The case for reviewing strategy, performance and structure is a strong one but in this month where Halpin reflects on the power of reviews, I’m keen to reflect on a different type of analysis; a more personal one. I’m going to make the case that as professionals working in higher education, just as we should review organisational performance on a regular basis, we have a similar responsibility to stop and consider our own impact, performance, career journey and needs.
In the same way that our university’s external environment might change due to policy or regulation, market trends or economic factors, so too does the context in which we operate as individuals. Our family shape and size might grow, shrink or mutate into something different. Our financial situation might dramatically improve - or drastically decrease.
Our ‘internal’ environment is continually changing too. As we gather more experience, we learn more about who we are, what motivates us, how we respond to different scenarios and colleagues. Our priorities change; we might be hungry for a new challenge, or we might have a need to slow down and focus on family instead. At a different stage in our career, we might feel that our current role isn’t making the positive impact that we were looking for and seek out something that we feel is more worthwhile our time.
However, despite all of this movement through different stages, it’s very easy to stay within the same role, in the same department and institution, often for many years. This does seem to be particularly common in higher education, where the annual long-service ceremonies are typically full of colleagues who have worked for the university for 25 years or more. It’s not surprising; a university can be a ‘nice’ place to work; generous annual leave, reasonably well-paid roles, well-kept campuses with a range of sports facilities and plenty of choice of places to meet for lunch or coffee. Even better, it can feel that you are ‘making a difference’ to other people’s lives; you are playing your part in educating the talent of the future.
I was one of those people. I was very comfortable in a higher education role. My colleagues were my friends, the workload was manageable, there was rarely any tension or significant pressure and the best time of the year was graduation. I spent most of my days in meetings, with time to catch-up on emails in-between. I made the same decisions on operational plans and resource allocation each year. I followed the same cycle of activity and reporting, research projects and events. I pretended to myself that I wasn’t bored – every cycle brings something new, right?
It took a decision made by someone else for me to wake up and review what I was doing. My role had suited me perfectly for a few years – my family was young and I needed the regular working pattern and an office close by – but as my external circumstances and internal situation had evolved, I made no attempt to review what I was doing and respond accordingly. As a result, I wasn’t delivering value to my university - or myself.
It is not my intention to knock loyalty to one institution or company. Of course I don’t believe that everyone should change their role for the sake of it, or that there should be a limit on the length of time you should stay in one faculty or department. There’s definitely no space here for uniformity or rigidity.
However, I suspect we have all met people who might benefit from taking some time to review where they are, what they want to be doing and whether the ‘fit’ between themselves and their role is still as good as it once was. At an organisational level, taking the time to review what we do, and making any needed adjustments is fairly normal practice. I think it’s time that we also recognise that this process is necessary for us all as individuals too.
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Rachel Killian is a Senior Consultant for Halpin - the home of experts in higher education and beyond.