There are almost endless numbers of books and business school courses on strategy, but, really, strategy comes down to two very simple questions – what do you want to do, and how are you going to make sure you do it? Last week, Hallam’s Board of Governors signed off the University’s reshaped strategy – setting the direction for the development of the University.
The strategy drafting process over the second half of 2016 was really about sharpening the University’s sense of its own purpose and identity. That matters for all sorts of reasons. This is a very large university – over 30,000 students, over 4,500 staff, with a comprehensive range of research and teaching provision. Capturing the ideas, which drive such a large community, matters if we are going to mobilise energy and commitment. And it matters even more at a time of phenomenal change beyond the University. There are the obvious political changes associated with Brexit and with the new American Government, each shaping domestic and international policy in unpredictable ways. Higher education is changing rapidly – the Higher Education and Research Bill going through Parliament will provide a new legal framework for universities; demographic and market changes presage tighter competition for research funding and for students; learning technologies are increasingly transforming the way academics teach and students learn. At times of rapid change, understanding your own values and vision matter a lot: without them, you are probably lost.
The strategy tries to capture this university’s goals and its ambitions to be truly outstanding, and to do so in accessible language – clear, over-arching enabling ideas that will genuinely shape the way we work; too many strategy documents gather dust on the shelves of vice-chancellors. This is different. It is clear, direct and relevant.
Our mission is simple: we transform lives. We do this by shaping our students’ futures and preparing them for whatever they choose to do, and by creating knowledge that provides practical solutions to real-world challenges.
Behind this statement of mission, the strategy outlines four ‘pillars’ which shape the change process. The first three are about our purposes. We shape futures, we create knowledge, and we lead locally and engage globally. They reinforce each other. We want to educate students who are confident, creative, resilient and responsible; who are inspired and enthused by the transformative learning experience that we provide through the consistently excellent provision of an innovative and applied curriculum. We should prepare our students for employment and for citizenship – unapologetic about offering clear lines of sight to high-skill employment and building in wider opportunities for our students. We are driven by a mission to combat disadvantage through education.
We will create knowledge, which makes a difference to individuals, to groups and to society. Our research and teaching will address real-world challenges, which demand innovative thinking, developing solutions that impact on people’s lives. We will invest in new research centres where our distinctive strengths enable us to make the most significant differences. Above all, we will enhance the quality and impact of our research.
And we are proud of our leadership role in this city and region: we will lead locally and engage globally. Our place at the heart of this city and region, and our international connections, are fundamental to what we do. We will be a beacon for what a university can do for and with its community. We will be a creative and constructive partner, enhancing economic growth and quality of life in our region.
Now – if talking could make things so, strategy would be easy. Most strategies fall down not at the level of vision but in implementation – like that famous cartoon of the Daleks encountering a staircase and realising that it thwarts their plans for dominating the Universe. Implementation is challenging. It involves making, and sticking to choices. It involves setting and delivering against budgets. It means sequencing change and ensuring coherence. That’s where our fourth ‘pillar’ comes in. We have called it ‘building a great university’. It involves overhauling our internal structures, processes and decision-making to be more effective and efficient, releasing energy to drive our impact on students, on the region and the world. We will provide an outstanding environment in which to study, research and work. To achieve this, we will look radically at the way we work, be innovative and open to new organisational arrangements. There will be changes to the way the University works, and whilst almost everyone accepts that changes are necessary, I do not underestimate the challenges involved.
Over the past six months, the University’s leadership team has been significantly re-shaped, and the team, working with real energy, has listened hard to the feedback on consultation on the strategy draft. The feedback tells us that there is a huge desire for change. I’m realistic about this: there are tough decisions involved in reshaping the organisation to make it as good as it can be. But if we are to make this a university which is serious about its mission and capable of achieving its goals, there is a lot to do.
So that’s it – a single goal – transforming lives. It’s what we do. And we do that by shaping futures, creating knowledge, leading locally and engaging globally, and building a great university. Those ideas shape our future. The leadership team has identified ten major immediate programmes to systemically improve teaching quality, to drive improvements in research, to overhaul our internal management and decision-making processes – they are set out in the implementation plan.
I said when I arrived at Hallam that this was a good university. And it is. But it can be a great university – great at what it sets out to do. Together, we can do that.