Professional Services – Future-Fit?

Jan Shine

Lead Consultant, AUA Consulting

Jan is an experienced  trainer, manager, coach and HR specialist with a background in higher education. She works throughout the UK providing bespoke workshops and programmes, coaching and organisational development consultancy.  Jan is a Fellow of the AUA and an Assessor and Advisor for the AUA Mark of Excellence

It’s now more than a year since the pandemic first hit the UK. It is hard to remember life and work in our institutions pre-COVID-19. 

2021 will be potentially even more challenging for HE.  As Steve Smith highlighted in another AUA blog the rapid changes in methods of delivery and ways of working has created significant financial pressure and he noted the need to ensure that professional services continues to be fit for purpose to support adjusted organisational strategies and new operating models.  The term ‘future-fit’ has taken on new meaning.  The term is most often used in the context of navigating the world-wide crisis through business transformation and agility.  But a future-fit organisation needs future-fit people within it.  I suggest that, in parallel, we need to update our human ‘operating models’ such as inherent ways of thinking, feeling and working that make up an organisation’s culture and impact on its capacity to navigate and survive these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times.

Moving forward, institutions will be reviewing their structures and there may be need for reshaping the professional services.  Whilst many HEIs have restructured in response to changing needs over recent years, the post-COVID review feels quite different.  For example, a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report on the implications of the post-pandemic workplace confirms what we already suspected – i.e. that the workplace and ways of working will not return to what they were before the pandemic.  70% of employers indicate that they will expand or introduce working at home on a regular basis (compared to 45% before the pandemic), and numbers of staff working at home regularly (defined as at least once a week in the report) and all the time are predicted to double to 36% and 18% respectively.  What might this mean for office space, technology, flexible working, infrastructures and support for staff as they adjust to these new ways of working? 

It is at challenging times like this that a development framework based on future-fit organisational values can support an institution, the teams and individual professional services staff within it through a crisis.

Financial pressures are likely to prevail, which may mean that more drastic cost saving measures are required.  For example, reviewing the scope of academic offering, considering mergers, shared services or reducing staff numbers whist streamlining processes to maximise efficiency.  

It is at challenging times like this that a development framework based on future-fit organisational values can support an institution, the teams and individual professional services staff within it through a crisis.  For example, restructuring through voluntary severance and/or role redesign can be supported by a development framework to ensure equality of opportunity through consistent application of agreed criteria to make informed decisions.  Even though not everyone will get the outcome they wish for, the institution will have done all it can to ensure those in scope will experience the process and decision making as fair.   Once new structures and modus operandi are agreed, a development framework, in conjunction with a humanistic approach to people management – implying respect for who people are, both their uniqueness and their talents rather than for the type of role they hold or the perceived status of their role – will support implementation and help shape future-fit professional development to build resilience and adaptability.

The AUA’s Professional Behaviours Framework is a proven development tool to support individuals, teams and institutions.  AUA’s Future HE Professionals research explores the implications of future work trends in higher education.

To find out how AUA Consulting can help you and your team explore themes discussed in this blog, email AUA Consultants are practitioners in higher education administration and management with a depth of experience and professional expertise. More information at AUA Consulting.