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The frustrating truth about interdisciplinary institutes.

Sep 05, 2017

We all know that we cannot solve the biggest problems facing our society, economy or environment without working across disciplines.

Funders and philanthropists know they can’t achieve the impact they seek without encouraging interdisciplinary working and academics know that some of the most exciting and impactful research is being done in this inter disciplinary space. Young academics are interested in developing their careers in an interdisciplinary environment and the students of the future seem less concerned with disciplinary boundaries.

All this should mean that the various interdisciplinary institutes in our universities are thriving.

The frustrating truth is that the way our universities are structured, governed and managed places obstacles in the path of an interdisciplinary approach.

Many institutions have been creating physical space in which researchers (and less often students) from a variety of disciplines can work together – building some form of interdisciplinary institute. Interdisciplinary institutes which endeavour to capitalise on these spaces or seek to foster collaboration in a “virtual” space have existed for many years and continue to be created.

This trend has been encouraged through the availability of capital funding through HEFCE and foundations such as Wellcome and Wolfson.

Around the UK architects have been briefed to create space that fosters interdisciplinary working and their solutions are beautiful and often a joy to work in.

From the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus. Funded through EU Convergence monies.

To the Discovery Centre at University of Dundee. Funded through a Wellcome-Wolfson Capital Award in Biomedical Science of £5 million and a £12 million award through the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund.

Most of these new buildings share some common features – informal social and work spaces, cafes, flexible meeting spaces, open plan offices and shared lab spaces.

However, it takes more than a new building to bring about an increase in interdisciplinary research.

Without changes in the we run our universities it will is hard for an interdisciplinary institute to deliver an increased volume of interdisciplinary research (and associated research income).

Success lies in rethinking three fundamental management processes:

  • The way we measure success
  • The way we build budgets
  • The way we govern

1. Measuring success

How is the measurement of success in academia discouraging interdisciplinary research? Sounds like a good PhD topic but I am not an academic so here is the management consultant’s view.

It appears that the way the sector manages and rewards academic performance may be preventing the very behaviours that it must encourage for interdisciplinary work to flourish.

As an academic a key factor in your career prospects is the assessment of your research output and quality: the number of citations you get and the research income you win. Your career is advanced by these methods and the institution’s performance is measured and rewarded by the sum of these parts.

Indeed some academics believe that institutions didn’t submit interdisciplinary work into the REF as it was seen to be too risky – because of these issues.

Certainly, HEFCE itself is not underestimating the obstacles to interdisciplinary working and has a panel set up to advise the REF team, REF panel chairs and the UK funding bodies on approaches to support the submission and assessment of interdisciplinary research in REF 2021.

And it’s not just a UK problem. HEFCE’s 2015 research showed a lower citation impact associated with interdisciplinary research among all countries examined.

So how can an individual institution tackle this when it’s a sector issue?

Universities need to be aware of the weaknesses of current performance indicators in terms of measuring success and rewarding the staff within our interdisciplinary institutions.

It’s vital to consider additional measures to recognise and reward interdisciplinary work. For example, recognising how this work contributes to international reputation.

Consideration should be given to:

  • Setting longer term targets.
  • Understanding whether interdisciplinary working is performing less well against your current measures and establishing why.
  • Mapping collaborative work to see how staff are working together at each stage of the research process.
  • Providing better guidance and support on publications and research grant applications to academics
  • Influencing the funding bodies and their panels.
  • Putting in place targeting PR activities which assist with profile and reputation.

2. Building the budget

Whilst interdisciplinary institutes and the beautiful buildings which house them are usually justified by the promise of increased research income and enabled through the availability of capital funding it is vital that longer term business plans are created. A five-year budget should be built before the building is!

It sounds obvious but many institute’s plans are signed off without detailed planning of the income which will result (and especially how it will change and be sustained over time) and the operational costs which will have to be funded. And, crucially, how this will work internally with the existing budgets.

