the university secretary/clerical worker was very much expected to operate in a subservient, supportive role to the academic community.  Role holders were expected to be seen and not heard, much like the women and children from the Victorian era.  Essentially their role was to look after the academic, type correspondence and make the tea.  Secretarial/clerical staff performed tasks such as typing, often supporting just one academic.  There were no student recruitment, marketing or international offices.  Finance and personnel departments were very small and invisible to the academic community.

Indeed, the role of the secretary/administrative assistant has enjoyed something of a renaissance lately in popular culture – take for example the characters of Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen, the competent secretaries at the fictional advertising agency in Mad Men set in the 1960’s in the States.  Both rise up through the ranks to become meaningful employees – one to become a partner in the agency, one to become an advertising professional (on a perceived equal footing with the male characters).  Likewise, think of the term “Secretary of State” where the word secretary defines a senior official of the federal government of the USA!

Interestingly enough, the word secretary is a unisex word and isn’t defined by gender, although it is stereotyped to be female by association.   The title of secretary was originally used by military leaders, heads of state, and even popes to refer to their most trusted confidants – to the ones they could trust and rely on without reservation.  Secretaries were set apart from others and known to be favoured by their respective leaders. Later, secretaries were used in the same sense by professional and business leaders.

If we look at the history and significance of the word “secretary”, it can be traced to being used in Middle English as early as the sixth century and comes from the ancient Latin word secretumi,  meaning keeper of secrets!

Next month, part 2 of this blog will examine the evolving professional role of secretaries  in the 1930’s, 50’s, 80’s and 90’s through to the digital age.

The basics of teamwork

meerkatsI cannot pass this week without mentioning the dramatic footballing efforts of Bradford City FC beating Premier League Giants Chelsea FC in the FA cup – the biggest shock result in the famous competition’s 143-year history.

This reminds me of Bradford’s previous exploits in early 2013 which I discussed when referring to high performing teams.  In that article I summarised the importance of a team’s focus on:

  • goals,
  • team member roles,
  • how people work together at a practical level
  • building  positive working relationships through mutuality & trust

This weekend’s technically excellent performance by Bradford at Stamford Bridge (Chelseas home ground) highlighted the importance of clear work processes – how people do the work. In this particular case of football: passing and shooting when in posession, and tackling and blocking when defending. The Bradford players excelled and this simple and straightforward work, supporting each other throughout the game. Whilst the millionaire Chelsea players may have had more skill and flair, they were overwhelmed by a team displaying high technical proficiency, high temp (and determination) and close discpline on the simple task of competing in the match.

Bill Shankly, the iconic football manager at Liverpoolin the 1960s and70s described what football involved: ‘Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.

Those were the basic blueprints of the work, to which Bradford stuck.

Bob Paisley followed Shankly as Liverpool manager also talked about simplicity: “Some (football) jargon is frightening. They talk of “gettin’ round the back” and sound like burglars. They say “You’ve got to make more positive runs” or “You’re too negative”. That sounds as though you’re filling the team with electricians. But people talk like this without real depth or knowledge of what they’re really talking about.”

People need to know how to do the work in a straightforward way, getting what needs to be done, done. Leaders need to know what is happening and be able to explain what needs to be done in clear terms. Bradford City did this and everyone was suprised.

*** Are we allowing our own teams to focus on the right work? ***

Links:

Calvin M. (2015) Bantams produce one of the all-time FA Cup shocks after fighting back from two down to beat the blues. The Indpendent. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/fa-league-cups/chelsea-vs-bradford-city-match-report-bantams-produce-one-of-the-alltime-fa-cup-shocks-after-fighting-back-from-two-down-to-beat-blues-10000547.html

Bob Paisley Quotes. http://www.bobpaisley.com/article/2532

Bill Shankly in Quotes. http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/latest-news/bill-shankly-in-quotes