BOGOF: Maximising the Performance of your Senior Team

Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Exeter, reveals how to double the power of your professional services senior leadership team.

Buy one professional services senior leadership team and get another one absolutely free!

Surely this claim must be too good to be true, mimicking as it does those end of aisle supermarket promotions that encourage us to stock up on things we don’t actually want?

Well, it is true that this piece was not available for 28 days at a lower price. Nor has it been inexplicably shrunk in weight or reduced in the quality of its ingredients in order to maintain a price point. But don’t call the Competition and Markets Authority just yet.

The magic ingredient

I do genuinely think that this offer can deliver enhanced value for money for those of us managing teams of professional service senior leaders during an intense period of change and challenge in higher education.

So what is the magic ingredient at the heart of this wonderful offer that helps you deliver 100% more from your senior team?

Very simply, it is a cocktail of openness and transparency that delivers alignment. It therefore offers huge gains in efficiency and performance in terms of the quality and quality of your teams’ outputs.

Now if this sounds like it has a whiff of snake oil about it, then please allow me to elaborate.

Personal performance

Firstly, let us think about honesty and openness when it comes to personal performance. Then we can consider it in relation to the link between your institutional objectives and the personal objectives of your senior team.

On a personal level, we are all motivated to do a great job on behalf of our institutions and teams. This may be for a variety of reasons, including personal professional pride, commitment to our students and sector, the belief in the transformative power of higher education and research or simply because of the need to keep a roof over our family’ heads. Recognising this fact is a vitally important element of managing high performing teams, as it empowers us to honestly and openly confront under-performance and highlight areas where there is room for improvement. The fear of causing offence, handling conflict or even taking responsibility for improving the performance of others can lead to far more difficult conversations in the long term.

We all have examples of when underperformance becomes a way of life. This can force colleagues to second guess or re-do work, and ultimately hold back from fully committing to projects and initiatives. At this point, it starts to damage the coherence and the ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ benefit that emerges from the dynamism of a high performing team.

If we accept then that realistic SMART targets and honest appraisal motivate and drive the performance of individuals within a team, then why do we not take the same approach to how we manage across teams?

I sincerely hope that each and every member of your senior professional services staff team has annual targets in support of institutional priorities, agreed with the Vice Chancellor (and ideally Council). If this is the case, how much more powerful will the team be if everyone understands each other’s goals and can, at the very least, simply not get in the way of their delivery and, at best, proactively support them across the year?

So imagine the impact if, instead of ten individuals driving forward their own agenda, the institution has the benefit of a whole team deploying their experiences, talents and insights to refine and develop projects and strategies together.

Paying a high price

Now, why is this not always done already? It’s how we approach projects, for example – by bringing together different perspectives and skills. And we do it within services or academic units, pulling together to deliver a process or a programme.

Well, perhaps it’s a reluctance to address poor performance, which publicly sharing stretching targets implicitly requires? Perhaps it’s a sense that senior leaders know their own agenda best? Or that they don’t want input from others, even if it is provided from a spirit of support?

Whatever the cause, the price of not taking this shared team approach, combined with individual accountability, is high. In my view, it leads to a halving of what could and should be possible for each and every one of our senior teams.

So, to go right back to our BOGOF offer, we must accept that the free additional professional services senior team comes at the cost of a culture-change. It will be focused on openness around objectives and proactive performance management.

At a time of ever increasing scrutiny on senior leaders performance, I for one think this is a deal well worth taking advantage of. I will be starting now by sharing my annual aims and objectives with my leadership team at our next team meeting.