A conversation on change
Published: Monday 7th July 2014
In the latest instalment of A Conversation on Change we talk to David Baker, who has been settling into his new role as Faculty Manager of Health Sciences over the past six months, about change.
David said his recent role change - which arose from the realignment of ACU's faculties - has reinforced his belief that acceptance of change as a constant is the key to building resilience.
"I joined the tertiary sector in 1992, when the fall-out of the Dawkins decisions was really impacting heavily on the sector, and it’s been a roller coaster ever since!" David said.
David joined ACU in 2004 - and after 18 months as the Team Leader of Student Enrolments he moved into an Acting Manager role when his supervisor was seconded. In 2007, David was appointed as the Faculty Manager of Arts and Sciences.
"I think constant change shows you that your relationship-building should also be a constant," he said.
"This helps you to weather the challenging times, and to obtain the crucial collaboration that makes change as smooth and effective as possible."
In an industry where no-one can afford to work in a silo, David says maintaining relationships across different portfolios can be vital. He says strong collaboration with other faculties was very important when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was disestablished at the end of last year.
"The Faculty was essentially split in two. Through the collaborative interaction with Health Sciences, and with Education, I could see that our people were finding a new home."
David said recent sector changes and Federal Government announcements highlight the need for universities to be agile in responding to emerging trends, opportunities and risks.
"I think the Vice-Chancellor was on the ball – all the things he had warned us about, happened. So we have been prepared for what is coming," he said.
A strong believer in proper planning when implementing new initiatives, David also acknowledges the paradoxical pressure on all universities to respond nimbly to change.
So what does he think is more important - to take the time for optimal planning, or to respond with speed and agility to industry changes?
"That's the 64-million-dollar question. I think in the current climate, you've got to be reactive to change. You’ve got to be there as a competitor, you can't afford to be left behind. For example, when the government decision was made to remove the cap on Commonwealth Supported Places for students, ACU made a decision to over-enrol and ran with it. There were a lot of other institutions who adopted a 'wait and see' approach, and they got left at the starting line."
David said many staff he has spoken with have been incredulous that ACU’s faculty realignment had been achieved in such a rapid timeframe of six months.
"It couldn't have been done without the goodwill of the people putting in extra work to get the job done," he said.
During the realignment, David himself went through an expression of interest process in order to become appointed as the Faculty Manger for Health Sciences.
"Because there was so much going on, I didn't have much time to reflect on my own situation – and I'm glad I didn't. There was stress during that time... but I knew there would be an opportunity for me - I just didn't know what it would be."
In times of role change, David feels it is important for staff and their supervisors to anticipate an adjustment period - and not to expect to operate with 100 per cent efficiency right from the first day in a new role.
"Often people have to be confident in what they are doing first, and then they can be confident in working with a new team," he said.
He said managers continue to have a lot of work ahead of them in settling the new structures - and finding physical space for staff also remains a challenge for a growing university.
"Sometimes change can be as small as having to move desks – I mean even within a four-year period of my time at ACU, I had eight changes of desk space or office!"
David encourages people to try to look on the bright side if they find themselves in a new role during times of change. "You can't just walk in with a mindset of 'I'm not going to like this.' You’ve got to experience it and then you can determine whether this is for you or not."
Tips for weathering the ups and downs of change
"Fighting change isn't going to help you. In fact, what it can show people is that you're not flexible, and flexibility is a trait that people do look for when they're looking for staff."
Build relationships and stay committed to the quality of your work:
"Keep doing the best you can. If you have a reputation as someone who will go the extra mile, and put the effort in, you generally end up landing on your feet. I think people shouldn’t be frightened to put their ideas forward and to put suggestions up the line, and to volunteer for new projects."
Keep open lines of communication:
David thinks it is particularly important for managers to communicate openly and often and to give reassurance when change is occurring. "Also, listening is important. There are times when people simply just needed to vent – it's all part of the stages of grieving and acceptance in times of change."
"People don't consciously not help people. I think with good communication comes an understanding of where you fit within a team. There are times when you need your team members to help you and times when you need to help them. I think that builds a strong camaraderie when you have that approach. Communication is so important to ACU because of our seven campus locations. Some people can perceive isolation - and some people are physically isolated. Frequent communication and opportunities for interaction can assist when staff are feeling isolated."