As a sector, we have focused on the benefits of ‘inter-disciplinarity’ for Academics and Research – and rightly so. But what about the importance of inter-disciplinary working among Professional Service functions? Here, SUMS Consultant Fola Ikpehai shares takeaways from the recent Higher Education Strategic Planners Association (HESPA) Conference answering this very question.

The HESPA Conference 2020 provided great insight into the value of interdisciplinarity within Professional Services.  With a theme of Data and Decisions: When insight influences strategy, there was a lot to mull over.  As a delegate who was not a Strategic Planner, I was looking at the content from a Change and Business Transformation point of view. I was not disappointed. If I can sum up the message of this blog in one sentence, it is through a direct quote from a speaker at the conference: “The Future (of HE) is Inter-disciplinary”! I began to reflect on the opportunities for teams in Professional Services to work together more – creating a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

So, how would this work? And would this simply be a journey towards integration?  The answer to the second question is a definite ‘No’.  Just like the examples of  ‘Academics’ and ‘Research’ mentioned above, we need to preserve specialisms to ensure depth, as well as breadth, of knowledge, skills and action. I would like to focus on the first question: how this would work.  I’d like to highlight some learning from the HESPA Conference to highlight the opportunities that exist.

Change Impact Assessment – ‘As Is’ versus ‘To Be’
The conference stressed the need to balance the immediate with the longer term. Particularly, with the projected increase in the number of 18-year olds by 2030 (after the recent dip in numbers), coupled with uncertainty over future international student numbers. Strategic Planners were urged to provide accurate and meaningful data to Vice-Chancellors and Senior Leadership.  Strategic Planners need to give them early warning, while also “informing policy and delivering service with political sophistication”. This is an ideal recipe for collaboration between Strategic Planners and Leaders of Change in the Sector.

Challenges for the Sector
Speakers highlighted the need to make the most out of Brexit. They stressed the need to strengthen regional relationships and show a united front as a sector.  This will help ensure that the HE sector is prepared for future challenges while realising opportunities that may arise.

I was especially interested in the advice on how to solve the big challenges ahead. Speakers said we must show different types of value, make visible and meaningful improvements, work with the Government agenda, and reconnect with the public. I would expect Business Change colleagues to be at the forefront of this activity, along with Strategic Planners.

Roles in Operationalising Strategy
From a Change and Transformation perspective, Operationalising Strategy was a really insightful workshop showing the strengths of collaborative working between Change Teams and Strategic Planners.

Operationalisation of Strategy requires we understand the Golden Thread – a connection between individual goals, team goals and organisational goals.  The Golden Thread represents the cause and effect resulting from clarity in goals, a commitment to these goals and an understanding of process and process improvement.

Speakers highlighted the importance of change agents, Quoting McKinsey’s Strategic Horizon Model.  The model defines three phases of growth (often run concurrently): business as usual, broadening the horizon, and developing entirely new initiatives.  We need Change Leads to ensure make decisions and implement to deliver actions and results. This can’t be achieved without a baseline of robust data and business intelligence – once again highlighting the importance of a collaborative approach.

The three P’s
One thing that struck me was the need to link planning, policy and performance. The future of the Strategic Planning function depends on creating and sustaining these links. This is not unlike Business Change, which starts with a vision for the future, based on Planning and Strategy Development, and runs through to realising the desired future-state and its benefits.

Parting shot
The above is just a snapshot of my take-aways from the conference and I would like to sum up my thoughts as follows:

Strategic Planners, Business Change Leads – let’s work together, creating an inter-disciplinary force where Data drives Strategy, where Strategy drives Change and where that Change drives the realisation of benefits.

We owe it to the future of Higher Education in the United Kingdom!

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