I started receiving notifications from LinkedIn yesterday congratulating me on my two year anniversary at Flinders University, so I thought I would take a moment to write a short post reflecting on my time here, and on where to from here.
As the year draws rapidly to a close, the thoughts of many a manager turn to that most dreaded of annual tasks – the performance review. Often ignored, frequently monolithic, a good idea that has been lost in translation to some awful Word document template. Dislike them or loathe them, they are out there. Sadly, this kind of prescriptive process can often discourage what should be a worthwhile activity, that of providing some sort of formal feedback to staff on their year in review, hopefully as a supplement to the regular feedback they have been getting throughout the year (wishful thinking, I know).
But what about feedback going the other way from staff given to their managers, particularly in the case of senior level managers?
In my fifteen years of reporting to senior managers or executives, not once have I been asked for formal feedback on their performance throughout the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some really good managers (and some bloody awful ones), but not once has any of them given me a formal opportunity to provide structured feedback. This year, to show that I’m willing to lead by example, I’ve set up a formal feedback process to give my senior leaders the chance to share their thoughts on my 2016.
Well, I think its safe to call the result of this year’s Australian census, making it a much quicker call than our Federal election last month – the results are in, and the ABS lost. Lost to the point that makes the Australian cricket team’s recent performance against Sri Lanka look not all that bad in comparison.
It was, on pretty much all fronts, a train wreck.
In the first two posts of this trilogy I discussed the background of the Flinders Connect student service centre and a strategy for driving the highest value from a combination of online self-service, service centre support, and more focused interactions. In this final post, I want to explore something which sets the University context apart from that of (say) a bank, a telco or a government department.
That something is one of the goals of of all Universities: to develop strong graduate capabilities within students as a fundamental outcome of attending University.
In the first post of this trilogy I set the scene around the creation of a new student service centre, and noted that many of the enquiries answered during our first ‘peak’ period at the start of Semester 1 could have been very easily done by students online. The question I posed at the end was which enquiries could have we avoided by having them done online via self-service, and how could we have achieved that?
Before I get into proposing answers to that question I want to consider another one – why should we drive enquiries online in the first place?
For the last two days I’ve been in attendance at the Strategies for Student Retention conference in Melbourne. The conference was an interesting mix of background information on retention stats in Australian higher education, strategies to improve these retention rates, arguments around the concept of students as customers, and plenty of discussion about the challenges that lay ahead for higher education. To summarise the themes of the conference in five points:
- attrition at universities is a thing;
- some of it is largely unavoidable, and relates to external factors in the lives of students;
- some of it correlates to student demographics, but to varying degrees;
- sometimes behavioural indicators can predict it;
- sometimes intervention strategies can help students stay on if the challenges they are facing can be worked around.
I’m not going to spend time going into more detail on the above though – there are plenty of fine scholars already doing that far more justice than I can here. I will however demonstrate the variation of opinions on the matter by sharing some responses to the following question I posted on Twitter:
If I had a dollar to spend on increasing student retention, where would it be most effectively spent, and why?
Here are some of the responses I got…
As part of the lead up to the opening of Flinders Connect next month, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the concept of ‘students as customers’, and the role that Universities (and our student services team one part of that greater whole) are expected to play in this relationship. In a recent staff forum I heard our Vice Chancellor muse that students may be customers, but they are not customers simply buying a commodity – they are more like adventurers signing up for a trek through the Himalayas, with an expectation that they will need to put in significant effort as part of the deal to get to their goal.
There must also, however, be the expectation from these customers that at the end of that trek there is some sort of payoff – most likely in the form of gainful employment – and yet we see plenty of stories like this one highlighting graduate employability being at its lowest level in Australia in over twenty years. We see the terms ‘job ready’ and ’employability’ skills’ bandied about, and yet we also see the counterpoint that Universities should absolutely not attempt to ‘educate to suit employers‘. So what then do we do to ensure that our students are getting the value they expect from their education?
I stumbled across our work Yammer network the other day. I had no idea that it was there – I just logged into the corporate Office 365 portal doodad and saw a link to it, and being the curious little kitten I am I clicked on it. What I found was a fledgling collection of others from around the University, with no seeming rhyme or reason to indicate from whence they had come. Probably just other rubberneckers like me, poking their nose in to see what it was all about. A few ‘Hello World’ posts, a couple of attempts at sharing links – and not much else.
Just to test the waters, I made my first post an admission that I’ve used Yammer quite a bit in years gone past, and that I should write a blog post that clarified what I saw as the conditions for success. I even got a few ‘likes’ on it, and so I figured I’d better follow through with this post.
Perhaps its a symptom of getting older, but I see far more connections between seemingly unrelated things these days. If it was twenty years ago and I was still embroiled in my pitiful attempt at a PhD in maths then I’d have probably called them homomorphisms. Mappings of concepts from one part of life on to another completely unrelated one on the assumption that the underlying rules of each system are more or less consistent.
In Layman’s terms – I draw a lot of parallels between things.
Of course I’m not the only one, as a very quick autocomplete check on Google will attest to…
The most recent ones that has been striking me, possibly because I’ve been doing a lot more of both recently, are the parallels between riding off-road bikes and making life decisions.
First up, the (now somewhat old) news – I will be leaving NetSpot/Blackboard next week to take up a position at Flinders University here in the south of Adelaide, heading up a student services project which is one of a number of significant investments being made by Flinders at the moment. If that’s all you came here to find out, then you can stop reading now.