Category Archives: Updates

What does ‘good’ look like?

Usain Bolt didn’t fit the ‘norm’ for championship sprinters, but his performances redefined ‘what good looks like’

Early in my career I was fortunate enough to work with some very good change experts who introduced me to some very useful ideas which have proven to be very enduring.

One perspective was to understand ‘what good looks like’. Although essentially straightforward, this is not about the obvious. In the world of work, what ‘good looks like’ is about how ‘good’ actually works. Good is good because it is effective (not because it is trendy or fits current norms).

Look beyond the outward signs of ‘good practice’ (i.e. methods) and seek the inward signs: symptoms versus causes, stability and control versus instability and chaos,  integrity versus game playing and politicking.

The best change leaders engage people’s attitudes and mindsets before discussing methods; they are able to engage with feelings and emotions. Human beings are emotional entities and, to put it bluntly, we don’t behave rationally. This happens because we process logic through the intricate filters of emotion and experience. If we ignore emotions of working people, we are unlikely to get their support. Charles Jacobs (2009) suggests that we engage people with the story of change, not merely the logical argument. Why? “Because people are more likely to change when the motivation comes from within, and when we ask rather than tell” (Jacobs 2009).

We need to emotionally own and engage with the change on our own account. As Coppin and Barret (2002) put it, “whether we believe we can  or we can’t, we’re right” – we need people who choose to make change happen. They remind us of the words of George Bernard Shaw:

“People who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Or to paraphrase Ghandi: “…be the change you want to see in the world.”

Read more here:

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

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

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.

Change the words – keep the message

It is 7 months since the Change Academy team started these blogs, in which time we have have covered a lot of ground. There is a tendency in change initiatives to get trapped in a web of  jargon – using a lot of buzz-words without understanding the message.

So, to informally test this out lets have a look at a wordle created from my blogs of the past few months:

 John Macdonald (1998) talks of a mischievous attempt by engineers at Honeywell bust the jargon culture. Their ‘buzzword generator’ included three columns of words, where a choice of one from each column generated plausible (but nonsensical) buzzwords, such as’ parallel synchronised timephase’ or ‘compatible policy projection’ to throw into discussions with colleagues.

To put a positive slant on his idea, lets play a similar sort of same game in reverse, using phrases suggested by this Wordle, and instead look to get some value from the message:

‘People need change’ – we are adaptive creatures and getting stuck in a rut appears to lead us to boredom (at least in work). Boredom reduces creativity and improvement; the rut deepens. On the other hand change (though perhaps stressful) energises people; new ways of working get noticed and new behaviours rub off.

‘Theory changes behaviour’ – theory is often presented as the opposite to ‘being practical’, but actually this is not the case. Theory shapes thinking and your thinking shapes your behaviour, so useful theory should change behaviour in useful ways.

‘Things values see (better)’ – if we define our values (rather than relying on what we assume to be values), we open up new conversations that begin to challenge what happens round us.  We start to see dis-functional working relationships and inappropriate practice and this allows us to raise questions and make challenges on things that previously never hit the radar. Our organisation becomes more alert and ‘alive’ to new things.

‘Work suggests approach’ – people who do the work know the work, warts and all. Their knowledge should be used to identify and implement improvements. Often change initiatives involve implementing great new ideas or benchmarks from other organisations which fail to work in the context of our own organisation. Don’t impose outside solutions until you know what is actually happening to the work on the ground and why it occurs. Only then are you going to get on the correct route to improvement.

Although this is just a bit of fun, change can be a serious business – always remember to keep your mind open and your feet on the ground.


Read more here:

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

Some preview material is available on:




Why Bother with Blogs? Learning from U of K Students

By Cindy Vallance (Twitter @cdvallance)

Before I went on leave a couple of weeks ago, I promised to come back to the topic of trust. I will do so – because I believe that trust is a key foundational element to consider when accomplishing anything important that involves two or more people.

But today I want to share my thinking about blogs. A blog about blogs? Let me explain.

As part of the Social Sciences Change Academy initiative we agreed we wanted to find ways to communicate and build a dialogue with academic staff, professional services staff and students that went beyond emails, meetings, and standard website updates. My own decision to begin blogging and using twitter as part of Change Academy was informed in large part by the example set by Colum McGuire, Kent Union Vice President (Welfare). Colum wrote a great blog series about student housing last year that received an amazing amount of ‘hits.’ You can find Column’s blogs here:

His blogs kept me engaged and reading, even though I wasn’t looking for a new place to live! They were lively and practical, short and sharp.

Moving along, we have even more excellent student initiated blog posts. Tom Ritchie, Kent Union President, has shared his thoughts about the value of Change Academy here:

And my learning about blog writing hasn’t stopped there.

Another of our Change Academy members, Léo Wilkinson, Kent Union’s Social Sciences Student Representative, posted his first Change Academy blog on 12 May 2012.

