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Issue 504, 24 January 2005
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Leader column

Professor Michael ArthurI spent many happy hours at Christmas considering the 150 or so suggestions from across the campus of the kinds of issue we need to address to secure our vision of Leeds as a world-class university.

Some ideas are almost beyond question – we need globally-recognised peaks of research excellence, we need to recruit and retain research stars of today and tomorrow, we need to build research excellence into everything we do, we need to get the balance right between teaching and research and improve our student to staff ratios. There are big intangibles – go for the best! – and perhaps a touch of wishful thinking – abolish the resource centre model!

The pleasing surprise about what came forward was the remarkable degree of agreement on our strengths, our weaknesses and what our goals should be, and about what should be the culture of our organisation, as a world-class Russell group university. Issues like leadership, performance management, the student experience, internationalisation, selling ourselves and being accessible to those who want to do business with us or come and learn with us, came up time and again.

We are still in the foothills, and this is only the beginning of the process, but already there are clearly emerging themes commanding widespread support from the University leadership – from deans, pro-deans, heads of schools and services.

All these ideas are now being drawn up into our first draft ‘strategy map’ (see below). We’re holding an awayday next week for the strategy group and members of Council to look at the map, and then it will go out to faculties for discussion, input and action to within the next month. The roll-out is staggered to take account of faculty responses.

We have set up a team to guide each faculty through the whole process. Faculties will be asked to comment on and interpret what that map means for them and to be the channel for communication and engagement of schools and their staff. We are also launching a website to further explain the strategy-setting process, announce developments and facilitate communications.

The tool we have chosen to help us set our strategy – Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard and strategy map* – originated at Harvard, and has been used in large and complex public sector organisations and several universities around the world, as well as industry.

We considered devising our own system, but decided we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel – it was more important to focus our efforts on content and outcome than devising a bespoke mechanism to take us where we need to be.

The advantages of the strategy map and balanced scorecard are that, first, it engages the whole community in the process – it’s a very effective communications tool because it provides people with information, and asks them to act on it.

Second, it offers us a seamless pathway between strategy and implementation. We will move from a strategic overview to a clear plan which is largely owned at the level it’s delivered, so that faculties, schools and services will be involved in the process, responsible for implementing the outcome – including measuring performance against strategy – and thus, hopefully, we will all be moving in the same direction!

But perhaps its greatest strength is that this system makes strategy dynamic, and so puts it at the heart of our organisation. The classic problem with strategies is that an enormous amount of time and money is spent on setting them up, they are put into nice glossy brochures, filed on shelves and everything carries on as before!

We have been impressed by the way this tool allows constant reviewing, updating and adjusting our strategy so it can respond to events and changes and become, if you like, a ‘living means’ by which we can achieve our mission – in broad terms, to be by 2010 a world-class university recognised for the international quality and excellence of our research and our graduates, on a rapidly rising trajectory towards being one of the world’s top 50 universities.

Our aim now is to have in place by June a clear strategy for the University which has support across campus. The strategy map will have a balanced scorecard to provide us with a framework for defining how to achieve the objectives, measure progress and embed our strategy in the management of everything we do.

I look forward to discussion over the coming months about how we can channel the huge amount of energy and engagement across campus into our world-class vision.

* Strategy Maps, Converting Intangible Assets Into Tangible Outcomes and The Strategy-Focused Organisation. Robert S.Kaplan & David P. Norton. Harvard, 2004.

 

Page owner: pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk | Updated: 24/01/05
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