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Reinventing the ‘review’

by Susie Hills | Mar 5, 2021 | Fundraising, Governance & Policy, Strategy & Transformation

I’ve always been very interested in “the power of review”. It seems to me that many institutions are pretty good at “plan and do” but less at “review”.

Given how much we have had to plan and do over the last year, often under extreme pressure, there is much that we should now review. If we don’t take time to identify what we have learnt we will miss an extraordinary opportunity.

However, many of us are working under continued pressure and the energy and appetite for reviewing things may be understandably low. So how do we embrace the power of review and help it to energise and focus us rather than adding to our workloads? How can we remove the ‘dread’ that the word might evoke?

I think it’s time to dust off the art of the review, reinvent it and super-charge it for 2021. It’s time to develop review processes that are focused, effective, swift, compassionate and energising. Processes that are informed by the best of what we have achieved during these challenging times.

At Halpin we have been reflecting on what we have learnt with regards to reviews over the past year.

5 lessons from Halpin Reviews….

1. Digital tools can help engagement

We have learnt that we can use digital tools to engage more people more quickly, and in different ways. Whilst it may be preferable (for some of us) to meet physically, we have learnt that we can have important discussions using digital tools too. Reviews can be undertaken using a mix of tools – video meetings, focus group discussions, surveys and good old fashioned phone calls.

At Halpin, we have undertaken effective and inclusive reviews without ever meeting our clients in person. In fact, we have found that many people have been more willing to meet and have been more frank in their feedback than in face-to-face reviews. We would caution against the presumption that in-person meetings are better for all. Some have found video meetings and calls provide them with more comfortable and inclusive ways to contribute to discussions. We have also learnt that digital tools are only really inclusive if you don’t just give people the online tools to participate, but also provide support to make sure they understand how best to use them.

2. Focus on stakeholders

Under pressure, we have all naturally focused on what matters most for our stakeholders. Covid has helped us all to improve our ability to prioritise and pull together to change things. Institutions have achieved change that would have been considered impossible two years ago. This clarity of focus and emphasis on meeting the needs of stakeholders is vital in any review.

At Halpin we work hard at the start of a project to ensure we have clarity of scope, a clear understanding of the stakeholders involved and focused lines of enquiry. For example, our projects always start with a scoping meeting with key project stakeholders. Through discussion we explore, test and agree lines of enquiry which will guide our work throughout the review. This approach helps us to deliver reviews that have impact and are implementable.

3. EDI isn’t an ‘extra’

Both Covid and Black Lives Matter have pushed us all to consider equality, diversity and inclusion throughout our work. EDI belongs to all of us, it can’t be an add-on. For any review to be effective it needs to build EDI considerations into its scope at the outset.

We have started to build EDI considerations into all of our reviews and made sure we have the right skills in our team to do this. For example, our governance reviews now consider EDI throughout the review, not simply in terms of board diversity. We are committed to EDI as a firm, and we know we have more to do learn and do.

4. Reviews can be kind

Strangely whilst we might have been ‘remote’ working in some ways, we are all closer than ever. We have glimpsed each other’s lives – seen our homes, our dogs, cats and children. We have been patient with each other’s wifi problems and realised we are all doing the best we can. We have flexed our kindness muscles and offered each other understanding. We have achieved difficult things, together, with kindness.

At Halpin we believe that reviews can be kind. They can be inclusive, thoughtful and respectful. Difficult decisions can be made with kindness. A good review can avoid blame, focus on learning and unleash creativity.

5. Reviews are a team support

Covid has highlighted the power of teams to get things done; we have all found ways to work together despite the challenges. Reviews are best led by a small team and a good review team will have a good mix of skills and experience. The team needs to be able to challenge each other, to test assumptions, to explore findings together and to test recommendations with each other. The right team can also ensure that their review findings are highly implementable – we all hate review reports which sit on shelves.

At Halpin our reviews are conducted by teams of experts, and are supported by strong project management.

What would you add? What have you learnt about undertaking reviews in these challenging times? How can we make sure that a review leads to positive change? How can we review anything when we are exhausted and overloaded?

Let the discussions begin…

Susie Hills is Joint CEO at Halpin, the home of experts in higher education.