Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

February
11
2016

Reconnecting universities to their public purposes

obu

 

This is the final post in our series looking at how our counter-consultancy approach meets the needs of higher education institutions. Here we explore how interdisciplinarity and external collaboration can revitalise the public value of universities.

Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships provide a foundation for universities to renew their public value. This is because they grow out of the genuine and distinct strengths of a particular institution and point to how it can make a unique contribution to addressing society’s challenges. But this contribution can be realised only if there is clarity about the institution’s public purposes: the generic ones it shares with other higher education establishments and the distinct one that arise out of its own particular circumstances.

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February
10
2016

The emergent route to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration in higher education

networking

 

This is the third in our series looking at how our counter-consultancy approach meets the needs of higher education institutions. Here we explore the complex nature of university cultures and how we use conversation and reflection to mobilise distributed leadership.

Interdisciplinarity can address a university’s need for funds and a distinctive marketing proposition but also the individual academic’s need for compelling research opportunities. If each university has unique research strengths, these can be synthesised into interdisciplinary ventures which pursue approaches to research excellence that can’t be replicated easily elsewhere. This creates compelling reasons for funds, students and academics to gravitate to particular institutions. It counters a view of higher education as a largely undifferentiated, instrumental business with one which construes it as comprising diverse institutions each with intrinsic value and distinctive contributions to make to the world’s knowledge.

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February
09
2016

Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships: components of revenue generation and public value in higher education

library

 

Over recent years, we have developed a focus on supporting academics and managers in universities who are trying to foster greater interdisciplinary working and greater engagement with external partners. This series of blog posts reviews our learning in this area and explores how our counter-consultancy approach is especially suited to resolving challenges that higher education institutions encounter in pursuing interdisciplinary objectives.

Interdisciplinarity and external partnerships are distinct but closely related areas for universities. While disciplines represent communities of practice that transcend the boundaries of any one university, the idea of disciplines also serves as an institutional heuristic that facilitates internal ways of organising. But in their pursuit of research outcomes that deliver tangible value to society, universities are finding that questions that range across disciplinary distinctions are increasingly salient. This is largely driven by the complexity and pace of change of the modern world. Governments and other funders of research are searching for solutions to big global challenges that are best approached through joined-up interdisciplinary enquiries. Funding is increasingly focussed around themes such as demographic change and wellbeing, food security or climate change. External partners too, caught up in this complexity, are bringing research questions that range across disciplinary distinctions.

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October
24
2014

How all organisations tend to the dysfunctional in their own way

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

 

Book review: A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey.

A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey took me back to my roots in sociology. It was a welcome, if disconcerting, journey which made me question whether, even from my critical perspective, I’m too complicit with the orthodoxy of our age.

The book deconstructs the managerialist consensus that construes organisations as being somehow apart from society, and amenable to direction in whatever way managers consider to be “efficient”. Efficiency, in this worldview, turns out to be the right of senior managers/shareholders to optimise the running of the organisation in their own interest. It does not lack an ethical claim. Taylorism, for example, freed factory workers from the tyranny of the gang leader and offered a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. But it led to a perverted extreme by which, to quote one of Grey’s contemporary examples, it can seem rational and legitimate to require machine operators to urinate on the spot in their clothes on the grounds that allowing lavatory breaks is too costly.

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October
10
2014

The paradigm shift in action

Buurtzorg, a higher level of consciousness in organisational form

Buurtzorg, a higher level of consciousness in organisational form

 

Book review: Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

In the years since the financial crisis, we’ve honed a conviction here at Vogel Wakefield that the way most businesses and organisations are run is bust. Public distrust has been engendered not just by the financial crash but scandals in sectors as diverse as the health service, the media, supermarkets, the police and Parliament. Such is the depth of distrust that we envisage society eventually breaking decisively with the economic settlement of the past three decades. What the shape of the new consensus will be, who can tell? But the future surely entails profound changes for the way organisations are run. The public wants businesses to exercise greater stewardship of community assets and to operate in a more socially-oriented way.

