Looking beyond the individual

By Hamish Laing

Hamish Laing, Head of the Higher Education practice group at Saxton Bampfylde, looks at why a broad institutional-wide approach to finding, developing and nurturing executive and governing leaders in the higher education sector is so important and can deliver the most successful results.

Saxton Bampfylde has been engaged in finding leaders in higher education for over 30 years. In this time, the sector has experienced much change which has delivered affirmative traction with regards to positive working cultures, staff development, greater diversity of thought and background, and an integrated sense of collaboration.

As universities further expand and cultivate differing perspectives on internationalisation, industry partnerships and commercialisation, it is essential that executive teams and non-executive boards understand and celebrate these divergent viewpoints. It is also vitally important that they embrace a more diverse candidate pool in order to promote collaboration, consensus and effective working practices.

The accountability of both executive and non-executive functions continues to attract greater scrutiny than ever. In this regard, we pride ourselves on being trusted advisors long after the appointment process has been completed. Our focus is on much more than just the individual; it is on the organisation as a whole. We focus on the structures surrounding the appointment, the dynamics of the team concerned, the ‘unwritten rules of the game’ in terms of culture, and the over-arching strategic goals of the organisation.

Our specialist in-house team of consultants and psychologists ensure that not only the right person for the role is appointed, but that they will enable and encourage cultural accord, constructive team dynamics and the collective achievement of strategic goals. This is analysed through detailed and tailored assessments, including:

  • coaching;
  • on-boarding; 
  • board skills appraisal; 
  • and assessment

Our work in this capacity with a range of higher education institutions has evidenced the added value offered by these broader services. Having worked with University of Surrey on a range of searches for academic and non-academic leadership posts, we were delighted to lead a series of workshops on career progression in 2017 as part of Surrey’s Athena SWAN action plan.

Sector guidelines and codes of practice continue to place ever greater importance on executive and non-executive effectiveness reviews. The latest Scottish Code of Good HE Governance recommends regular reviews, stating that each university governing body ‘is expected to review its own effectiveness each year and to undertake an externally facilitated evaluation of its own effectiveness and that of its committees, including size and composition of membership, at least every five years’. Our expertise in analysing and promoting productive team and individual working practices can be invaluable here.

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