Lancaster University Student Based Services – Change Management Programme

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Lancaster University is today a leading academic institution that is now ranked in the Top 10 in all three major UK university league tables. Yet in 2015 and aiming for this status, the 100-strong Student Based Services department urgently needed to play a greater role in helping improving satisfaction amongst their key customers, students and delivering innovation.

With the aim of becoming a top 10 university, Lancaster University recognised the need for a new approach to facilitate a shift from that of a ‘provider’ to that of a ‘customer’ focused approach.

A new focus towards working in the interests of their customers (students) was required and yet the necessary changes in process management were not being implemented by the Student Based Services team. For example the department showed resistance to using new technology, favouring traditional paper-based processes, which impacted the quality of service delivered to students. The move to a technology-based system represented a major mind-set shift for the majority of the department and many of team members held a belief that its work had no impact on the institution.

The senior team recognised that in order to drive changes in working practices, they had to be proactive. Team ‘away days’, regular meetings and leadership development training programmes were put into place and yet resistance to change persisted. New initiatives developed to effect process change continued to face barriers from the department and a different approach was desperately needed.

Claire Povah, Head of Strategic Development at Lancaster University decided bring Ric Hayden from Learning Cog on board. Claire had attended a one-day Insights Discovery open programme and believed that Learning Cog would be able to drive real change within Student Based Services.

Working with senior managers, Ric quickly established that in order to effect change, a programme addressing the deep-rooted limiting belief system was needed and a Discovery Insights programme was recommended.

Discovery Insights uses a four-colour model to gain an understanding of personal preferences and improve communication by learning how to adapt to others and was felt to be ideal model, given the very personal self-limiting beliefs affecting the department. Ric set about designing a bespoke programme for the team with the following objectives in mind:

• For Student Based Services to take ownership in assisting Lancaster University becoming one of the top 10 universities in the UK
• To remove personal self-limiting beliefs affecting the department
• To develop a culture of innovation where team members embrace change

Preparation was key to the programme’s success, and significant time was dedicated up front to understanding how people within the department would experience the training and the context it was being delivered.

In order to implement long-term success, buy-in from senior management was identified as being essential. Learning Cog therefore used a two-stage approach, gaining crucial senior stakeholder buy-in before they then rolled out the programme themselves to the rest of the team. Providing the programme to the senior team first allowed Ric to engender an understanding of the benefits of the programme not only for themselves but for their staff and organisation, as a whole, facilitating a successful delivery to the rest of the team.

The majority of staff had long tenures (up to 25 years) and had never been exposed to change programmes. This brought with it resistance and scepticism to a change management programme that most perceived as a threat.

Learning Cog’s delivery approach was key to overcoming suspicion and ultimately to the programme’s success. Claire Povah observed Ric to engage the team on a personal level and using his enthusiasm and desire to bring out the personal strengths of each individual, he was quickly able to quosh any resistance early on. Ric focussed on engaging the ‘person’ first rather than trying to ‘teach’, and in doing so, managed to successfully overcome the not-insubstantial barriers to developing the team’s understanding of their own selves and how they operated in their wider context.

Ric took the team from low levels of enthusiasm to a strong belief that they could support the organisation to achieve its objectives. Through this tailored delivery, unconscious learning took place, which had a deep-rooted impact on each individual.

Upon completion of the programme, the senior management team were able to innovate changes to working practices with greater speed little to no resistance. The managers themselves were the driving force for managing the change throughout the programme, working closely with Ric to ensure the best outcomes. Indeed, it transpired that much of the resistance had been with senior management holding onto beliefs rather than team members. Once management changed their approach, team members were set free to develop and grow. As Claire Povah explains:

“Overall, the programme has proved so transformative it’s being undertaken on a recurring basis to ensure new team members benefit from the experience and fit within the renewed ethos of the department”

A key benchmark in judging the programme’s transformational effect is the university’s improved National Student Survey (NSS) scores in the period between implementation and the present. Scores are awarded based on direct student feedback on the quality of the services provided – the closest available metric to a customer satisfaction score in the academic sector. Before the programme, Lancaster University sat in 14th and 19th place respectively in 2012 and 2013 for student services satisfaction; since the programme the university has jumped significantly to 7th position, due primarily to the widespread improvements in the processes within student services. According to the latest NSS results, Lancaster University students are now more satisfied with their course than the average UK students, with the University achieving 91% on the ‘overall student satisfaction’ score, placing it firmly amongst the top 10 UK universities for that parameter.

Resistance to change has performed an about-face. There has been a noticeable change within the department with discussion regularly coming back to the Insights programme.

The most important transformation is a changed belief amongst the department that it is able to enact change and make a difference to the wider organisation. Recent examples include the creation and delivery of a new ‘welcome site’ for new students, a new initiative driven by Student Based Services and the development of a ‘Student Journey Mapping project’, a cross-organisation project driven by the service to map the student journey with a view to identifying areas for enhancement.

The learning from the workshops is regularly drawn upon in departmental projects and decisions that are made and Claire firmly believes the programme was a game changer for their department:

“We believe the impact of business psychology within this academic context provides an exemplary and innovative model for other academic institutions looking to transform their customer delivery.”

The Insights Discovery model is based on the extensive research of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and the subsequent work of Jolande Jacobi, one of his leading students. The model has been rigorously tested in its reliability and validity and is continually developed over time. You can find out more about the Discovery Insights programme here or by contacting Learning Cog directly info@learningcog.com

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