If this vision sounds nebulous and, frankly, utopian, the exciting thing about Frederic Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, is the detailed portrayal it presents of successful companies that are making real today the model of tomorrow. His view of the forces of change is broader than ours. Where we envisage this as a paradigm shift in contemporary capitalism, akin to that from social democracy to neo-liberalism thirty years ago, Laloux sees a fundamental shift in human development, the kind of shift that occurs as human consciousness develops. In this, he draws on the work of Piaget, Robert Kegan and, especially, Ken Wilber.

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March
21
2014

Miscellany: narcissism, storytelling and more

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus by Caravaggio

An unrelated assortment of pieces could each have prompted a blog post. But since it’s been a busy week, I’ll note them in passing.

 


 

Corporate purpose and organisational form

John Kay, apropos the Co-op debacle, provides a timely back to basics primer on who should be held to account and how when things go wrong in organisations:

“The public company has become the dominant form of business organisation because it seems to offer clear answers to these questions. Shareholders put up the money and control the executives. True, the reality often falls short. Shareholders are often diffuse and disengaged. The cost of bad business decisions may fall instead on employees, creditors and taxpayers. But, on balance, the corporate form works tolerably well.”

But that’s not the end of the argument because John Kay makes the good point that there are many hybrid organisations – such as privatised utilities, hospitals and universities – that need to develop distinctive frameworks of control because they combine trading and social purposes.

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December
04
2013

Co-operative values: missing in action

Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement

Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement

Last week, I ended a 30-year customer relationship with the Co-operative Bank. The move was precipitated initially by financial caution as a gaping hole was revealed in the bank’s balance sheet but cemented by dismay at the catalogue of mismanagement revealed in recent weeks.

While I feel a litte sad as a customer, I’m also discomforted professionally as the collapse of the Co-op Bank raises questions about my advocacy of values-driven leadership. I believe the problems of the self-styled “ethical bank” stem not from an excessively values-driven approach but from a disconnection from its values. But – and here’s the sting – the complacency generated by its intent as an ethical business may have played a role in the bank’s undoing.

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July
17
2013

The shadow side of values

shadow

 

Only about a decade ago, corporate values were all the rage. We lived in a world in which business was largely viewed as a force for good and corporations identified their success with the general wellbeing. Now, as we labour to fund the bailouts of the banks, we have a more nuanced view of business and the statements of values seem hollow.

But values remain potent. The public cares about them: not the values of PR spin but the actual lived values of organisations. Most of the corporate scandals of recent years became scandals precisely because they generated perceptions of values betrayed.

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February
06
2013

Purpose and values in the NHS

NHS

 

It was only last month that we were asked whether a hospital, of all things, would ever need to consider its purpose and values. To those outside the NHS, it is self-evident that a hospital exists to treat people’s health problems and to save lives. Yet today both Robert Francis QC and the Prime Minister have dispelled any notion that the NHS can currently be trusted to deliver such a purpose.

Introducing the final report of his inquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, Robert Francis spoke of an NHS trust that “put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”  Responding to the report, David Cameron condemned “a focus on finance and figures at the expense of patient care” in the culture of the NHS.

The facts of the Mid Staffordshire scandal were already established, in part by Robert Francis’s earlier inquiry but also thanks to the campaigning efforts of relatives of some of the hundreds of patients who needlessly died because of negligent and inhumane “care”.

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November
16
2012

Sustaining public service broadcasting worthy of the name

Lord Reith, founder of the BBC

Following my post earlier this week on the difficulties at the BBC, I have been chastised by a good friend and former colleague for being too harsh on the Corporation. The specific criticism was that my piece offered no evidence that I valued anything in the BBC.

On reflection, the complaint seems justified. As both a consumer and a former employee, I’m happy to record that I find much to cherish in the BBC’s output and modus operandi. Given how besieged staff inside the organisation feel, perhaps I erred in assuming that this was taken as read.  It is because I respect the nobility to which BBC journalism aspires that I am perplexed by its falling from grace.

However, all organisations need critical friends who are prepared to speak difficult truths. What people value in the BBC – or, more precisely, in its purpose of public service broadcasting – will be at risk if it remains sanguine about the existential threat it faces. The purpose of public service broadcasting is not served by trying to equate it with everything the BBC does. Nor by insisting that the activities we value in the BBC need to be undertaken by a single monolithic broadcaster.

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