Transforming our Professional Services (TOPS) - what we have heard so far
19 July 2017
Since then, the initial phase has ended and we have gathered lots of thoughts from colleagues on what is not working well together with ideas and suggestions for how our professional services can be delivered in a more effective way. We have also heard about what is working well and where no change is needed.
Following a recent update to the Provost's Senior Management Team (SMT), we wanted to share with you some of the issues that we uncovered, the ideas for change we have heard and the next steps.
We've heard a great deal about the issues that we need to address
Over the past five months, we have heard from more than 1,700 colleagues and students via workshops, world café events, surveys, drop-in sessions and focus groups. Thank you for sharing your views on the issues that you face and your ideas for improving professional services.
One of the key messages has been that professional services work to support our academic mission through the exceptional commitment of individual colleagues who achieve results in spite of, rather than because of, the underlying processes, systems and ways of working.
Some of the key issues that we have heard are as follows:
- You want the "basics to work". We heard there was lots of frustration that tasks and processes that should be simple are complex, difficult to navigate and prone to error.
- There is a strong sense that services delivered close to students, staff members (academic and professional) or other parties are key. In some cases, this is because locally delivered services are seen as easier to access; sometimes it is because it is felt that only local staff can understand and empathise with the specific academic context, and sometimes it is because of a perception of failure in centrally provided services and a resulting breakdown of trust and confidence.
- Sometimes engaging with professional services is regarded as too time-consuming and difficult. You want obvious signposting to know who will help you, and clearly defined processes, supported by good systems, that free up time to devote to UCL's fundamental academic mission.
- In central services, colleagues are frustrated by the need to accommodate large variations in processes that have similar purposes across departments and institutes.
- There was significant feedback on how some of the systems that underpin our processes need radical improvement (e.g. Portico).
- Those of you in a role providing generalist support, which is critical in academic departments, report a lack of visibility of how to develop and/or advance your careers. We heard that often you do not see structured approaches to your personal development that would allow you to develop your skills and deepen your expertise.
- You also want a more service-focused culture based on a notion of "how can I help?" rather than being constrained by cumbersome processes and unnecessary compliance.
- While there is value in identifying ways to be more consistent, you highlighted that a "one size fits all" approach is not right for an institution of UCL's scale and breadth.
Your ideas about the future of professional services
You've shared some fantastic ideas with us in workshops and in direct feedback to the TOPS team.
Here are the key points that you made:
Make it simple
Whether it's setting up research contracts or bidding for minor estates works, UCL processes are often complicated and time-consuming. We need to focus on making them simple.
Money for systems
We need investment in the technology that runs complex systems, such as student lifecycle processes.
Make basic tasks easy
Whether it's recruitment and contract support or building a web page, we need to link up services more efficiently to make basic tasks easy to accomplish.
Staff who meet my needs
Faculties and departments want local professional services staff who understand their needs and can deliver to their timescales. As well as specialists, they want expert problem-solving generalists who can make things happen across a range of professional services.
Help me to help myself
Whether it is a number of our HR services, room booking or handy statistics, staff need to access simple services and information to get their job done without getting bogged down in processes. We've also heard from students that they want to use improved technology in a range of areas such as enrolment, module selection and registering attendance.
UCL could save time and money if we improved our procurement processes.
Building a strong career is high on your agenda - and you believe that training, communities of practice and defined career pathways will enable that.
How can I help you?
UCL professional services need to build a stronger service culture - training and sharing best practice will enable that.
We're overreliant on temporary staff and agencies - but a bank of multi-skilled workers who can be deployed wherever there is need could fix the problem.
What's the evidence?
When it comes to running UCL, you want to know that decisions are based on evidence, that UCL measures and proves its effectiveness with performance data and that it is clear who is accountable.
SMT met to discuss the ideas for the future of professional services and wants to spend more time considering them in the coming weeks and into the Autumn term.
In the Autumn term, we will be listening and talking to you all - professional services colleagues, academics and students - again to understand if what we have heard is accurate, to check that we have understood the issues and priorities correctly, to collect any further issues and discuss how some of the emerging ideas might be framed into options for implementation.
We also need to understand how these ideas could work in divisions, institutes, departments and faculties as well as different professional services divisions. This will help us to understand where and why things need to be different to meet local circumstances and where they need to be consistent so that things work properly for everyone.
To that end, our plan is to begin a lengthy series of tailored conversations across UCL. Please look out for opportunities to join the conversation.
If you have any questions between now and then, please contact the TOPS programme team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rex Knight, Vice-Provost (Operations) and Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs)