Where will we work post-Covid?

by Vanessa Oakes,Course Director

As we move through the Government’s Roadmap to ‘normality’ over the next few months, employers will be starting to consider what this may mean for staff returning to office environments. Many staff who have been able to work from home throughout the pandemic have reported increased productivity, better work life balance, saving time and money through the elimination of the commute, as well as many other benefits.

There have been some drawbacks, particularly where staff have had to juggle home-schooling and caring responsibilities, but as these staff become able to return to a normal working routine, it is likely that they will start to experience some of the same benefits as their colleagues

A recent YouGov survey showed that 91% of respondents surveyed who have been able to work from home during the pandemic, want to continue to do so at least some of the time. This pressure from employees (who have proved that they can successfully work from home), should be a catalyst for most organisations to make changes to the levels of flexibility they will allow. If organisations choose not to offer greater levels of flexibility in WHERE staff work, they may see their employees move to a competitor who IS willing this. More and more frequently ‘working from home’ can be found on job advertisements for professionals, allowing these organisations to take advantage of the changing demands of employees, and  opening their vacancies to a much wider talent pool, giving them more choice in their chosen candidate.

Of course, organisations in some sectors have always been prepared to offer high levels of flexibility of working hours and location and have found the transition to working from home a case of ‘business as usual’. At least a third of the workforce pre-Covid had some access to homeworking, but anecdotes suggest remote working was reserved for management, those who were highly valued or those who had sympathetic managers.

What the ‘mass working from home experiment’ over the last year has taught us is that everyone in our organisations can benefit from a level of flexibility, and the organisation will benefit in return through higher levels of engagement and commitment. Consider another benefit to increasing flexibility, the ability to truly open vacancies to more diverse candidates, from those with disabilities for whom homeworking would be much easier, to increasing the number of women in the workforce (and in senior roles) through allowing more flexibility around WHEN the work can be done.

Vanessa Oakes
Vanessa Oakes

One of the main challenges to remote working has been around managing (or monitoring) performance. This link between presence and performance has been prevalent in sectors where a judgement about performance is not based on measurable KPIs, rather about the complexity of work and behaviours demonstrated in performing it. This could provide challenges to organisations who are willing to improve the flexibility which they offer. This raises a series of questions for managers and leaders:

  • What does ‘good’ work look like? This will be a question that needs to be answered by each manager as they attempt to define what their performance expectations are within the new parameters of work.
  • Are managers communicating their expectations clearly enough?
  • Are they making themselves available, but not inserting themselves unnecessarily into the working day of their teams?
  • And most importantly, are they developing relationships built on trust with each of their team members? It is these relationships that will determine the success of the flexible working strategy and will allow the organisation to take advantage of the many financial and intangible benefits of a flexible workforce for the foreseeable future.

We are now recruiting for cohort 5 of the Small Business Leadership Programme (free and starting 30th March) and Vanessa will be covering this topic in more depth on this course.

Vanessa Oakes on linkedin,Email Vanessa.Oakes@staffs.ac.uk

Which to use: Quick Ratio or Current Ratio for Liquidity Measurement in business

Status

Mayowa AKINBOTE

Just as businesses are adapting to the shock of Brexit, the global pandemic presents another disruption to businesses. These two events have created huge uncertainty for most small businesses while some have benefited . The striving small businesses are revaluating their strengths with financial metrics to enhance their sustainability as the new markets are emerging. Financial metrics present small businesses with the opportunities to increase efficiency in their operations, liquidity, profitability and stability during uncertainty period. Some commentators argue that inadequate liquidity is the major reason small businesses collapse during the uncertainty period.

The quick ratio helps the business managers to evaluate their businesses financial liquidity. This informs the business managers of how current assets excluding inventories can be quickly converted to cash to meet their current liabilities. This ignores inventory because it is not easily converted to cash. Unlike the current ratio which considers inventory value, the quick ratio is generally viewed as the conservative evaluation of business liquidity as it’s based on the business most liquid assets. For instance, a business has current assets worth £40,000 of which inventory is £10,000, and £15,000 worth of current liabilities thus the business has a 2:1 quick ratio. This indicates that the business can afford to meet the short-term liabilities twice with the short-term assets.