Léo’s blog is a thought piece and call to action to continue to increase meaningful student involvement in decision-making.

Also on 12 May, and completely unrelated to Change Academy, is the blog I came across on twitter by Kenny Budd, Kent Union’s Vice President (Activities) about their Kent Union team development event at Medway:

Once again, a phenomenal blog – informal yet professional, personal yet factual, with great images and important messages including his remark:  “When asked if I thought the fact that we will be an all white, male sabbatical team was an issue (on the grounds of representing our diverse membership) my answer was “that it is always going to be an issue but it will only become a problem if we let it.”

So how do we look at the challenges of continuously improving communications between our diverse constituencies here at U of Kent? Is it an issue we can work on solving together or a problem? We all have our own reasons for being here but as a community Kent belongs to all of us. What can we learn from each other?

I learn every day, from students and colleagues, from reading, talking, observing, and thinking. I don’t always agree with those I interact with but I appreciate gaining insights from divergent views. In fact, a wise person once said to me “If two people always agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”

We are all necessary, we all have valuable contributions to make to our Kent  community. As a first step, bookmark some student blogs, make comments on what you read, follow students on twitter, and see what you can learn.

A Little More on Change Academy Values

Cindy Vallance

I spoke in my last posting about the values we initially decided were important within the Change Academy initiative.

Just to recap, these are: Involving students, Openness, Collaboration, Innovation, Listening, Equality, Partnering, Inspiration, Fun, Respect, Trust. I asked the question “Who wouldn’t want to work and study with people who are trying their best to demonstrate these qualities, especially in a time of increasing change, uncertainty, unrest and pressure?”

Coincidentally, I happened to read, just one day after my posting, this statement about values:

 “Statistically speaking, (in creating a list of ‘values’), you have just created a document that will be the source of one of the top five greatest reasons for contempt, de-motivation, disloyalty and turnover in your organisation. All of this comes from the discrepancy between the values on the wall and the values on the ground. Organisations list values. But they don’t live them. And people hate this. They really, really hate it.” – Kline, Nancy (2009), More Time To Think, p. 271, Fisher King Publishing, England.

The reality, of course, is that organisations don’t live values – it is the people in the organisation that can and do. But what values?

When we had our initial conversations about the Change Academy initiative, we discussed the fact that the vision of Change Academy is to help teams of staff and students develop their knowledge, capacity and enthusiasm for achieving complex institutional change to benefit the student learning experience.

How can we do this within our own Change Academy initiative? We can do this by living the values we have said we support and by encouraging others to do the same. We can do this by considering the impact of our words and our actions on others. We can ask ourselves: Do we regularly build others up or do we tear them down? Do we walk away from meetings inspired or dejected? What are we doing to contribute to the success or failure of the meeting? Do we use our interactions as an opportunity to positively enhance our relationships with students and staff?

As part of the Change Academy project, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Thinking Environment Master Class through the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. The goal of the session was to demonstrate how valuing the contribution of each person can drive team effectiveness, improve relationships and result in shorter, smarter meetings. I’ll share some of the principles and processes from the session in future blogs.

Sounds too good to be true? Come back with an open mind and see what you think.


Managing Change: delivering public sector reform

Public Service Events’ inaugural conference

Wednesday 7 December 2011, the Barbican, London

Notes from Chloé Gallien

Cindy Vallance, Steph Klaric and myself attended the above yesterday.

Details of programmes and speakers can be found on:

 Although the question of “what turns an ordinary project into one that really delivers beneficial change?” was very interesting, the conference did not, unfortunately, quite live up to our expectations. It suffered from not even a passing reference to universities being made as well as from an overexposure to talking head presentations by middle-aged white males from Whitehall..  (See my “tips for conference organisers” at the end).  There were, however, a few “take-aways” for me, which I have noted below:

Some recurring themes:  

  • The importance-  and difficulty-  of disseminating learning :�
    • How to learn quickly from models that worked?
    • How to ensure that lessons, from successes as well as failures, are propagated and learned, not just observed?
    • Also to ensure that people know- and talk- about successes not just failures?


  • The importance-  and difficulty-  of getting buy-in and  overcoming resistance to change:
    • Useful to use simple, stakeholders’ analysis to identify allies, “neutrals” and “blockers”; important not to focus on “blockers” but to strengthen allies’ commitment and work with them to convince “neutrals”.
    • Have clear map of how projects link with organisation’s strategic objectives
    • Be absolutely clear and honest in all communication, about what is driving the change but also about the scope and constraints of the initiative.
    • Do not be afraid of sharing bad news and do not avoid difficult questions or conversations.


  • How to resolve tension between needing to “get on with things” and get results and the equally important need to think things through before acting?


Idea of the day

Providing a “conversations wall” in a prominent place where everyone in the organisation is encouraged to write or use sticky notes to post ideas/suggestions/comments/quotes/drawings/ photos on a monthly theme.


Quotes of the day

“We are talking about a mindset, not another manual.”

