Hamish Macandrew Consulting

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Settling in at ARMA…

Can’t believe I’ve been at ARMA for 3 months. In some ways it feels a lot longer. Well, I was a Board member for 2 years, so that explains it.  Except that when you’re a Board member, you think you know all there is to know about the organisation, but of course you don’t. You know the big picture and you know the headlines, because this is the stuff you discuss at Board meetings, but you don’t see in the Engine Room. You don’t think about all the planning, the prioritising, the tasks, the emails, the communications, much of which is passed off as ‘business as usual’ – the sheer activity that needs to go on, in order to generate the headlines for the Board.

At the start, it was a series of transactions and snippets, jigsaw pieces that appeared to belong to different jigsaw puzzles (back to that again), none of which came in a box with a picture on the front. Accompanied by the confidence wobble – was this a big mistake? Will I ever ‘get it’. Should I have done ‘something else’? But you stick at it, you start to absorb, the bits start to fit together, the fog on the pitch lifts to reveal the goalposts and you find out where you are.

Your team help you through, and mine certainly have. You realise that you are not the only ‘new boy’ or ‘girl’ on the planet and that everyday, every day, someone is starting down that pathway of uncertainty and the unknown.

I’ve still got so much to learn. I’m frustrated that I’m not getting through my work fast enough – my to-do list appears to have a life of its own and I’m wondering if I’ll ever manage to do this as a 4 days per week job, and some days, I’m completely exhausted. But I’m loving it! I’ve joined a wonderful organisation with marvellous members, who day-in, day-out, despite all that’s being thrown at them, are doing their bit to ensure that British research remains the best in the world, improving peoples lives. I’ve got a small but brilliant team of hard-working, committed people, who love doing what they do. We’re supported by a fantastic Board and committees with huge enthusiasm and commitment to make ARMA just the best membership organisation we can. This is some organisation, and I feel very privileged to be working for it.

It’s light years from what I was doing before, in so many ways. I wonder how the next 3 months will go…

 

 

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A tragic symbol…

Of all the things my former Principal values, Reputation is his most prized, so I think he’ll have been quite pleased to see Edinburgh rise from 38th place to 34th in the latest THE World Reputation Rankings. But these rankings are based on perception, not facts.

Perception, the new currency for policy-making in this age of post-Truth. It worked for Donald Trump and for the Brexiteers. Mrs May and immigration. It’s even brought back Michael Gove.

Perception vs truth was one of our Conference themes last week. Ehsan Masood gave a very thought-provoking talk about it, as did his Boss, William Cullerne Bown, at the EARMA conference a couple of weeks beforehand. I had an interesting chat with a fellow ARMA Board member about this during conference and pondered whether all the noise that is social media is oblitering truth and fact. The Wikipedia era where everything written down looks right. But, as I’m discovering with another organisation I work with, social media doesn’t require much in the way of factual accuracy.

If it looks good, it must be right. And yet, as we saw two nights ago, things that look good on the outside can be tragically flawed on the inside. WCB and I were only yesterday evening musing on the fact that the Grenfell Tower is horribly symbolic of this flawed world we live in. Recently refurbished at significant expense, so it looked fine, but nobody heard the concerns, nobody read the recommendations, nobody scrutinised the facts. Tragic indeed. Brexit and Trump/Climategate all over.

Reputation is important of course, but it needs to be based on reality, on fact, on integrity, not spin, not meaningless KPIs, not soundbites, not substance-free opinions.

Back to the Reputation Rankings, I’m quite pleased that we performed rather better (27th) in the somewhat more substantial THE World University Rankings. Better this way round than the other perhaps…maybe there’s a place for the REF after all.

27 years and I’ve found the key…

…I just now have to find the right door!Key-300px

3 weeks ago, after 27 years with the same institution, I walked out of the office for the last time. With nothing ahead of me, no job to go to, no safety net of a redundancy payment, just a spark of an idea. Well, various ideas (some pretty random) and a compulsion not to coast to retirement. I’d completed what I’d set out to do at Edinburgh. It would have felt wrong to stay on. It was time for a change for me, it was time for a change for my team.

Mad or what?

‘But how exciting, Hamish’, my colleagues enthused, struggling to think of something to say, clearly glad it wasn’t them in my position, with an expression somewhere between sympathy and complete incredulity. I’m sure some of them had a wager on that I wouldn’t leave until I reached 67.

It wasn’t impromptu, though. I actually made the decision to move on last August, after a challenging year and much careful thought. Much careful thought.

Most normal people line up the next job before they leave, but I just couldn’t do that. Mainly because I didn’t have any headspace to think of anything other than the day job. Mainly because at that time, I didn’t want to just do the same job somewhere else. I’ve worked with some of the most exciting and driven academics in the world in an amazing institution. I’ve led a stellar team of astonishingly bright, committed and dedicated people. And I left in what is likely to be a record-breaking year for Edinburgh’s research awards. Where would I go next?

So, I’ve been through the random ideas phase (I think), the lifestyle ideas, the ‘sell up and move to Antigua’ option. But it’s hard to turn your back on 19 years of research management and administration. And it’s hard to burn your address book of former colleagues, funders, suppliers and sponsors. And it’s a shame to dig a big hole and bury all my experiences, good and bad, without sharing it with others.

So over the last 3 weeks, rather than sitting in the garden with a Pimms, I’ve been trying to ‘download’ and synthesize what I’ve learned over the years, reflect on what’s worked and, just as importantly, what hasn’t. I’ve been thinking about who’s helped me over the years, and how they’ve done that. And I’ve been reflecting on what I think I can bring to colleagues in other institutions.

If you think I can help you or your institution, I’d love to talk to you. I’ll be at the ARMA Conference in Liverpool next week. Hopefully see you there!