The Times They are A Changin’ – Reflections and pondering on CEAC 2017

In the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’, and this was a theme that ran through the CASE Europe Conference last week where I joined over 1,000 delegates skilled in marketing, communications, fundraising and alumni relations, at the Birmingham International Convention Centre to share, discuss, debate and to learn about the amazing developments in the advancement sector and some of the challenges we are facing.

The conference centre was buzzing with small groups huddled in corners, pouring over the brochure deciding which session to attend and a few who escaped to the canals for a few refreshments! I could reflect on all the great sessions I attended and the people I met or re-engaged with which would fill a few pages, however, instead I would like to share some of my personal reflections and musings!

The opening plenary set the tone focusing on ‘is there a crisis of confidence in our universities’ and with limitations on the use of the dreaded ‘B word’ (Brexit), this guided the conversations in a multitude of different directions throughout the week.

These are not my top three or five but just my reflections and some things I am still pondering from a great week.

As a sector, we are dynamic, engaging, thoughtful, challenging and often at times provocative. If there was ever a time for advancement – to be positioned front and centre in our organisations – now is the time.  I strongly believe that we have a role to play in being more proactive in positioning what we do at the forefront of university strategies.  This is not about reporting to the Vice Chancellor or being on the senior team, which is a whole other topic. It’s about taking action to demonstrate that what we do, whether developing creative content, maximising our digital channels, engaging with students and alumni or raising philanthropic funds, is not just a ‘nice to have’ but is strategically important to the success of our institutions.

Risk and innovation should be high on the agenda. We need to challenge our sectoral norms and create a model of advancement that works for each of our organisations.  The wonderful thing about CASE and our sector is that we share best practice – we are collegial and we embrace others success.  However, what works for one organisation will not always work for another, so, take the lessons learned, understand the successes and the failures and create a strategic way forward that works for you at this time.  I say at this time because as we know, change is all around and what works today could change next year. My advice is to be prepared to be more agile, flexible and open to change, risk and innovation.

I had the pleasure of presenting on creating high performing teams and how to get the best out your biggest asset; your people. A high performing team is one with the clarity of vision, knowing where they’re going, how they are going to get there and of course, achieving and celebrating success.

However, high performance is also about innovating and taking risk and celebrating failure.  Google recently conducted a survey of over 180 teams and redefined the elements of high performance for their company, perhaps this will stimulate the thinking about your own teams. As managers, you need to create an open flow of communication, a desire to motivate, inspire and challenge while stretching your teams to achieve more. Not an easy task but think about what are the components that you need in your team to be successful – do you have them?

We can ask ourselves questions such as ‘what is the way forward?’ or ‘what are the steps we need to take on the road to success?’.  Firstly, I would suggest being brave, bold and open to new ideas. Adapt them to your needs, take more risk and celebrate success and failures. This is not a negative theory but a positive one – if we are failing it means we are innovating. In reviewing yourself be authentic with all those around you – your teams, donors, alumni and students. Firmly believe in what you do and your passion will shine through.

One of my favourite quotes is from Winston Churchill “we make a living by what we do but we make a life by what we give”. Never a truer quote to reflect the wonderful world of advancement and the possibilities that are ahead for us all.  The times they might be a changin’ but what can you do today to make a step change in you, your teams and in your organisations and put advancement at the front of that change.

I would love to continue the debate and hear your thoughts?

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