Patrick Hackett and Beth Dodd – Emerging from a crisis
Patrick Hackett, Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer and Beth Dodd, Director, Transformation Programme share how the impact of COVID-19 is shaping the way we will deliver Our future.
COVID-19 is currently re-shaping and re-defining so much of what we do in all aspects of our lives. How it’s affecting our working lives is no exception. On a personal level, COVID-19 has certainly been the most profound and sustained challenge in our own careers to date.
For many of us it is difficult to look beyond the immediate situation, but our University must continue to look ahead – not only at how we emerge from the current crisis, but also to how we realise the ambitions in Our future, the strategic plan which so many of you contributed to developing.
The good news is that the purpose, vision, values, core goals and themes outlined in Our future remain unchanged – they are still critical to achieving our ambitions for the future.
Whilst our strategic plan, core goals and themes are still very much our intended destination, the steps we take in getting there will now need to be re-ordered and re-prioritised. As we find ourselves operating in a very different world, new paths will need to be taken as unforeseen challenges (and opportunities) arise – it’s clear some tough choices will need to be made.
Also key to how we deliver our vision, are our values. Over the past few weeks and months, the lockdown has provided us with even more opportunity to demonstrate and be proud of our shared values – be that in our pioneering spirit, in helping to shape our future for the greater good, respecting and supporting each other during these difficult times, or sharing and applying new knowledge for the benefit of society. These are not only ‘ways of being’ which we uphold but also are an aspect which we feel society also increasingly values in us. Especially when needing to make difficult decisions, how we deliver will be as important as what we deliver.
What’s the strategic portfolio and what’s been the impact?
Key to our core goals around research, teaching and social responsibility and underpinning our strategic plan are a number of significant initiatives. These span right across our University, and include programmes such as the Student Experience Programme (SEP), Research Lifecycle Programme (RLP), IT Modernisation, Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD), Employee Lifecycle Programme and Management Information and Business Intelligence (MIBI) to name a few.
Each initiative delivers outcomes which take us a step closer to achieving our vision. Whether it’s these initiatives or others, many of you reading this blog will have invested significant time and energy in supporting their delivery and may now be in the process of understanding whether these outcomes still hold true in the circumstances; whether the approaches and timescales are still viable and whether the initiatives themselves are still affordable, given the financial challenges we face. We are conscious we can take nothing for granted. Hence a number of our teams involved in these projects are currently in the throes of working out whether to postpone activity within the initiatives, re-plan, accelerate or descope the activity altogether.
Initiatives which are currently re-planning include: RLP, SEP and MIBI. In some cases this may mean extending the delivery over a longer time frame or reducing scope, or conversely, accelerating delivery to bring forward its benefits, as is the case with the rollout of Office 365 as part of the IT Modernisation programme.
In addition to this, for many of us it’s been all hands to the pump in responding to the initial incident management phase and our capacity to deliver many of the activities contributing to these initiatives has also been significantly impacted.
How are we re-shaping the strategic change portfolio?
Just before COVID-19, and working with colleagues across the University, we’d got to the point where we understood the broad size and shape of the future change portfolio and which strategic initiatives would need to call on the strategic change funds. The impact of COVID-19 has meant that we’ve had to re-assess the whole portfolio and work out which of our initiatives are a priority now.
As part of our re-assessment, Faculties, Schools and Professional Services teams have been asked to identify the shared priorities we are all working hard to achieve. Some of these have been about ensuring the safety of staff and students returning to campus in the coming months; planning the start of our academic year including continuing to develop and refine our online offering in order to provide high quality experiences for all our students, as well as ensuring our University is financially sustainable given the predictions around the financial scenarios.
We’ve now begun to establish delivery teams around these priorities with the intention that local solutions can be enacted within a shared framework, helping to minimise any duplication of effort, as well as align our energies in working together collaboratively to achieve our shared goals. The delivery teams consist of academic and Professional Services staff. Student representatives are also members of the relevant steering groups to ensure the student voice is central to these activities.
Whatever our financial standing, we must ensure we make strategic and carefully thought out investments and changes which support our long-term future.
What will be important to us in how we move forward?
In making way for the new recovery and transition priorities, we know we can’t deliver everything in the same way we used to and that we simply won’t have the time, capacity or funds to deliver everything we’d like to. We know we will have to prioritise the activities that will deliver the best outcomes in the post-COVID world and acknowledge that in order to do this there are activities within the strategic initiatives that will need to be postponed or paused – including some specific elements of MECD. We need to be realistic about what we can achieve.
Our response to the crisis has already provided many new ways to live our values. It’s perhaps also provided the opportunity to work in a very different and more flexible way. This is something that we are keen to capture and build on, as and when we return to campus and welcome back colleagues who are currently on furlough leave. Hence, whilst the specifics of what we deliver may change, our values will remain key in ensuring that we carve out our new path together.
There will be opportunities over the coming weeks to share your own ideas about how we can bring our values to life as we move forward. Although if you have any thoughts to share right now please share your comment below.