Money

Businesses with a 1:1 or lower quick ratio could be at risk of becoming a going concern. Thus, small businesses with limited access to funds might fire sale their non-current assets to meet the current liabilities.

Many businesses have already closed due to Brexit and the global pandemic and it has been estimated that a further approximately, 98,000 small businesses might not survive the current pandemic. Thus, small business managers that are currently struggling to survive should pay attention to their financial metrics especially the quick ratio.

Unlike the quick ratio, many commentators argue that the current ratio cannot accurately evaluate some businesses short-term liquidity power. For instance, a retail business that targets seasonal customers will stock up inventory for the season. Thus, toward this period the current ratio rises and fall after the seasonal sales. Hence, the quick ratio would be best to evaluation the liquidity ability of such businesses as it ignores the inventory value.

However, other commentators argue that excluding the inventory value from the current assets could be an inefficient way of evaluating liquidity ability for some businesses. For instance, small business such as corner shops that a large percentage of their current assets are fast-moving inventory. Thus, excluding the inventory from the current asset would relatively inflate the current liability. Hence, the quick ratio will present an inaccurate picture of the business to cover their current liability with their most liquid assets.

In conclusion, business managers need to consider both the quick ratio and current ratio, especially during the uncertainty period. This would provide a more accurate measurement of their business ability to pay their short-term liabilities without being forced to fire sale their non-current asset.

Business managers need to ensure that the quick ratio and current ratio is not too excessive compared to other competitors in their sector as this could indicate poor control of working capital. This might suggest that the business is not turning over its inventory quickly enough or is carrying slow-moving or obsolete inventory and has poor credit control practices resulting in their customers delaying payments beyond the agreed terms.

STOP PRESS: We are now recruiting for cohort 5 of the Small Business Leadership Programme (free starts 30th March).

Mayowa Akinbote FCCA
Lecturer in Accounting and Finance
Staffordshire Business School
Staff Page: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/people/mayowa-akinbote
LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/mayowa-akinbote-33448895

Free Small Business Leadership Programme – starts end of March

Supporting SME leaders to create resilience and manage uncertainty in 2021 and beyond

Access free ideas, guidance, peer & 121 support to help your business to manage the uncertainty of steering through the pandemic and impacts of Brexit for up to TWO leaders in your business.

Staffordshire Business School is supporting regional business by delivering free training in leadership and management to provide exactly what business needs most to build a resilient future.

This is cohort 5 of the SBLP and the positive impacts of previous cohorts are being felt across the region. Here is what Rhys from XP VR thought of the course

Why choose to be part of the Small Business Leadership Programme?
▪ Make your business more resilient
▪ Boost business performance and growth
▪ Create an innovative and agile organisation
▪ Recover from the impact of COVID-19
▪ Find solutions to the impact of Brexit
▪ Build leadership skills, confidence and effectiveness
▪ Plan for a solid future for your business
▪ Build lasting relationships with small business leaders
▪ Improve risk management and efficiency

When does the course start?
Tuesday the 30th March 2021 (1st webinar at 3pm)

If you would like to have a chat about the course then please email one of our experienced Entrepreneurs in Residence with your phone number and they will call you back,

Jane Pallister – Jane.Pallister@staffs.ac.uk
Emily Whitehead – emily@staffs.ac.uk
Jonathan Westlake – j.c.westlake@staffs.ac.uk

Here’s what another business thought of the course: Geoff Barton, General Manager of Canalside Farm in Great Haywood near Stafford said: “It’s allowed me to connect with other businesses, and I’ve learned much and managed to strengthen a few knowledge gaps and boost my handling of the business during these unique times.”

What’s involved?
Eligibility requirements
▪ Your business must be a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) based in England.
▪ Your business needs to employ between 5 and 249 people and have been operational for at least one year
▪ The participant should be a decision maker or member of the senior management team within the business with at least one person reporting directly to them.
▪ The participant must be able to commit to attending the full programme


Time commitment
The programme is designed to be manageable alongside full-time work and furloughed staff can join the programme.