Existing planning models tend to drive University professional services staff towards developing budgets for ‘business units’ – colleges, schools, faculties, departments (whatever each institution calls them). But the very nature of interdisciplinary work is that it crosses these departmental boundaries and so requires some form of sharing of budgets. Disciplinary heads have their own targets and priorities, prising resource from existing disciplines to create what may often perceive as a competitor is not straight forward. Asking for more resource later to let them grow and thrive can be even more fraught.

Unless the university finds ways to ensure that money flows towards activity instead of structural units, then it can be extremely hard for interdisciplinary teams to secure budget.

Research makes a loss in terms of full economic costings. With the right research funder it can break even or perhaps even make a small surplus (especially if another donor has paid for the building). What is cannot do is create the resources to allow it to grow and change, for this it needs to be underpinned by student fee income and other income, just like a traditional academic discipline.

If the planned institute is going to be research only and the teaching will remain in the participating departments then there has to be a plan as to how the institute’s operational costs will be covered – either through contributions from participating departments or through a central budget. The institute will also need access to additional funding to allow it to change, grow and thrive once the original funding for the institute has gone.

If students are taught the plans must consider the additional costs of delivering interdisciplinary courses. It takes more staff to create content and deliver courses. It also creates a logistical strain for the departments involved as they try to map out the teaching work that will be carried out by their staff. It creates a budgetary issue as to whether you ‘buy out’ staff time and the institute keeps the fee income or whether the fee income is apportioned out back to the “owner” departments minus the overheads of the institutes. In budget-constrained times departments will need to know how this will affect their finances and in effect be able to see ‘what’s in it for them’ other than just another competitor.

3. Governance

Existing academic disciplines have often been with a University since their inception. The governance and management structures were designed in an endeavour to facilitate their success. Interdisciplinary institutes (by definition) exist without the benefit of these structures.

For an institute to thrive it will need a champion to drive not only its creation but to sustain its growth and impact. Of course, this is great, whilst the champions remain in post, but creating a successful institute requires talent, tact and energy (the very attributes that often mean such champions progress rapidly to another post).

If interdisciplinary institutes are to be sustainable and grow they need to be given a voice in the governance structure commensurate with the strategic hopes and aspirations placed upon them.

Consideration needs to be given to how they are represented in the management structures and how beholden are they to existing disciplines. Get this wrong and they may be doomed to a slow decline from the moment the institute is created. How visible are they to governors, how are their successes (and failings) noted and actioned.

Having a champion is a great start for a new institute, but to be successful in the longer term it needs to be appropriately embedded in the management and governance structures.

To sum up:

  • Building of a shiny new building won’t in itself lead to an increase in interdisciplinary research
  • Our management systems put obstacles in place of interdisciplinary working
  • Our current measurements of success do not reward Interdisciplinary research
  • Champions can set them up and help them grow but appropriate management and governance is required to allow them to become sustainable.

This means that we need to:

  • Build budgets in a different way
  • Define additional performance measures
  • Think more broadly about ROI
  • Consider how they fit in management and governance structures**

At the outset of the planning process for a new institute it is crucial that as much (or more) thought must be given governance, management, planning and budgets as is given to the design of the building. That means having absolute clarity as to:

  • How governance, management and departmental structures will be adapted to facilitate the institute.
  • What the performance indicators for the institute will be and how these will contribute to the overall university performance.
  • What the annual planning and budgetary process for the institute will look like (especially how operational costs will be met and how money will flow between the institute and departments involved).
  • What income will be generated (from all sources) – thus establishing the ROI
  • The human resource requirements – How the institute will be staffed and how their time will be allocated.
  • Whether there will be an UG or PG teaching offer and how it will be delivered.
  • What support functions will be required (and how will these be paid for).
  • What reputational impact is expected and how will this be delivered through a communications and PR strategy.

Scrimping on management planning whilst the excitement of the architectural planning process takes place may prove a costly mistake.

Halpin Partnership can provide detailed management planning services to support your plans for a new interdisciplinary institute.

