The second annual Managing and Leading in the ACU Context conference was held in recent weeks, with days hosted at North Sydney campus and at the new ACU Leadership Centre in Brisbane.
Managers and leaders used the day to explore ‘The Excellence Agenda’ - reflecting on what this means for their own work and for supporting their team to achieve excellence.
In the opening comments, HR Director Diana Chegwidden commended attendees for taking time out from busy schedules to invest in themselves and in their roles at ACU.
“As you know, what defines good leadership changes always. So this conference is part of the ongoing dialogue on what leadership means. Today is about you, for you, and to support you,” Mrs Chegwidden said.
Chief Operating Officer Dr Stephen Weller spoke on Service Excellence and highlighted what ACU aims to achieve through the Service Excellence Framework.
Dr Weller said much work had been done recently in realigning ACU’s faculties and undertaking research intensification. He said more work is yet to come, but the ongoing commitment and effort from staff was keeping ACU in a strong position for the future.
“We acknowledge that it is busy - and that it can be demanding at times. Yet ACU is doing this work [of growth and entrenchment] in a time when other universities are facing a perspective of declined numbers, a perspective of redundancies, and a perspective of reducing their presence,” Dr Weller said.
“Performance excellence is not about doing more. It’s about doing things in a certain way. The Service Excellence Framework is what we are using to identify what service looks like in all its forms. It all starts with the ACU Mission, and service flows from that.”
He said the ACU Service Catalogue lists all services, and fosters accountability for services by identifying a Service Lead responsible for each area.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning & Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins said that while things like having a nice office or an impressive job title are often celebrated as career achievements, she encouraged managers to reflect on the satisfactions that come from a student-centric focus on excellence. She said success in delivering a quality educational experience could leave ACU leaders with proud memories for many years to come.
“You’ll be proud that someone else has had a transformative experience – and that you’ve had a hand in it. And that’s how big it is,” Professor Cummins said.
“When a student enrols here, we engage them on trust. They are trusting us in choosing to come to ACU, and we’re saying: ‘We’ll support you to success.’ That is our promise to students.”
She said ACU’s expansion into global community engagements and placements means there are currently ACU students abroad on each continent, and the University remains in touch with them as they travel.
“Students choose us because our education is about that community engagement and outreach to others, so make sure you share in that experience with them. If they have just returned from a community engagement program, ask them about it. That’s your achievement too – you’re setting these people up to do exciting things,” she said.
Professor Cummins said being self-aware is the starting point of good leadership and good skills in managing others. Yet self-management is quite a challenge - especially in times of change where unforeseen problems can arise to test us, she said.
“I feel lucky to be working in a place that is exciting and challenging. But [change] can leave us in the stretch of ourselves, of our processes, of our relationships, and of our understandings.”
Professor Cummins said a focus on the bigger picture was the only way to move beyond a silo mentality - beyond only pushing the interests of one’s own area in a manner unlikely to benefit the University as a whole.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Wayne McKenna gave an overview of how ACU is seeking to grow its research profile in strategic disciplines of strength.
Professor McKenna said ACU managers and leaders have an important role to play in embedding a research culture which is based on quality of publications - not quantity of publications.
“The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) ratings are easily the most influential measure of ACU’s research profile,” Professor McKenna said.
“It’s fast becoming the only measure... and it is used nationally and internationally to demonstrate our research profile.”
Professor McKenna said as changes to the higher education sector play out through Federal Government decisions, ERA ratings may be the means by which a new hierarchy will be established among Australian universities.
“You’ve got to be globally competitive to stay in research. You can no longer be excellent by being the best at ACU, the best in NSW, or even the best in Australia. ERA is a worldwide benchmark – and that’s a tough call,” he said.
He said in the current climate, ACU had very little time - perhaps two or three years at most - to achieve this global competitiveness, which is why significant resources and precedence has been given to research intensification, building new research partnerships and establishing new ACU research institutes.
“The aim of all of this is that we are connected with the very best people worldwide. Research excellence is a very elite game. For example, sometimes you can only get your first ARC grant by attaching yourself to a researcher that has a very high profile,” he said.
“We all need to understand how important this is to ACU, and that we are all supportive of this - and to be as supportive of each other in this as we possibly can be.”
Ongoing support for managers
During the conference, attendees also discussed the importance of work/life balance for managers, of self-care and ‘staying strong’ for your team, and of developing a discipline of ‘mobile device-free time’.
ACU managers are reminded that a free Manager Support service is available for counselling on people management issues.
Professional development for managers
ACU also supports managers with a range of professional development opportunities throughout the year - browse the upcoming training workshops and other resources that are available.
If you have any further queries in relation to building your own capability or the capability of your staff, please contact Capabilities and Development on x2158.