Participants will attend 8×90- minute webinars across ten weeks, and complete up to 2 hours of independent development and peer-supported engagement per week.

Places are fully funded by the Government to support the resilience,
recovery and growth of SMEs during and after COVID-19. The programme
is completely free to attend but places are strictly limited.

Register Now
There are two ways to register.

  1. Email one of the Entrepreneurs in Residence as listed above and they
    will talk you through the process.
  2. Follow the simple instructions below (this takes 3 minutes) and we will
    be in touch:
    • Go to https://smallbusinesscharter.org/sblp-registration/
    • Choose ‘West Midlands’ from the pink vertical menu on the left
    • Scroll through the list of centres until you find Staffordshire University
    (start date 30th march) & click register

PLEASE NOTE: Your business can send up to two eligible delegates to this programme and delegates can be furloughed. Please do one registration for each person.

Free Leadership Programme to help businesses in 2021

Are you looking for free support, ideas and a team to talk to that will help your business through the pandemic, Brexit and beyond?

Staffordshire Business School is now delivering free training in leadership and management to help you and your business exactly when you need it most.

When does the course start?

We have two starting dates either:

 Tue 12th January 2021 starting at 3pm

Wed 13th January 2021 starting at 3pm

If you would like to have a chat about the course then please email one of our experienced Entrepreneurs in Residence with your phone number and they will call you back,

Jane Pallister email Jane.Pallister@staffs.ac.uk

Emily Whitehead email emily@staffs.ac.uk

Jonathan Westlake email j.c.westlake@staffs.ac.uk

Jonathan Westlake, Jane Pallister and Emily Whitehead ar ethree of our Entrepreneurs in Residence
Jonathan Westlake, Jane Pallister and Emily Whitehead are three of our Entrepreneurs in Residence

Two cohorts of business have already gone through the programme and here is what Kevin O’Mara of Advanced Journey Chauffeuring thought of the training

Why choose the Small Business Leadership Programme?

  • Make your business more resilient
  • Boost business performance and growth
  • Create an innovative and agile organisation
  • Recover from the impact of COVID-19
  • Build leadership confidence and effectiveness
  • Plan for the future of your business
  • Build lasting relationships with small business leaders
  • Improve risk management and efficiency

Eligibility requirements

To join the Small Business Leadership Programme:

  • Your business must be a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) based in England.
  • Your business needs to employ between 5 and 249 people and have been operational for at least one year
  • The participant should be a decision maker or member of the senior management team within the business with at least one person reporting directly to them.
  • The participant must be able to commit to attending the full programme

Your commitment

The programme is designed to be manageable alongside full-time work. Participants will attend eight 90-minute webinars across ten weeks, and complete up to two hours of independent study and peer-supported learning per week.Places are fully funded by the Government to support the resilience, recovery and growth of SMEs during and after COVID-19. The programme is free to attend, and places are limited.

Register Now

There are two ways to register. Either email one of the Entrepreneurs in Residence as listed above or follow the simple instructions below (this takes 3 minutes) and we will be in touch:

Go to https://smallbusinesscharter.org/sblp-registration/

Choose either North West (for 13th January start) OR West Midlands (for 12th January start) from the pink vertical menu on the left.

Scroll through the list of centres until you find Staffordshire University and the date you prefer & click register. There are some screen grabs in the document below if you need them

PLEASE NOTE: Your business can send up to two eligible delegates to this programme. Simply apply for each person.

Coronavirus: The Battle Axe

The coronavirus started in China and spread to Europe and America in the first quarter of 2020 with a “battle axe” on businesses. The leadership of the most affected countries have become Santa Claus with their supports to the households and businesses. Many industries have experienced the offensive side of the coronavirus battle axe while other industries benefited from the defensive opportunities it created.

Industries such as Aviation, Road haulage, Ferries, Steel, Horticulture have all taken the pain of the offensive side of the battle axe. For instance, many of the affected developed countries economies are shut down and consumers are under stay at home policy. These have serious negative impacts on these industries revenue and sustainability investments. To complicate the pain emergency loans support from financial institutions have dried up thus, there are fewer chances of survival without taxpayers interventions. Some commentators are of the view that greener pastures are not guaranteed for the industries that will survive the pain as the new world of doing business will emerge. 

