CEO Blog | Maximum impact & benefit!

CEO Blog | Maximum impact & benefit!

In the summer of 2017 the Students’ Union commissioned Atkinson HR Consulting to undertake a diagnostic review of the Students’ Union, the purpose of which was to determine whether the structure and culture of the organisation are fit for future and aligned to the new strategic plan.

The Students’ Union was and still is in a strong position. It has moved into new fit-for-purpose facilities, achieved Investor in People Silver status, received outstanding staff engagement survey scores and undertook a Quality Students’ Union (QSU) audit which resulted in a Very Good outcome. The Students’ Union went into its new strategic plan in September 2017 with a very solid foundation, but wanted to ensure that it truly is in a position to deliver maximum impact through the new strategy and therefore this review looked at the following five areas:

  • Is the current staffing structure, and roles within it, aligned with the new strategy, fit for future and sustainable?
  • Are roles currently adequately rewarded, and is the new pay framework established in a way that will support the delivery of the new strategy?
  • Are there any implications or actions required following the QSU audit to ensure that the structures, culture and HR practices of the organisation are aligned to the new strategy?
  • Are roles and responsibilities operating in line with their intent and is the balance of strategic and operational work across the organisation undertaken at the right levels - including whether the Chief Executive’s time is focused on the right areas?
  • What succession plans should be in place for senior staff to ensure continuity and long-term development of the Students’ Union?

In undertaking the review, Atkinson HR Consulting used a range of methods to gather data and insight. These included reviewing over 250 pages of more than 20 documents and a range of 1-2-1 meetings which included managers, colleagues, Board members and officers. Where issues were identified from one document or interview they were tested with other stakeholders to ensure that ideas and recommendations presented within the outcome report are based on robust data. Based on this data and analysis, Atkinson HR Consulting drew a number of conclusions:

  • Broadly, the existing structure is well-aligned to the new strategic plan and there are no major areas of concern;
  • A number of small improvements could be made to the structure that will help to ensure the organisation is in a strong position to deliver the new strategy;
  • Current expenditure levels on staffing are appropriate and sustainable, however, the Union should consider investing in business development, but only with a robust business case that demonstrates how this will deliver commercial growth;
  • Roles within the organisation are currently adequately rewarded;
  • There are some low to medium level risks within a small number of individual roles; where a broad and challenging portfolio of work means that quality may be sacrificed, strategic development de-prioritised and the roles may be difficult to recruit in the future;
  • The effectiveness of how the Chief Executive spends their time should be measured by overall performance in the role, which the evidence would suggest has been very good.
  • There are some shifts that the Chief Executive could make including focusing more time with the officer team and more time in developing, and holding to account, the management team, through a team-based approach.
  • The Board should be comforted that many positive measures are in place to ensure effective transitioning and succession planning should the current Chief Executive leave their post in the short to medium term.

The review made twenty recommendations, which are now being implemented to help to ensure that the Students’ Union’s structure, culture and people management practices are fit for the future and ready to drive delivery of the new strategy. These recommendations, in summary, are:

  • To adopt a new structure as outlined below. This structure includes four distinct departments of Student Voice, Student Opportunities, Operations and Business Development and Finance and Resources.

  • To adopt the updated job descriptions for members of the management team in keeping with the new structure.
  • To set a 70% ratio as a spending threshold for core staff salaries as a percentage of operating turnover.
  • The Operations and Business Development Manager to develop a business case for an increase in resources within the Operations and Business Development team aligned to projected growth of the business.
  • Prioritise the creation of additional staffing resource to support the ‘Your Views’ theme of the strategy, should additional funding become available in the future.
  • Consider and adopt the updated job evaluation process outlined in the report.
  • Consider and adopt the updated pay spine outlined in the report.
  • A programmatic approach to be introduced to oversee delivery, and reporting of the performance, of the 4 themes within the strategic plan. Each theme would have a programme group with a lead manager, lead officer and small programme team.
  • Alongside, Recommendation 8, the management team and Presidents should undertake a ‘stop, start, continue’ process to prioritise and assess which areas of work have the most / least impact when measured against the new strategic plan.
  • Build a stronger understanding and narrative around the unique role and function of sabbatical officers.
  • An analysis of the organisation’s culture should be undertaken at least every two years (possibly as part of the staff engagement survey).
  • To undertake a review of the casework service for students to ensure that it is meeting professional standards of service and being delivered in an efficient and structured way.
  • The Chief Executive to put in place a structure to meet regularly with the sabbatical officers, to ensure that he is able to meet his accountability for ensuring that they are informed of, and involved in decisions about, key organisational developments.
  • The Chief Executive to work with each manager within the team to identify responsibilities and tasks that will be delegated.
  • To put in place a plan for the development and performance management of the management team (as a team) to ensure they are collectively meeting expectations and taking an active role in driving a positive, inclusive and high-performing culture.
  • The Chief Executive to update his one page plan to include 3-5 success measures that he will be personally accountable for delivering.
  • The Students’ Union to ensure it is taking a consistent and thorough approach to the evaluation of key projects and events during the course of the year.
  • To undertake an exercise to consider and identify any unwritten rules, policies, procedures, responsibilities or activities that should be documented in order to retain and build organisational knowledge in the future.
  • To undertake a basic relationship mapping exercise to identify key relationships within the University and determine how they will be managed.
  • To consider and adopt the outline replacement / recruitment plan in the report to be utilised should the current Chief Executive resign in the short to medium term.

This is an exciting opportunity for the Students’ Union; to build on its existing strengths and enhance its already solid reputation. It has been a pleasure working with Atkinson HR Consulting and on behalf of the team at the Students’ Union I would like to thank Atkinson HR Consulting for their professionalism in approach and thoroughness in investigation and analysis. Atkinson HR Consulting provided the following summary quote within the report:

“The culture and environment [within the Students’ Union] is a very positive one, and hopefully, with a commitment to acting upon the findings within this report, it can grow even stronger in the future.”

Following a period of consultation with the staff team the Chief Executive will now lead the Students’ Union team into a new structure, as referenced previously, from 1st February 2018; then onwards with the implementation of the other recommendations contained in the report. This will ensure the Students’ Union is in a position to deliver maximum positive impact and benefit to the lives of students’ at York St John University through the 2020 strategic plan.

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