Our team can also assist with the review and restructure of an existing institute. These projects require the focussed time and expertise of a variety of experts from governance, finance, planning and campus services to research, marketing and commercialisation. We will bring together the right team to help you plan or review your institute with confidence.

Further reading:

The things University leaders dread most about the new academic year. Part 2. Senior Management Meetings.

Aug 23, 2017

With summer fading and only a few weeks before the new academic year University leaders may be experiencing mixed emotions.

It’s tough at the top of universities – from stories about VC pay to news of declining overseas students and reports of EU research funding slowing – there is a lot to be concerned about.

But it’s often rather more mundane issues that fill leaders with dread, such as…

...Senior Team meetings

Do you see an hour long (or longer?) meeting in your diary – perhaps on a Monday morning – labelled Senior team meeting and feel a sense of resignation?

Do you know that the meeting isn’t really working but feel that that it’s essential?

Stop! You are the leader and if you can’t change if who can?

You are not alone in dreading senior team meetings. Many leaders dread this type of meeting and many of their team dread them too. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Try these 8 steps…

Step 1: Analysis.

The first step to changing things is to take a long hard (honest) look at what happens in those meetings. Ask yourself:

– Why do I dread this? – What happens before and after the meeting? – Does the agenda work? – What information is shared? – What decisions are made? – Who makes the meeting better (or worse) and what do they do? – What could you do better?

Aim to get a clear view in your mind as to what is working and not working from your perspective.

Step 2. Stop.

One of my favourite actions is to simply cancel the meeting for a period of time and see what happens.

Does anyone complain? Who and why? Does information flow anyway? How are decisions made without that meeting?

Once you see what problems emerge without the meeting, then you know why the meeting is really needed and you can set an appropriate agenda and decide how frequently you need the meeting. Try it, you may be surprised by how effective this is, and how it aids your thinking.

Step 3. Ask.

Before you shape up that agenda and book the meetings back in the diary seek the views of those who attend. Ask those who come to the meeting what works, and doesn’t work, for them. Ask them:

– What they think of the current meeting structure, duration and frequency? – What the meeting is needed for? – What information should be shared and what decisions should be made? – How frequently they think it is needed? – What they need to see on the agenda. – How long they think the meeting should last for?

Step 4. Design.

Design the new meeting with thought. Don’t allow it to simply pop back in the old slot for the old length of time in the old room. A room change can send a signal and be surprisingly effective. A regular room change prevents people setting into patterns.

Decide on frequency of meeting and its length and don’t be afraid of varying it.

You might find that you want a short meeting every week for information sharing but that you make it longer once a month for more detailed discussion on a key topic.

Step 5. Set the agenda.

Think about the agenda with care. Will you have a rolling agenda or set the agenda each time. How can you ensure that all the key topics are covered? How will colleagues put something on the agenda? Will you sign off agenda items or will your PA put them on automatically?

Split the agenda by items for information, or decision. Make sure agenda items which require a decision are earlier on the agenda than other items. Put timings next to items to help you keep on track.

Step 6. Preparation.

Do you want your team to prepare anything for the meeting? Let them know. There is nothing worse than colleagues scribbling their update in the meeting whilst not listening to others giving theirs.

If you want colleagues to give a short update, let them know and ask them to prepare it prior to the meeting. That way if they cannot attend then they can pass it to a colleague to update on their behalf.

Step 7. Chair well.

All meetings need a good chair. This does not have to be you. Rotating the Chair may be a good option with a senior team – this allows the dynamics to feel fresh and may help everyone to feel they have a voice. Whoever is in the chair must focus on keeping the group on track with the agenda, enabling everyone to contribute and steering the meeting towards decisions where required.

Just because you have a group of senior managers doesn’t mean that you (or they) have the skills of good chairmanship. If you know you aren’t a strong Chair get some coaching it’s an important skill to strengthen. Don’t avoid it, don’t dread it, get some coaching and then embrace it. It may be worth getting meetings management training for all leaders in your institution as a matter of course.

Step 8. Take useful notes.

How do you currently document your senior team meeting? Formal minutes? Who takes them? What form do they take?

At most universities, senior management meetings have quite formal minutes. The reality is that that few people read or refer to them until the start of the next meeting. Then they are scanned hurriedly, and any outstanding actions discussed in embarrassed and ill prepared ways.

Far better to have simple action notes which list the key information points shared and by whom (for the benefit of those who did not attend) and decisions made with names and deadlines next to them. This can be done in a tabular form and then the actions can be ticked off prior to the next meeting.

Ask whoever is taking notes and administering the meeting to require each member of the team to report to them on their action points prior to the meeting so that anything outstanding can be added to the agenda of the next meeting as necessary. Ensure that the administrator briefs the Chair as to the actions and anything to be discussed. Don’t let the review of action points take up time in the meeting.

With these 8 steps you can re-design your senior team meetings. The Halpin Partnership work with clients to redesign their meetings structures and offers coaching in chairing meetings. Contact us if we can help.

A seven-step approach to problem solving with your team.

Aug 16, 2017

A colleague walks into your office and says, “We have a big problem…”, as the leader often the desire is to jump into action and get the problem solved as quickly as possible.

The key to success is to step back and immediately begin a seven-step process which will help you to gain detailed understanding as to what the problem is, successfully lead your team to an effective solution and ensure that the organisation has learnt in the process.

As a leader, you won’t be undertaking all the work that is required at each stage but it’s your job to set out process by which you would like your colleagues to tackle the problem.

The seven-step process to dealing with complex problems can be summarised as follows:

  1. Definition – Establish exactly what the problem is, the scale of the problem and who is involved.

  2. Identification – Establish what a successful solution will look like by defining your success criteria.

  3. Understanding – Gain a full and detailed understanding of the causes of the problem.

  4. Exploration – Consider the strengths and weaknesses of potential solutions and consider at least three potential solutions.

  5. Decision – Agree on a solution – a plan, timeframe and budget for implementation. Communicate this to your team and key stakeholders.

  6. Implementation – Ensure effective implementation of your plan within agreed timeframe and agreed budget and let everyone know what is happening and when.

  7. Learning – Review the implementation process and check that it is delivering your success criteria. See what you have learnt as team and see how it applies to other areas of your organisation.

It would make sense to share this process with your team so that they know when they say, “We have a problem…”, that the first thing you will say is something like, “Let’s define exactly what the problem is.” Indeed, if they know that this is the process you will use they should come into your office with the beginning of a definition. It’s only the beginning of a definition because it’s vital that you dig beyond the information they give you when they first alert you to the problem. So how does this work?

Stage 1: Definition

Successful definition of the problem will require you to ask lots of questions. Questions like…

– What has gone or is going wrong? – How serious is it? – Are there any legal, financial or safety implications? – What are the effects? – Who is involved? – Who is aware of the problem? – How was the problem identified?

As you will be asking lots of questions, you might find a mind map is a helpful way of making notes of your discussions. As you listen to the answers you will find that factors interact and your mind map will help you make connections and literally ‘picture’ what has happened.

It may also help for you to brainstorm all the questions you have before you talk to those involved. It also may be best to talk to individuals involved separately so their answers are not influenced by others and they can speak freely.

Stage 2: Identification

As you learn about the problem constantly ask, “What does good look like?” Aim to find out who does this well and what they do. The clearer picture you have of success the closer you will come to achieving it. This isn’t about jumping to finding the solution it’s about defining what you want the solution to deliver.

Remember you don’t need to understand how to get there at this stage you just need to be able to articulate what you are aiming for. Depending on the scale and importance of the issue, this may be the appropriate time to discuss the issue with your Governing body so you are clear of their expectations.

Stage 3: Understanding

Sometimes this stage is skipped over, often due to the desire not to create ‘a witch hunt’ or ‘blame culture’. However, you really can’t spend too much time understanding what caused the problem. This doesn’t have to feel like an investigation and can be a true learning exercise for your team. Explain to your team that, “If we don’t understand how we got here it will be harder for us to build the right solution together. There is nothing wrong with us facing problems, it’s part of doing what we do. The only mistake is that we don’t learn from the situation we are in.”

The deeper your understanding of what caused the problem the better. Different colleagues may have different perceptions as to the cause of the problem and it is important to hear all views. Find out if the issue is a systems and processes issue, a people (capacity/skills?) or resources issue (budget?).

One way of capturing what you learn is to write down the problem and then list the first level contributing factors, and list the contributing factors to each of those first level factors – you dig down level by level. The best way to capture this is to create a diagram which lists levels of contributing factors.

You now have a picture of the problem through your mind map, a picture of what success looks like and a picture of all the contributing factors. Stages 1-3 are complete.

Stage 4: Exploration

This can be a creative process for you and your team. Lead a thorough exploration of potential solutions, don’t accept the first one offered to you.

Ask questions like:

– How else could we address this? – How many options do we have? – What are the pros and cons of each? – How do others solve this problem? – How could we solve it if we had no additional resources (tests whether extra expenditure is really needed)? – What is the fastest solution? – What is the most long lasting solution? – What is the simplest solution?

Ask your team to put forward at least 3 options. Test each option against your success criteria so you are sure it delivers what you need. Interrogate it further by asking questions like:

– How could this be better? – What is missing? What risks are there? – How long will it take? – What have we forgotten? (my favourite for bringing out further information).

Ensure that your options are shared in some form with senior colleagues and the Governing body (if you have determined that the problem warrants their involvement). Asking for their input at this stage will gain their confidence and ensure your decision is supported.

Stage 5: Decision

With all you have learned in stages 1-4 this stage should be straightforward. The key to success though is not just deciding on a solution but agreeing a timeframe and budget for implementation. It seems obvious but it’s amazing how often a timeframe and budget are not mutually understood and agreed. Sometimes teams who are under pressure offer unrealistically short timeframes or underestimate the budget required. Ensure the timeframe is realistic and that there are key milestones for the project and dates for these.

Ask your team to agree this plan and milestones with all involved to ensure it works alongside other projects which colleagues may be working on.

Ask questions like:

– What might prevent us from putting this solution in place within the timeframe? – What might lead us to go over budget? – What are we doing to mitigate these risks?

Stage 6: Implementation

By now many colleagues may have lost interest as they understand what happened and have agreed on a solution, but it’s vital that a robust implementation process is in place. So often leaders find that problems recur and are frustrated that the institution hasn’t properly addressed them. To avoid this, ensure the project has a champion at a senior level and a project manager who oversees implementation.

Clearly articulate what information you would like your champion and project manager to give you at each stage of the project. Ask them how they will report on the achievement of project milestones and escalate any issues which arise. If the team know you are maintain interest in the project they will maintain the momentum and deliver the project. If they feel it has lost importance or urgency they may prioritise other activities.

Finally, at this stage, ensure that a communications plan is place. Who do you need to share your decision and plan with. Internally? Externally? At what stages of the process do you need to communicate with them? Do they support the decision and implementation plans? Nothing frustrates stakeholders more than hearing nothing, so often as a consultant I hear “I never did hear what they did about ….”.

Stage 7: Review

So, the problem has been resolved, a solution is in place and you are achieving your success criteria – fantastic! But can you be sure that the problem will not arise again and that your team and wider organisation have learnt from the experience?

Bring those who have been involved in the problem and its solution together and ask questions like:

– What are the key learning points? – What could we have done better? – What other similar problems should we be aware of? – With hind-sight how do we feel we could have avoided being in that situation? – Have we successfully delivered on all our success criteria?

This will help them to see you value the work they have done to solve the problem and their insight into your institution. It may also highlight further improvements you can make. It also establishes a culture where things get done and we truly learn from our mistakes. Sounds simple, but how often have we worked in institutions where the wheel seems to be reinvented every few years and the same mistakes seem to be made again and again. Nothing undermines confidence in leadership more quickly than the same errors recurring. It’s also vital to document what you have learnt in some way as it’s amazing how much can be lost when team members leave, and none of us will be there forever.