The likes of the e-commerce marketplace (Amazon); pharmaceutical companies (AstraZeneca and Pfizer); video conferencing (Zoom, Teams and Skype) and entertainment streaming (Netflix) industries benefit from the defence of this deadly axe. The longer the stay at home policy takes more people and businesses start thinking of a different way to sustain their livelihood and businesses from home. Another innovative business opportunity created is the products that many governments make mandatory to be worn everywhere. Although some of these products are reusable, few concerns have been raised about the materials used in the production and the ability to recycle these materials.

This pandemic has brought difficult business operating environment. Many business leaders are worried about how to sustain productivity to increase growth by adapting to the new business environment that the pandemic created. Businesses should protect the workforce with physical and emotional support, empathetic communication, training and retraining of employees in readiness for recovery. They should review their supply chains and possibly arrange alternative sources of raw materials or services. Also, businesses should frequently review the impact of the worst-case situation on the business cash flow and the governments’ tax relief provisions and other supports. Finally, business leaders should consider their business digital transformations by increasing IT infrastructure and digital upskilling.

The Small Business Leadership Programme is provided by Staffordshire Business School and is fully funded (free). Participants will develop strategic leadership skills and the confidence to boost business performance.

The course lasts ten weeks and the next two cohort start dates are
West Midlands 12th January 3.00 – 4.30 pm
North West 13th January 3.00 – 4.30 pm

Register here https://smallbusinesscharter.org/sblp-registration

For more details see the website
https://smallbusinesscharter.org/small-business-leadership-programme/

Mayowa Akinbote FCCA
Lecturer in Accounting and Finance
Staffordshire Business School
Staff Page: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/people/mayowa-akinbote
LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/mayowa-akinbote-33448895

Work-related stress: Tips for businesses

Vanessa Oakes, Lecturer, Staffordshire Business school


Stress is no longer a mental health condition that organisations can afford to ignore. In 2018/2019 12.8 million working days were lost due to stress, depression and anxiety (HSE, 2019) at a cost to the economy of £34.9bn. This cost is related to temporarily replacing absent staff, the cost of disruption to the organisation and lost opportunity costs, the cost of paid sick leave and the time required to manage employees who are off work, with an average number of days lost per case at 25.8 (HSE, 2019).

These numbers make for sobering reading, particularly if you are a business owner or a manager who has seen sickness absence related to stress, increase in your team. However, there is more than just a financial cost to the organisation. Your organisation’s reputation as an employer diminishes with high rates of absence due to stress, the engagement levels of your staff drop and in response, so does productivity and all of this happens because you are sending the message to your staff that their mental health isn’t as important as the performance of the organisation.

When it comes to proactively managing stress in the workplace, there is a lot that can be done to reduce stress before sickness absence takes hold. The CIPD’s 2019 Health & Wellbeing at Work Survey reports that 61% of organisations are recognising this as a priority, at Board level. But what can you actually do to reduce stress for your workforce?

Determine if employees are suffering from work-related stress or stress in their personal lives.

If your employees are experiencing stress at home, this will also impact their productivity too, so help them to acknowledge it and provide as much support as you can. An EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) can help you to offer support to staff without having to pry into their personal lives and will show your employees that you are concerned about them.

If your employee is suffering from work-related stress, then there is a lot that can be done to improve their environment. Firstly, take a look at your expectations of them.  Are they achievable and realistic? Do they have the support and authority needed to do their job? Are they under excess pressure to deliver? Can their responsibilities be shared by others or delegated?

Look at your absence management process – is it too harsh or too lenient? Can you build flexibility into your process to ensure you are able to support staff who are suffering with stress?

If too harsh, it may be forcing staff back to work before they are ready because there is a financial impact, or they may be afraid for their job security. These staff don’t get the time to deal with their stress before they are plunged back into it, and so may get worse over time. Are you conducting return to work interviews consistently for all staff? This is the best opportunity to determine if you employee is ready to be back at work.

