True Organisational Efficiency Must Mean That Form Should Always Follow Function

Basing his reflections on the restructure of the Leadership Team within Professional Services at the University of Exeter, Mike Shore-Nye discusses the Why, How and When we should restructure and what it means for our teams and senior leaders.

It is my belief that the moment the ink is dry on any kind of organisational redesign the structure you have created will immediately start to ossify and become obsolescent.

Now this is not a nightmare vision of a Registrar’s ‘Groundhog Day ‘scenario emerging as a result of the failure of your leadership capabilities or your ability to plan ahead, but is instead an honest and realistic response to the context in which we now all work. Compared to the experiences of our predecessors in the sector, who perhaps reorganised once on arrival and then left further change to their successor, the HE world is now so fast-moving that longer-term plans will never survive the successive waves of unpredictable externally-generated change each institution now deals with year in year out.

In facing up to this reality we need to think again about Why, How and When we restructure and what it means for our teams and senior leaders.

Realigning the leadership team within Professional Services

Over the last couple of months here at Exeter we have been undergoing an evolution to restructure the Leadership Team within Professional Services. This is in order to reflect and respond to our latest set of institutional priorities and realign services where needed.

In considering this latest restructure, which is the second such exercise in three years, I have tried to balance the benefits of organizational stability across Professional Services with the operational and strategic gains that can emerge from constructive change. It is critical in my view that any change of structure can only succeed if accompanied by an equal level of focus on ensuring future ways of working reflect our new strategic priorities.

This most recent change is designed to signal an agile approach to organisational design that matches form and function to meet our key challenges, and which places the changing needs of the institution at the heart of our decision-making about structures.

The expectation moving forward is that the allocation of responsibilities and grouping of services across the leadership team will be reviewed annually and adapted and amended following the appropriate consultation, to ensure that resources and accountabilities are logically best-placed to deliver high quality, efficient and effective outcomes.

So, what has changed with our latest restructure?

Well, in order to align Professional services with Exeter’s strategic goals the following principles were adopted:

  • To ensure Professional Services is organised in order to provide consistently outstanding, responsive services to colleges, disciplines, academic leaders and students
  • To reflect and support our newly revised Deputy Vice Chancellor strategic portfolios and a newly enhanced focus on our Global Strategy
  • To enable the lead team to look for new ways to be more resilient, efficient and agile, and to enhance legislative compliance
  • To leverage our leadership talent to develop the highest levels of professional capability in creative and collaborative ways;
  • To offer attractive and varied careers and development opportunities for the next generation of talent to aspire to;
  • To support and develop excellent leaders and managers;
  • To enable silo-free teamwork and support synergies between cognizant teams;
  • To ensure that the new structure provides a sustainable workload for the lead team and removes single points of failure;
  • To enable senior leadership to focus on digital transformation and service benefits realization

Some lessons learnt

Each and every time you undertake an exercise of this nature you learn from your colleagues about how the process and goals of your change project can be improved. This exercise has been no different and the following are some key lessons learnt whilst undertaking this change:

Why should you restructure?

All my senior leaders now know that in the absence of new resource we must keep reviewing professional services structures to ensure they are aligned with and prioritise our evolving strategies and enable us to continue to meet the changing needs of the institution. They have nothing to fear but everything to gain from engaging and driving those changes, as together we support and enable the University to meet the challenges ahead.

How should you restructure?

In the spirit of partnership you must consult and involve your lead team and their teams and your key Student and Academic stakeholders. You must involve your governance structures as soon as possible and make sure that you listen and respond to the feedback that you receive, so everyone understands why you must change and feels they can positively influence that change.

In launching such change you must be clear and honest that this is not performance management in another guise or ‘change for change’s sake’ and ensure that the positive impact on everyone in the organisation can be explained and hopefully celebrated. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t explain why you are making a change and the benefit it will bring to staff and students in under a minute then it may not be the right thing to do.

When should you restructure?

When your shared institutional strategies and priorities change and you can simply and clearly explain how organisational change can better equip you to proactively respond. If that means each year, then so be it.

So, after completing this latest round of change, it is still very much my belief that the moment the ink is dry on any kind of organisational redesign the structure you have created will immediately start to ossify and become obsolescent, But rather than this being a reality that we should fear it should be a reality that inspires us and our teams to evolve, change, innovate and adapt together.