University culture

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1980s                     Courier

1990s                     Times New Roman or Arial

2000s                    More Arial with a regrettable excursion into Comic Sans

2010s                     Tahoma, Verdana, and just discovered Blackadder


Over the next few months we will be writing a replacement for the University's People Strategy which was born in 2013 and comes to the end of its life this year. I expect the new document to be a "Workforce Strategy" as it focusses on the people employed by the University, rather than students, who are also people (most of the time). The University is also setting out a new strategy for the next five years, building on our strengths and achievements of the last strategy. Important for me is that our Workforce Strategy fully responds to, and helps us deliver the University Strategy. But one of the most important outcomes of a Workforce Strategy is that it delivers the culture we want. So what's that?

The term 'organisational culture' seems to be used very loosely in management circles to try and describe and codify the things about an organisation which we sense, feel and experience, but which are actually quite hard to define. There are all sorts of models of culture which can give us an insight into organisations, but in my experience none of these really capture the essence. And its often the little things which give us clues to a culture -such as what fonts people choose to write in and how/if an organisation controls this.

Our organisational culture is precious. Its often what attracts, retains and motivates people and why we enjoy working here. While culture is always evolving naturally, we can also change culture by the changes we make in the University. Just imagine what our staff and students, both current and prospective, might say about the University if we only allowed people to write in Comic Sans font! Perhaps not the image we would want to create of a serious academic establishment? While this may be a trivial example, changing things such as our grades, promotion processes, reward practice, employment terms, all of which could be in our workforce strategy, will impact our culture. So how can we make sure that any such change is positive and supportive of the overall University strategy? Managing culture is not easy, and culture change programmes rarely achieve what they set out to, but we can at least be cognisant of the effect of any changes on the culture as we write this new strategy.

Over the next few weeks I am running a small number of focus groups to get a better understanding of University culture in the context of developing the workforce strategy. Not to produce a definitive answer, but to prompt discussion and understand individuals' perceptions across the range of grades and jobs. I am looking forward to these discussions, but it wouldn't be practical to run these workshops for everyone. If you haven't been asked to come along to one, and want to offer me some views, I can promise you a response (and perhaps that is a positive part of our culture?).

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