All entries for November 2016

November 08, 2016

Kindness as a Strength

Christine Ennew Provost

For much of my academic life, I have been based in a Business School, so I’m familiar with the many fads and fashions of popular management writing. Much of this is transient, some has a basis in systematic academic research but often the greatest impact seems to come from the careful presentation of anecdotal evidence. So it would be easy to dismiss some of the popular writing around more compassionate approaches to management, concepts of servant leadership and notions of kindness within organisations. But my own experience suggests that such a sweeping judgement would also be an unwise one.

Without under-estimating the importance of a work-life balance, we should recognise that most of us spend a large part of our life at work. Who we work for and what we do usually makes a significant contribution to our identity and our sense of self. And our experience in the workplace will have a real impact on our broader well-being. Leaders and managers play a key role in defining that workplace experience but we all contribute through our behaviours and our interactions. So, as we look forward to marking our “Respect at Warwick” day on 16th November, I wanted to reflect on the importance of kindness in organisations.

A typical definition of kindness (courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary) is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. Treating others with kindness and being treated with kindness during out working lives feels like a very reasonable expectation. And yet, all too often it doesn’t happen. Sometimes we just don’t think or reflect on how our behaviour impacts on others, sometimes we’re just too focused on ourselves and sometimes we worry that kindness in the workplace may not be a desirable quality – especially for a manager or a leader! That may reflect a significant mis-understanding. Kindness is not weakness; concern for the well-being of others is not weakness. Kind people can still be analytical and focused; kind people are perfectly capable of exercising tight control; kind people can still take difficult decisions. They simply do so in a way that respects individuals, is supportive, constructive and compassionate.

I’ve always been keen to avoid creating stereotypes around management and leadership - there is no single right type of leader of manager – we’re all different and we all have our unique qualities. But one thing I am convinced of is that for all of us there is a real benefit from exercising kindness in the workplace. Individually we’ll feel better, happier, engaged and more highly motivated. And when that happens, we’re likely to perform better – individually and collectively.

Listening to the radio is one of my great pleasures and early one morning a few years ago I woke to a programme which referenced a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a quote that has stuck with me. And it’s perfect as my closing thought for this blog:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
(From God Bless You, Mr Rosewater)

Christine Ennew Provost sig

Christine Ennew, Provost


November 02, 2016

Meet Rachel Sandby–Thomas

rst.pngRachel Sandby-Thomas, our new Registrar, has written the following blog on the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA) 'Meet the Members' site about her role, the institution and how's she's found working at Warwick so far.

I am Rachel Sandby-Thomas and I am the Registrar at the University of Warwick. The ladies at reception insist on greeting me as “The Registrar” despite my insistence on being called Rachel. Old habits die hard.

I joined the University of Warwick in August 2016, and am still feeling pretty green. Apart from being a student many moons ago, I have little history of involvement with HE, having spent the previous 23 years in Central Government. Like Matthew Hilton, I too have come from BIS. However, unlike Matthew, HE was not part of my portfolio. I spent 8 years there as a Director General so, although I have been part of many discussions around HE, my focus was fending off further cuts to the FE budget.

As Registrar, I am responsible for the People Group (which also includes Health and Safety and Wellbeing), IT, External Engagement and Press, Knowledge Group, Education Group (including the Academic Registrar), Delivery Assurance and Resolution, Legal, Secretariat to the Senate, never mind setting up a university in California! I am director and trustee of numerous entities and license holder for all sorts. However, above all, I keep having to remind myself what the Vice Chancellor said to me in a preliminary chat which was that, if he was on a plane and there was a problem on the non-academic side of the University, I am the person he would call. Ulp.

No one day is the same in this role. I spend my time in lots of informal 1:1 meetings and longer, more formal ones. I’m also trying to get out to meet people and am getting to know the campus, little by little. As well as the daytime commitments, there are many evening activities and appointments, such as the University’s own version of Question Time, a long service celebration, a 6 course taster menu. I have put on 4lbs since I started, a trajectory which cannot continue!

I am still on a steep learning curve and had forgotten how tiring that can be. I am finding that a lot of the skills and issues are the same but the context is totally new. Issues go from small but specific, such as vehicles taking up valuable car parking space, through to visionary away-days. Warwick has had a fabulous first 50 years…how do we make sure the next 50 remain as stellar? And I have a whole new set of acronyms to master – I much prefer the university meaning of PDR: Private Dining Room instead of Performance and Development Review.

I have been struck by how the decision making is more democratic which might sound strange coming from a world filled with politicians. The governance system is the obvious incarnation of this but I see it also in the wider sets of people and issues which need to be consulted before a decision can be properly made. That can be frustrating for someone impatient like me but yet I feel reassured by the fact that it has been scrutinised from multiple angles by many wise heads.

It is also eye-opening being at the opposite end of changes in policy. I hadn’t properly appreciated how thoroughly the external world scrutinises the words and actions of the Government, nor the extent of planning blight caused by lack of clarity around details of the change. Obviously this is a clear and present danger what with BREXIT, the TEF, local devolution and immigration, to name just a few. However, this just makes it even more challenging and fun.

My father is my lode star when it comes to job satisfaction. When I was contemplating, 23 years ago, my previous big change from private to public sector, I asked him how much he enjoyed his job. He said 95%. That’s what I have aimed for since. And all the signs are good so far for 95% and beyond…”

Rachel Sandby-Thomas, Registrar

November 2016

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