I’ve just come back from a residential school Lane End Conference centre hidden away in leafy Buckinghamshire. But let’s be honest in that it was not a weekend of leisure. With sessions starting on Friday evening till about 10. Then an early start on Saturday morning from 8am through till 9pm again and then closing on Sunday from 9am till about 4pm. So yes, pretty busy for all!
I’ve come away with a renewed sense of confidence. In all honesty going into the school, I was nervous of having to discuss my proposed EBI which had rapidly shifted from my initial proposal as part of TMA 01. In this instance when I first proposed 3 EBIs, two were to do with work and one with a NFP organisation for whom I am a board member. With a bit of a push from my tutor I jumped into the one related to the NFP, which to be honest is well outside of my comfort zone.
The initial proposal of ‘Devising a Communications & Technology Strategy for an NFP’ rapidly lost its shape and structure during the school.
One of the first activities was a cluster analysis of the problem. The advantage of the cluster analysis was that key issues quickly came to the fore as well as areas where these challenges lay. Having introduced my proposal to my breakout team, it became apparent that what was missing was not a communications or technology strategy but an overall business strategy. Missing was a clear understanding of the external environment, the industry in which this organisation operated, and also what resources were available.
Further there was a need to understand the relevance of stakeholders which being a NFP constituted a huge number.
Following on from the cluster analysis came a stakeholder power analysis using Eden and Ackerman’s Stakeholder matrix. Together with Lewin’s Forcefield Diagram, this helps in dentifying the level of influence the stakeholders would have and also where I as a practitioner would want them to be.
We went onto look at functional perspectives, i.e. how would HR or IT or Finance view any proposed changes and also then the relevance of management theory to any project for change in an organisation, but I’ll look at that later.
One key thing I took away from the school however was that the tools and suggestions are always going to be coloured by the perceptions and delivery of the proposer and the biases exhibited by that individual.
For example, if I’m implementing a Performance management system, how I feel about my managers and my direct reports will colour how I present my proposal. But also it has an impact on the kind of analysis I will do. That’s why the Res school was valuable in getting other people’s perspectives.
But as I said earlier, this kind of activity is dependent on how I present the material and so can be limited in value if my own point of view is not open and honest.
BTW – if you’re interested in general management theory 12manage.com is a website definitely worth registering for (it’s free)
Having received back my first TMA, I was pleasantly surprised with the mark, as it was a tough one. I kept bouncing off the wordcount simply as I was proposing 3 EBIs, relevant to 2 organisations.
One of these was my workplace and the other was a Not-for-profit Religious Organisation of which I am a board member. Having decided on following the EBI for this NFP, I proposed to the rest of the board that I proceed with working with them to develop a communications strategy at which they jumped and said ‘yes’. However this got a little bit interesting when I suggested that I needed a Business Strategy on which to build.
Not having such a strategy meant that today was the first of series of sessions on building a strategy for the next 3 years and then continue meting to keep the strategy definition on a rolling basis: firstly to check progress and secondly (probably more importantly) to look at the next stage of strategy development. While we covered several areas around Policy, staffing, the buildings (partly as construction of the premises is complete).
Add to this the high level of nervousness I felt facilitating a session with people who are CEOs, Directors and Senior management in their own respective organisations who have a wealth of experience around doing this themselves…
I’m entering the final phase of an adventure in going back to learning. Having finished my BSc in 1997 and getting into work straight out of Uni, I hadn’t picked up books beyond the odd technical manual and some pulp fiction.
In Autumn 2008 I started an MBA course with The Open University which is coming to a conclusion this year hopefully.
As part of this conclusion I have to put together an Evidence Based initiative which demonstrates the application of my learning to the practice of management. In a nutshell that is it but of significance is that theory has to be critically assessed, applied and then discounted based on its pros and cons. Hopefully this will lead to an enhancement to the existing theory or even better a new theory!
So after proposing 3 EBIs, I’ve settled on one for a local religious NFP (Not for Profit organisation). I sit on the board for this organisation and when proposing we look at business strategy and ultimately communications and Technology strategy the board moved quickly to organise an initial meeting with a wider audience in early February. Now to prep for it…
On the merits of doing this at the OU, i think the biggest advantage is that being over an extended period of time, we are forced to cogitate and reflect on our learning a lot more. In fact a lot of the assignments are geared towards applying theory to our own organisations. I think this is a key difference to doing an MBA or any other Masters level course on a full-time basis. I think we all do it, but rarely do we actually think about ‘thinking’. Chris Argyris has done a lot of work on this and if you want a primer on reflective learning, find it here.