Many leaders need support to undertake this process. It maybe that they do not have time to undertake the process or that they prefer an independent view to be brought in. The Halpin Partnership undertakes this process in partnership with our clients. Our highly-experienced consultants have the sensitivity, insight and gravitas to support leaders and their teams to deliver change.

How to respond to budget cuts

Aug 04, 2017

With the pressures of Brexit, along with economic and demographic changes, many institutions will be looking to make cuts in their operating budgets.

Senior managers are being ‘do their bit’ and make cuts to their budget. Some are being tasked with saving 5%, 10%, or even more from their budget. They are being asked to ‘do more with less’. Many are also facing a freeze on recruitment to new or existing roles.

Even in those institutions not making cuts there is likely to be an atmosphere that discourages requests for additional budget – a culture of ‘austerity’.

So what is the responsible approach as a leader when you are asked to make cuts to your budget?

1. Focus on performance

You were recruited to deliver impact in a particular area of the institution. You will have key performance indicators which measure the impact your team is having on the overall performance of the institution. Its your job to show how your budget enables the institution to deliver its goals. As you consider what cuts are possible be realistic about the budget required to deliver the goals and highlight the compromises which would arise if you did not have that budget. Indeed it may be that an increase in budget in your area could deliver an increase in income in some way.

Just because the message is one of cuts does not mean you should not articulately defend or indeed seek an increase in your budget if that is what is required. e.g. Can you really increase international student numbers (and resulting income) and cut the marketing budget for recruitment?

It may be that by disinvesting in your team’s work, your institution will be disinvesting in the very things they need to do to succeed. If budget cuts are absolutely necessary, then you will have provided clarity as to their impact.

2. Compare and contrast

Look at institutions like you and those who are doing better than you in your particular area and try to identify what their budget is. If you are aware of cuts made elsewhere try to find out what the implications have been and use these as case studies. Sharing this information can add impact and authority to the case you make.

3. Articulate risk

Ensure that your area of the institution is on the risk register and highlight how risks might increase with budget cuts. The institution may still decide to make the cuts but it is your responsibility to highlight what risks they are, in effect, accepting, if they go ahead. Its also your duty to outline how those risks might be mitigated. If you see heightened risk alert those responsible for keeping the register – don’t wait until you are asked for an update.

4. Work with others

None of us work in silos (at least we shouldn’t!) and cuts in our area will affect other teams. Discuss the implications with other senior mangers, explore what cuts they are considering. Too often there is an element of competition between leaders to protect their budgets with discussions undertaken on a 1:1 basis not in teams. Collaborative work will ensure that those making the final budgetary decisions understand how a cut might have wider implications than they might immediately expect. It also shows that you are a true team player and that your focus is on the overall institution’s performance not just that of your team/area of work.

5. Think long term

Be prepared to outline how cuts will not only impact your team’s work this year, but subsequent years. It might be that a reduction in your budget this year can be born but if the budget remains at that lower level for several years the combined impact might be significant. How will the risks and impact play out over time? Do your best to predict and articulate this as clearly as you can.

In summary..

It's your job as a leader to ensure that your colleagues understand what resources you need, why you need them and what impact you will deliver with those resources.

If you are facing cuts it's your job to show how a reduction in budget might increase risk, reduce performance or hinder progress – not just this year but in future years.

Ultimately the cuts may still be required but you will have delivered your leadership responsibilities if your colleagues understand the full impact of the cuts.

The things University leaders dread most about the new academic year. Part 1. Their diaries.

Aug 02, 2017

With summer fading and only a few weeks before the new academic year, University leaders may be experiencing mixed emotions.

It’s tough at the top of universities. From stories about VC pay to news of declining overseas students and reports of EU research funding slowing – there is a lot to be concerned about.

But it’s often rather more mundane issues that fill leaders with dread, such as…

...The diary

As you look ahead to September and October, does your heart sink as you see day after day already booked up with meetings? Will the pace will be relentless until Xmas? Days of back to back meetings followed by evenings catching up on emails?