Where your absence management process is too lenient, or you don’t have one, do you know why your staff are off sick? If you don’t know then you can’t help. Maybe your line managers don’t feel that they can ask such personal questions? If so, provide training to boost their confidence.

Focus on health and well-being

Communicate regularly with staff about the importance of their health and wellbeing and ask them about initiatives they think would improve health and wellbeing for all. It might be that water coolers within easy reach of desks will mean they are better hydrated; encouraging walks at lunchtime could improve the mental health in many different ways; having a space for staff to eat lunch, away from their desks means that their focus will be away from their work for at least a short time during the day. Most importantly though, ask them what they think and follow up on it! They will often have the best ideas about what would improve things for them.

Make sure that you react proactively when you suspect an employee is under stress, don’t wait for them to go off sick. This requires your managers to be more alert to possible changes in behaviour, timekeeping and work productivity and quality. Ensure that they receive training in how to start conversations about stress and mental health, and that they can signpost employees to other services if they are unable to help.

Finally, it may seem like managing stress and the related absence is time consuming, costly and unnecessary, but it has been proven to pay off. The CIPD’s survey found that three quarters of organisations who implemented proactive health and wellbeing strategies, however informal, saw a positive improvement in metrics such as morale and engagement, lower sickness absence, improved employer reputation, better retention of staff, a reduction in reported work-related stress, improved productivity and better customer service levels. Supporting your staff through difficult periods in their personal and working lives pays dividends when it comes to the success of your organisation. Now is not the time to delay!

Currently, it is even more important than ever to consider the health and wellbeing of staff as they endure lockdown and furlough leave. One thing which no organisation can offer, is certainty but there are ways of encouraging staff to maintain their health and wellbeing whether they are on furlough leave, working from home and trying to juggle childcare and other caring responsibilities. Here are a few tips:

  1. Communicate with them as regularly as you can – you may not be able to reassure them that their jobs are safe, or that things will return to normal quickly, but at least they will know that someone is still looking out for them.
  2. For staff on furlough leave, ensure that you have given them written details of their remuneration – try to avoid uncertainly building about how much they will be paid and when.
  3. Ensure that managers are in touch with their teams to ensure that each gets individual support – some employees might be coping well; others might be feeling higher levels of stress and may need more support.
  4. Remind your staff about their importance to your business, what their strengths are, how much they are valued and their latest achievements. They need to hear this now more than ever.

These steps should help you to maintain an engaged and productive (if they are homeworking) workforce during this challenging time and beyond.

Global Business Directions Conference 2019

Thursday February 7th 2019 – Location Ashley LT002, Leek Road Campus, Staffordshire University

Organisers: Hazel Squire and  Prof Jon Fairburn

Free – all welcome

Programme

9.00 Networking
9.30 Welcome and introductions  Hazel Squire and Prof Jon Fairburn
9.40 Key note speaker – Andrew Stephenson, Group People Director at Lookers plc

‘Building a customer centric organisation in the digital age’ 

10.30  Break

10.40 Salman Hamid, Director of Development at GMP Drivercare.com 

 ‘The technological aspect of today’s business’

11.30 Break

11.40  Tony Evans, Head of Leonardo and Analytics, SAP

“Digital transformation and the intelligent enterprise”

12.30 Lunchtime
 13.30 Jeanefer Jean-Charles, Creative Director  www.jeanefer.com

‘Keeping your business moving’ 

14.20 Break
14.40 Vanessa Oakes, Staffordshire Business School

‘Digital technology and new employment experiences’

15.30 Closing remarks

Speaker profiles

Andrew Stephenson

Andrew Stephenson

Andrew Stephenson has been the Group People Director at Lookers, one of the UK’s largest automotive dealer groups since May 2016.  Reporting to the CEO; Andrew is responsible for the HR function and people agenda for over 8,500 employees across areas in the UK and Ireland.  Andrew also leads the IT function and is responsible for customer experience across the companies 31 franchised manufacturer brands.