“Change is not fun.  It is a route to a much improved future.”

“There is no change without risk; we just need to be able to manage that risk.”

“Everyone wants authority by no one wants accountability.”

“People change one person at a time.”

“Consultants can do many things but they cannot transform your organisation for you.”

“Don’t share a solution; share a problem which everyone is involved in solving.” It made me think of another quote heard on another occasion: “One needs to develop a shared plan rather than share a developed plan”.


“We never communicate enough.”


Tips for conference organisers:

  • Provide speakers with  participants’ lists before hand and ask them to ensure that they try and  adapt their  presentations accordingly
  • Try and think of varying the presentation formats as well as the type of presenters.
  • Ask your speakers to avoid unexplained acronyms,  over- crowded slides,  or  slides which are illegible at the back of the room


Why the interest in the Change Academy? Core Values and Vision for 2015

Cindy Vallance

Why are people interested? I believe this is due to what we have loosely called our values and the qualities that we are working to exemplify as a group:

Involving students                  Openness                           Collaboration                    Innovation

Listening                     Equality                               Partnering                          Inspiration         

Fun                                        Respect                                                Trust     

Who wouldn’t want to work and study with people who are trying their best to demonstrate these qualities, especially in a time of increasing change, uncertainty, unrest and pressure?

A memorable quote from Tom Ritchie (Kent Union President) at the end of the Residential event: I thought that the Change Academy event would be boring, would not be of any value and that I would be treated as the token student. Instead, I found the experience interesting, the activities valuable, and I have had an equal voice with others at the table.

At the Residential, we spent a great deal of time shut away in a small room, talking and sharing our thoughts of what we would like to collectively achieve.

We came up with some thoughts of what we would like to see at University of Kent by the time we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2015. In no particular order here are some of our key themes:

Everyone feels that change is possible – giving people better work (‘getting things working better’)

  1. People feel able to implement change
  2. Good teaching is recognised and respected as much as good research
  3. Innovative techniques,  inter-institution collaboration and best practice sharing occur
  4. There will be an effective, clear, and positive communications strategy
  5. We will reinforce positive messages through our language and our interactions with others
  6. There will be joined up thinking everywhere
  7. All are respectful and all voices are listened to
  8. Income streams for the University are transparent and understood by all staff
  9. Technology really works including consistent good quality use of Moodle
  10. All are involved within the fabric of the University
  11. There are opportunities to have debate and conversations around liaison and learning
  12. Students and staff feel proud to be at Kent and recommend Kent to others
  13. We form lasting relationships between staff, students, and employers
  14. There is early exposure to senior, characterful and dynamic teaching staff
  15. Students are helped to define why they are there and what they want from the experience. When they leave the university they know what they have achieved and gained
  16. Staff provide useful references and career advice to students
  17. There is a realisation that there really is no ‘typical’ staff or student
  18. Staff and students are involved in and have input into the creation and implementation of he institutional plan
  19. Staff and students integrate with other, different, staff and students – we break down silos


We will not achieve this vision through the efforts of only a few. We are on a journey and this journey has only just begun. Join in by commenting on these blogs and share your thinking with us. Learn more about our thoughts, ideas and plans in the blogs that will follow.

Setting the Context for Change Academy: What is it and who is involved?


Cindy Vallance

Staff and student members from the University of Kent have been participating in a Change Academy initiative within Social Sciences. What is Change Academy?

Residential Team (left to right): Tom Ritchie, Simon Black, Bill Collier, Helen Carr, Stephen Burke. Not shown: Gill Sinclair, Cindy Vallance.

Change Academy is a partnership between the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. This year, ten HE institutions took part in a residential programme to help teams of staff and students develop their knowledge, capacity and enthusiasm for achieving complex institutional change to benefit the student learning experience. A key event of the Change Academy programme was the four-day residential experience in September 2011 which launched the initiative and was designed to encourage our team and others to focus attention on our projects, encourage creativity, and develop and practice a range of techniques to build momentum for change following our return to Kent. The original residential team has been thrilled to see the interest that others have shown for the initiative and the group has already nearly doubled in size since returning from the residential event with the addition of Alison Dean, Naomi Dumbrell, Chloé Gallien, Mick Norman, Leo Wilkinson. The current group of 12 reflects a diverse range of roles. Just consider our job titles (and yes some of them are rather lengthy): Soc Sc Faculty Learning Technologist; Economics Lecturer and Director of Studies Stage 1; Soc Sc Faculty Administration Manager; Master of Eliot College and KBS Senior Tutor, Project and Finance Manager; Learning and Development Adviser; Timetabling Office Learning and Teaching Space Manager; Kent Union President; Head of Organisational Development; KBS Senior Lecturer and Soc Sc Sub-Dean for Learning and Teaching; Soc Sc Student Representative, Learning and Development Coordinator; KLS Reader and Director of Learning and Teaching. Why is Change Academy of interest to such a wide range of already very busy people?