Are you thinking “There is nothing I can do except knuckle down and get on with it and hope I last to Christmas.”?

Stop! You are the leader. If you can’t change if who can?

Forget new year’s resolutions in January, this is the time of year that leaders in education have the best chance of changing things and if you don’t change things now then you can forget it later in the academic year. After all it doesn’t get less busy as the year goes on does it?

If you are dreading your diary then chances are your colleagues are too so you can, as a leader, help them as well. All of you are losing essential thinking time through diary pressures and you must take control.

Try this five-step process. If you have a PA, share this with them and work together on it:

Step 1: Decide to take control.

You are the leader. Meetings only get in your diary because you say yes to them or at least don’t say no! You may have a PA or Exec Officer who is able to book things in your diary, but ultimately they are only putting in things that you are saying yes to or, more often, not saying no to. Talk to your PA and let them help you to take control. They will probably be relieved and delighted that you are doing this. They may have been trying to tell you to do so for some time.

Step 2: Prioritise.

Print off your diary and get the coloured pens out. Red meetings are essential – you would (or should) lose your job if you didn’t go. Amber meetings are quite important but you could miss the odd one and delegate it to someone else providing they consulted you beforehand and reported to you afterward. Green meetings are good to go to but not essential. Blue meetings are a waste of your time and you don’t know why it’s in the diary.

Make any meeting without an agenda automatically a blue and refuse to go to it until you have an agenda and a clear purpose. Be tough on yourself. Are you really needed? What would happen if you didn’t go or if the meeting didn’t happen?

Cancel all blue meetings. Cut down green meetings severely, cut half of the amber meetings and keep the red meetings. Share your decisions with your PA if you have one. They are likely to be tougher than you.

Step 3: Reduce.

Reduce the time allocated to every meeting in your diary. Make all 1 hour meetings 45 minutes or even 30 minutes and see what happens. Meetings tend to fill whatever time you allocate to them and shortening the slot can force us all to focus our time and make decisions faster. Many of us are simply in the habit of booking one hour meeting slots – who said it has to be that way?

Step 4: Phone.

Consider whether any of the meetings could become phone calls. What could be discussed in 15 minutes on the phone might become 45 minutes if a face to face meeting is booked in. Clearly some things are better discussed in person but many of us have the tendency to make something which could easily be handled in a phone call into a meeting. Try picking up the phone far more often – people like to hear from the leader in this intimate way too.

Step 5: Protect time.

Once you have been through these steps then you will have gaps in your diary. Immediately block these out if they were a meeting and label them thinking time. Thinking time is not a luxury, it’s essential if you are to be a good, healthy leader.

With these 5 steps you can take back control of your diary and gain invaluable thinking time. Remember, do what no-one else but you as leader can do – don’t waste the time sitting in meetings that don’t move the organisation forward. Halpin works with leaders and their PAs to redesign their diaires and their working lives. Contact us if we can help.

What's in a name?

Aug 01, 2017

So why did we chose Halpin Partnership as our name?

Halpin Partnership is named after the late Dr Les Halpin.

As a statistician Les understood the need for high quality data analysis and market insight to inform business planning and improve business processes.

As a philanthropist Les sought to invest in projects which would tackle systemic issues and change the world, ‘in bite sized chunks’.

As an investor and entrepreneur Les helped smart, creative businesses to achieve their growth potential and deliver value to their customers.

As a sufferer of Motor Neurone Disease Les had the drive and passion to fight for the rights of patients to access new medicines.

Les’s positive, kind-hearted personality meant he made many friends. Indeed he was a collector of people and ideas and believed in working in partnership to make things happen.

As a friend Les was warm, enthusiastic and funny. He would also tell it to you straight, because he cared.

Les’s legacy was to set up the Halpin Trust which supports smart organisations to step improve their performance and have sustainable impact.

We are proud that our company, Halpin Partnership Ltd, bears Les’s name and is inspired by his approach to business, philanthropy and friendship.