Andrews’ team have driven an improved customer experience through instore insight and a new online proposition.  This has been underpinned by the introduction of comprehensive monitoring of customer experience.  This independent monitoring ensures much better outcomes for customers in all circumstances and provides statistically valid measurement of customer satisfaction.  The performance on customer experience now directly links to remuneration within the group.  Andrew’s team are also responsible for the delivery of the company’s new website to support omni-channel focus on customers.  Lookers are one of the Sunday Times Top 25 Big Companies to work for in the UK and have twice featured in the Glassdoor and CMI list of the Most Inspirational workplaces.

Andrew is a Level 8 student currently completing his DBA at Staffordshire University with a study into customer loyalty. Andrew holds a MA in Strategic HRM also from Staffordshire University, is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the CMI and a Fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry.  Andrew is also a Trustee of the national body of Citizens Advice, chairing their remuneration committee and an independent advisor to the Customer Experience Committee of HMRC.

Salman Hamid

Salman Hamid

Salman Hamid is a Director of Development at GMP Drivercare Limited, where Salman develops and implement Digital Technologies including bespoke systems, online automotive portal with a capability of getting live prices (APIs) and AI Technologies. GMP Drivercare helps Public and Corporate Sector organisations in Fleet Management, Grey Fleet Compliance, Telematics, Lease Car Schemes, Salary Sacrifice Schemes and more (A One stop shop).

Salman is a Staffordshire University and University of Roehampton Alumni, BSc Hons in Business Information Technology from Staffordshire University, MSc Information Systems Management from University of Roehampton and MSc Digital Marketing from Staffordshire University.

Tony Evans

Tony Evans

As Head of Leonardo and Analytics, Tony Evans is responsible for enabling customers to leverage SAP’s innovation portfolio, to drive business transformation and operational improvement. As the executive sponsor for SAP Machine Learning and Cloud customer adoption, Tony partners with customer executive teams to promote SAP’s next generation computing platform.

Since joining SAP, Tony has led SAP’s billion dollar North American Database business and has managed the North American financial services business as the Chief Operating Officer.

Prior to SAP, Tony has a successful track record in driving Business Process Reengineering and change management for global organisations, including PepsiCo, Lucent Technologies and IXNet. Tony has also held senior leadership positions across Oracle, BlackBerry and SAP, where he has led organisation of sales, technical and marketing professionals, driving revenue growth through partnership with customers.

Tony is an alumni of Staffordshire University, where he graduated with BA (Hons) in Business Studies and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. Tony has an MBA in Change Management from the University of Brighton and is a qualified Project Manager with the Project Management Institute, an organisation he sat on the board of in NYC, and represented in the Global Project Management Forum. Tony also sits on the board of a successful startup, CrowdFlik where he partners with, and advises the CEO around business strategy.

Jeanefer Jean-Charles

Jeanefer Jean-Charles

Jeanefer Jean-Charles career began working across theatre, dance, television and film, including Co-Artistic Director of her company Bullies Ballerinas Jazz Productions, touring nationally and internationally. Her work has taken her to over 20 countries.

Today she is the Creative Director of Jeanefer Jean-Charles and Associates, with over 20 years’ experience of devising, creating, facilitating and directing dance and movement for performance.

As a Mass Movement Director and Choreographer of large scale performances, opening ceremonies, stadium events, outdoor spectacles, carnivals and parades, the success of her work is in her unique process of empowering and skilling up teams of artists, whilst bringing together the talents, strengths and shared stories of communities in inspiring and unforgettable ways.

Career highlights include: Mass Movement Director for Roald Dahl’s City of the Unexpected 2016, Choreographer for the award winning The Return of Colmcille, Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013, Mass Movement Choreographer for the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, Mass Movement Coordinator for all four of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Movement Director for The FA Cup Final 2016 Opening Ceremony at Wembley, Artistic Director for The Rugby League World Cup Opening Ceremony in 2013.

Vanessa Oakes

Vanessa Oakes

Vanessa Oakes is a Human Resources and Leadership & Development professional with extensive industry experience including 10 years as Head of HR at an international Environmental and Engineering consultancy and 6 years as a lecturer on the CIPD’s professional HRM programmes.

Vanessa brings a wealth of experience in how digital technology will affect your experience as a candidate looking for a job, to how it will affect you in your future employment.

