Management Away Day

Grey.  Drizzle.  Dress code: Smart Casual. Gloomy anticipation of the Management Away Day.   Surely no coincidence that the initials spell MAD.

The day was structured around two themes and two speakers: Mr Motivator and Mr Lean.  Mr Motivator was a ‘motivational speaker’ and coach called Nigel Risner and he was very effective and very entertaining: nobody ever ‘aimed’ a duck to death (Ducks might applaud this management perspective).  Inevitably we had to do some syndicate work as well, in the form of identifying various sorts of ‘waste’ which could be eliminated.  ‘Waste’ and ‘elimination’ so soon after lunch: tricky!

But here’s the rub.  Motivation demands that we just try it anyway.  Change is an absolute so just go for it!  However, Lean demands that there is no waste, that we achieve maximum efficiency.  So we were paring catering, printing, transport, IT and all sorts of costs in our Lean syndicate exercise, without really considering what the new world order in higher education will really offer us in the way of opportunities and how we might best position ourselves for them.

One key message was that you can’t change the past, so look forward not backwards.  BUT: the winners get to write the history and we introduce new historical interpretations all the time.  Churchill: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see”.  We might not ‘change’ the past, but we can understand it better.  In a sense the past therefore changes because as our understanding grows, we learn more from it.

This was coupled with Lean thinking, which tells us to discard anything which has not been used for a year or more.

But let’s take another motivational framework, say continuity, culture and corporate history (The Three C’s!), and structure a Management Away Day around these themes.  A key point might be the value of existing cultures as a foundation for development, so it’s important to understand where these cultures came from, to analyse the tides and currents which stimulated change and development in the past and to build solidly on these foundations.  Records and artefacts are therefore sacrosanct, totems which by safeguarding the past, provide wisdom and insight for the future.  So we use a celebration of our past to release the energy that will be needed for the future.

Perhaps that’s ultimately what it comes down to: energy.  Energise: harness enthusiasm, capture imagination, know your past, engage the future.

I think I have stumbled on the connection – a contrast – with the theme of our last MAD: the leadership lessons to be learned from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Agincourt 25 October 1415 (St Crispins Day).  No mention of the superiority of English archery (resources, resources, skills, skills and, yes, aiming and shooting ….) but plenty on the charismatic king.   Watch out Ducks!  You’re either an aim or waste; either way you’re doomed.

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