Category: Management

Three things I learned from UCAS

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Andrew Hargreaves, Director of Marketing Communications, speak about the transformational journey of change that UCAS is currently on.

Aside from some of the Higher Education sector specifics, which went a bit over my head, Andrew delivered one of the most engaging, funny and honest presentations I’ve seen in a long, long while. Here are three things he said which I thought were really cool, and I’m going to put into practice at The Growth Hub:

1. Fix one thing every 30 days

Each manager at UCAS has a ‘fix-it list’ – a collection of issues, challenges or barriers that need sorting out. There are 10 fix-its on each manager’s list and the target is to tick one of them off by finding a permanent solution, every month. You can start by tackling the ‘quick-wins’ to give yourself more time for the harder stuff, or go in with the big guns and make huge strides of progress, really quickly.

The reason this idea is so cool is because it makes shifting the rocks in the road, seem totally manageable. Roll forward a year and you’ll have sorted out 10 major blockages. What’s not to love?

2. CARE

model depicting CARE- culture, analysis, rational, emotionalThe CARE model stands for:

  • Culture: The culture at UCAS is ‘to be the conscience of the customer’.
  • Analysis: For UCAS this relates to tracking digital movement and behaviour, analysing it, and making marketing decisions that are based on data.
  • Rational: On a basic level, when a customer calls UCAS, is the service decent?
  • Emotional: On an emotional level, how does the customer feel about their experience with UCAS?

This is a useful model that any organisation can think about when embarking on Change. What is the culture, how will you analyse your customers/markets/services/performance, what are the rational and emotional connections you want to make?

3. Take responsibility for outcomes, not functions

At UCAS there are a group of managers who are responsible for results, for outcomes, for delivery. They are not responsible for functional areas of the business. This means that when they are solving a problem, they have absolute clear sight of what needs to happen, and the freedom to remove ‘management distractions’ and disregard hierarchical constraints when they need support from other teams or managers. Being responsible for an outcome sure does focus the mind.


Other than this presentation, my most recent experience of UCAS was when I bought media space from them for a digital campaign last year. I thought they were well organised and impressive. It’s interesting to hear about the inner workings of any organisation but the candid approach from Andrew made it even more exciting. I look forward to following UCAS on its travels and am pretty sure the road ahead will be a pleasant one.

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Would a 3000-word memo get you all fired up?

Last week Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent out a 3000-word memo to employees about his vision for the future of the company. You can read it all on Business Insider. It got me thinking about how I’d have acted if I’d been in his shoes.

Nadella’s memo contains these rather highbrow words of wisdom: “Productive people and organisations are the primary drivers of individual fulfilment and economic growth and we need to do everything to make the experiences and platforms that enable this ubiquitous”. Very poetic, but if you ask me, a bit too intellectual. It’s important to communicate with your team on a level that everyone understands. I’m not suggesting ‘dumbing down’ but if you’re trying to inspire and your message isn’t clear you’ll fail.

If I asked you to explain what the future of your company looked like, would you say something like this? “We will transform the return on IT investment by enabling enterprises to combine their existing datacenters and our public cloud into one cohesive infrastructure backplane.”

I wouldn’t.

I’d try and tell a story, paint a picture with words. I’d describe the difficult situation that Jim the Infrastructure Manager finds himself in, having to continually justify his spend to the CFO; how the  Microsoft team put their creative minds together to develop the cloud and demonstrated to Jim how he could simply add to what he already had in place, making his life so much easier.

Stories are inspiring and people remember them, especially when they are personally relevant or told from the heart.

If I was addressing my team about the year ahead I’d be honest about the challenges we were facing together. I’d show my team that I trusted them to pull through and find ways to empower them to achieve our collective goals. In fact to be fair to Nadella, something like this would do: “Microsoft will light up digital work and life experiences in the most personal, intelligent, open and empowering ways.” But Nadella said nothing about the competition, perhaps ignoring the elephant in the room.

To inspire enmasse you need to be concise and say what you mean, but there’s a fine line. I’d probably omit this part which sounds a bit like a threat: “And if you want to thrive at Microsoft and make a world impact, you and your team must add numerous more changes…. that you will be enthusiastic about driving.”

The memo ends: “With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead”. Do you think this is visionary?

Please don’t make me play frisbee

The other day I was talking to a colleague about recruitment assessment days. She said her friend had recently applied for a job at TGI Friday and the assessment was to play frisbee for an hour. From that single activity the recruiter would decide whether she was employable, a good fit for the role.

Two students playing frisbee
I wouldn’t enjoy having to play frisbee to get myself a job. Photo from the University of Maine.

Before I knew it I’d said out loud: “If anyone made me do that, I’d just walk out”.

Strong words.

And afterwards when I was reflecting on it I thought perhaps I’d been a bit hasty.

A game of frisbee could actually tell a recruiter a fair bit about the candidates:

  • If they were a ‘team player’ willing to ‘muck in’, who made the effort to pass the plastic disc to their team mates, who congratulated success and commiserated and motivated following failure;
  • If they had the qualities of a captain who could lead by example and communicate the vision of goal after goal, or empower others to take the helm when they showed promise;
  • If they could take direction and show willing to do what they were asked to even if on the face of it, they weren’t 100% sure of the point!
  • That their personality was the right ‘fit’ – in many organisations being able to have fun and maintain a balance between work and home life is seen as really important;
  • That they could follow the rules of the game and work within the boundaries they’d been set by the facilitator.

But to be effective the frisbee assessment would have to be relevant to the role.

I imagine at TGI they were perhaps looking for staff who need to be enthusiastic, customer-focussed, energetic and positive communicators, as well as being physically fit, so using a game or sport as a type of assessment is appropriate. But if the role wasn’t demanding of the qualities the game evokes then it feels to me like using this technique could perhaps be a symptom of a ‘power trip’ by the recruiter.

Have you ever been on a recruitment assessment day? Have you been asked to do something you thought was irrelevant to get a job? Have you experienced an assessment that you felt was ‘spot on’ and you rather enjoyed? Let me know your thoughts below.