She has worked with Social Media tools to approach passive candidates for opportunities within her organisation, she has implemented Applicant Tracking Systems which monitor the status of applications, she has worked with online tools which recorded attendance and monitored productivity and performance and software which measures and records employee engagement. These digital tools provided essential data which allowed managers to better manage their teams, improving the overall performance of the organisation.

She will give you a clearer understanding of how digital technology will become a key part of your employment experience.

What is a university for?

Professor Jess Power, Associate Dean – Students


There are several possible interpretations of the fundamental role of a university, however the one that holds close to my values and beliefs is “the university” as an institution for the creation and dissemination of knowledge, creating graduates who have a genuine commitment to making the world a better place and of being significant players in civil society. The western university model has been a remarkable success and is one in which we should have immense pride. Operational freedom within an interactive setting which enables excellence across teaching, research, learning and enterprise opening unlimited opportunities for many. However, in an increasingly complex and uncertain world the role of the university is constantly being questioned. In particular there has been a recent drive for developing “value”, in the form of employable work ready graduates. This may be interpreted as a set of desirable skills and attributes to be embedded within the curriculum or perhaps and more importantly the development of an entrepreneurial mind-set. The ability to think outside the box, to adapt and respond to change in a fast paced environment and more importantly the ability to be able to communicate within and beyond their academic discipline is perceived key to graduates contributing to societal challenges.

In today’s global economy and in society as a whole we are faced with many complex challenges (clean water, ageing population, disaster management, global-warming, sustainable food production, transitioning populations), which require new ways of working. It is widely accepted that innovative and sustainable solutions for many complex global social issues reach far beyond the boundaries of a single academic discipline or methodological approach and as such the practical argument for embedding interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities into the learning experience within universities is strong. Interdisciplinary working is widely accepted to be the new mode of knowledge production, it focuses on building intellectual capacity and is supported by government policy makers and research funding agencies. Many of the most exciting developments cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and therefore have great potential to break through complex societal problems and foster innovation.

The concept of interdisciplinarity within Higher Education is not new: Thompson and Fogel (1921), acknowledged in their publication ‘Higher Education and Social Change’ that all social problems require interdisciplinary skills and knowledge. They expanded on this by stating: “if graduates … are to be societies’ leaders …they need a broad social and historical perspective that is difficult to achieve in one discipline”. Thompson and Forgel’s (1921) paper highlighted specifically the need for Higher Educational institutions to promote interdisciplinarity as a means of developing the essential skills of leadership required to impact on civil society.

So, what is a university for? It is to change mind-set, opening up opportunities to bring together individuals to generate knowledge to solve societal problems for the good of mankind. Thus, the connections we make, the disciplines we cross and the knowledge we form are only part of the picture, it is the transformative impact on people’s life’s that we make that hold the true meaning of the value of a university, which instil the leadership qualities desired to make the world a better place.

 

Thompson, K.W. & Fogel, B.R. (1921). Higher Education and Social Change: Promising Experiments in Developing Countries. Vol 1 Reports. US: Praeger.

www.staffs.ac.uk 

A day out at Conkers

Simon Hughes, Student, Staffordshire Business School


‘Conkers’ is a day out at an activity centre in Derbyshire, where a group of new Staffordshire University students spent a day during Welcome Week. The day is used to bring people out of their shell and get them involved with various activities that involve communicating and working as part of a team.

The day started out and there was not much interaction between each member of the group and when we arrived at conkers there was still very little interaction while waiting to be split into teams to take part in several activities throughout the day.

When the students were separated into teams, I could see how they were bonding and forming a rapport with their teammates. I strongly recommend this to any person looking to improve their team working skills plus it’s a great confidence booster. It will also help them to ‘find their voice’ to help with communication skills.

The first part of the day was mainly about the communication within their teams. They had to get a bucket of water through an obstacle course, without losing too much water and not letting it touch the ground.

All the teams seemed to have a lot of fun no matter what the weather.

 

 

 

 

The second activity of which the teams took part in, was aimed at helping them build their self-confidence and to believe in themselves with a high wire walk.

