AUA Autumn Conference – a reflection on Change Management


Alice Trethewey | Business Change Management Specialist, University of Plymouth

This was my 2nd AUA event, attending mainly in support of colleagues who had been accepted to run a break out session using Lego as a learning activity for finding waste in processes. The definite bonus for me was getting to hear from two inspiring keynote speakers.

First up Professor Mary Stewart, VC at Lincoln, with her presentation titled Living with disruption – rising to the challenge of change. Although admittedly taking us to the “valley of death” with her rather alarming, but reality checking, journey through the multiple issues and threats facing the sector, Mary was then able to bring to the room her very genuine passion when she began to talk about the purpose of Higher Education. I loved her statement about “creating successful citizens” and her belief that we need to be focussing more on our communities. Not just focussing on our applicants, our students and our graduates, but on the larger impact each institution has on its surrounding community, on its economy, on the public health, and on the optimism that higher education brings to citizens directly and indirectly.

It was easy to see why Mary was voted ‘Leader of the year’ in the guardian in 2017. I could have listened to her speak about the importance of Higher Education all day, a subject that can be so easily pushed to one side when we are surrounded by negative news stories in the media.

Mary’s keynote was thought provoking, and with my own analytical lens, I found myself exploring how the impact can be measured. How many jobs does my university create in my region – not just directly, but indirectly through student housing, bars, shops, taxis etc? What are the benefits of Higher Education that I stand genuinely behind and can therefore champion my employer and my sector with the amount of passion that Mary displayed?

After lunch, our keynote speaker was Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary, from my Devon neighbour the University of Exeter. Mike’s delivery, even of his jokes, was engaging throughout. Mike spoke about the journey he and his team at Exeter have been going on to implement a new Professional Services Strategy.

Mike’s presentation shared in some detail with us:
• their approach to building team ownership and goals
• the structure and methodologies they are adapting and adopting
• their use of benchmarking and the benefits of doing this
• how they are involving all staff in ensuring they can deliver against their strategy

With my own background in Project Management and now working in Change Management, I found Mike’s obvious experience, enthusiasm and knowledge to be a very practical and honest. Sharing with us some great tips, some real learning points, and even some fantastic one-liners (his own self-confessed fridge magnet moments). I made note of the three goals he and his team are working towards and of their agreed team values, as a reminder to myself again that keeping it simple, and with his quoted “golden thread of strategic intent”, transformation of services with full support and engagement of staff is absolutely possible, with the right focus of energy on Change Management. My takeaway was Mike’s quoted “80% energy on Change Management, 20% on Project Management” – music to my Change Manager ears!

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