 

 

They also had a lower wire for those who had not got as much confidence.

The third activity the team took part in was called `bush craft` where they were split into smaller groups to build a shelter showing their ability to work together as part of a team.
They also had to build a fire under the instructor’s guidance, by gathering wood so that they could toast their marshmallows.

By the end of all the activities, it was apparent that all who took part gained something positive from their experiences. Team working skills and communication were improved and it also helped with their self-confidence.

 

Introducing Dr Alyson Nicholds, our new Associate Professor

 

Dr Alyson Nicholds, Associate Professor (Business Management), Staffordshire Business School

I am delighted to be joining Staffordshire Business School as Associate Professor (Business Management).  This is my 5th University, having previously worked at Leeds Beckett, Birmingham, Middlesex and Coventry in various teaching/ research roles.

Dr Alyson Nicholds

Dr Alyson Nicholds

I’m probably best described as an ‘interdisciplinary’ academic of all things Public Policy. What this means, is that I bring to bear all my past professional experience (as Nurse, Health Promoter and Development Officer) to analyse, empirically, ‘what works’ in health, social care, urban, science and technology policy.

I do this by exploring ‘why policy fails’, but this is not by evaluating the impact of policy is (i.e. rationally), but by analysing ‘why practitioners do what they do’ (i.e. the accounts that professionals provide of their practice). We call this more novel type of research ‘discourse analysis’ and it works by paying close attention to the language embedded in what practitioners say and do i.e.:-

  • How professionals ‘describe’ how they do what they do (‘functionalist discourse’);
  • How professionals ‘interpret/ frame’ why they do what they do (‘constructivist discourse’);
  • How the context ‘shapes/ constrains’ what professionals say and do (‘dialogic discourse’);
  • How society ‘influences’ what it’s possible to say and do (‘critical discourse’)

Discourse analysis is therefore important because it addresses some of the limitations of more rational/ scientific approaches to traditional policy analysis which typically ignores the human voice. Hence, much of my early work has involved applying the second type of discourse (constructivist discourse) to real-life cases, as with my PhD, which revealed regeneration professionals’ shared experiences of the barriers to effective regeneration in the East and West Midlands[1] [1a].  Indeed, this was so compelling, that I’m now reanalysing this data using the third type of discourse (i.e. dialogic discourse) to understand ‘why actors don’t do what they say’!

Other work, using this more ‘constructivist discourse’ approach, involved a large scale NHS funded study (Post Doc) to ascertain the value of different joint commissioning arrangements in health and social care (i.e. in 6 NHS Trusts in England)[2]; and scientists’ preferences for sharing knowledge in a global network (i.e. the large-scale physics experiment known as the hadron collider at the CERN facility in Switzerland) [3].

More recently I’ve been working with colleagues from Birmingham and Middlesex to analyse how formal and informal leaders prefer to lead in sub-national urban development places (i.e. the Smart Cities policy initiative)[4]. My latest work explores the practical applications of all of this type of discourse work in transforming the social outcomes of public policy through greater reflexivity in management learning. In future blogs, I’ll be writing about this and the different ways we might better research these complex types of policy problems, to address widening social and economic inequality.

[1] http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3495/1/Nicholds12PhD.pdf

[1a] Alyson Nicholds (2011) Making sense of urban policy failure in complex times, Regional Insights, 2:2, 18-20, DOI: 10.1080/20429843.2011.9727924

[2] Helen Dickinson, Stephen Jeffares, Alyson Nicholds & Jon Glasby (2014) Beyond the Berlin Wall?: Investigating joint commissioning and its various meanings using a Q methodology approach, Public Management Review, 16:6, 830-851, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2012.757353

[3] Mabey, C. & Nicholds, A. (2015) Discourses of knowledge across global networks: What can be learnt about knowledge leadership from the ATLAS collaboration? International Business Review, Volume 24, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 43–54. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969593114000754

[4Alyson Nicholds, John Gibney, Chris Mabey & Dan Hart (2017) Making sense of variety in place leadership: the case of England’s smart cities, Regional Studies, 51:2, 249-259, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2016.1232482