Make America Great Again: The Excellence Project 35 Years on

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

On the evening of Thursday 16 February I will offer what my children term ‘a quote-unquote master-class’. This event is one of a series of lectures designed to show-case Suffolk Business School’s unique three location, triple internationally accredited EMBA that is offered in partnership with the University of Maastricht. Since my parenting skills are, patently, nothing to blog about and because you are probably becoming just a little bored of my childhood reminiscences it might be useful to offer a little taste of what I will speak about on Thursday.

In my (ahem) master-class I will talk about Donald Trump. I will use words to talk about Donald Trump. It will be great. I have great words. You will be so proud of my words. My words are great (that’s enough now – editor). In my talk I will discuss Trump’s election; his promises and, more generally, our prospects. And I do mean all of our prospects!

But my presentation is not really about Trump. In truth – if we are still allowed to call upon such quaint things as truth – my talk is really a vehicle prepared to allow me to offer reflections on managerial storytelling. Why do I keep coming back to this? I always find myself back at storytelling because managerial work is essentially about talk. That’s why, as Head of Suffolk Business School, I now spend so much time in meetings!

Why must I spend so much time in meetings? Trust me, I do often ask myself this question! Yet while I grumble about the quantity of meetings I must attend (my calendar has just pinged to remind me to attend another in 15 minutes) the plain truth is that managers need to spend a lot of time talking to colleagues because work requires social co-operation within and across the boundaries that define our organizational arrangements. Talk – orders, commands, requests and exhortations – shape and define the activities that constitute managerial work. But if you really want to do something useful you will need to find a form of talk that goes beyond simply telling people what to do.

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University of Suffolk Waterfront Building, photograph (C) of the University of Suffolk

If you really want people to change; to commit; to do something extraordinary you will need a special form of purposeful talk that a) frames the activities that need to be undertaken and b) explains why these actions are actually useful and commendable. I call this special form of talk, ‘storytelling’.

Keen to learn more about the nature and – crucially- the limits of storytelling within a managerial context? Interested in a postgraduate degree that will prepare you for future leadership and executive roles?

Come along to the University of Suffolk Atrium on Thursday 16 February at 5:30pm and participate in my quote-unquote masterclass.

Introducing Professor David Collins, Head of the Suffolk Business School

david-collins-smallMessage from David Collins, Suffolk Business School

It has been suggested that I should take a few moments to introduce myself. I am, of course, more than happy to do so. Yet I will confess that I am not quite sure what I might usefully share on this my first ever blog post. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and while I have no wish to appear, either, secretive or aloof I genuinely don’t want to over-share…so mindful of the tight-rope walk that is blogging I offer the following.

I am – the Vice Chancellor informs me – the founding Head of the University of Suffolk’s Business School. This is, I tell the Vice Chancellor, a great honour since it carries with it a real opportunity to share in the future of the institution and the School.

In November last year the University invited me to prepare a short press release to announce my appointment. In this press release I made two observations which, since they signal something about my preferences and orientations, may be worth re-visiting.

In the press release I claimed that I am ‘an academic’s academic’ and I stand by this statement. I do however recognise that it is potentially problematic and more than slightly ambiguous. For the record therefore the claim that I am ‘an academic’s academic’ should not be taken as signalling to the uninitiated that I am poorly dressed and have personal freshness issues. Rather my suggestion is intended to convey an understanding that while I am keen to work with business, and while I am keen to prepare graduates for careers in business and beyond, I remain at root an academic who has devoted most of his adult life to researching the complex problems and dilemmas that managers face. Yes, that’s correct I have always been an academic. But I don’t apologise for that fact. I mean to say, you don’t looks sideways at your GP and say, ‘So you’ve never been anything apart from a doctor!’

The truth is it takes a long time to become an expert…and I’m still working on this project. That is why I am ‘Professor in’ rather than ‘Professor of Management’.

My second observation relates to jargon. I don’t like jargon and I try not to use it. I do use ‘big’ words of course and sometimes I have to write in long sentences. But I like my writing to be crisp, clear and elegant. I acquired this conviction from a local boy named Eric Blair. You may know him better as George Orwell.

Many years ago Orwell published two rather important essays that have had a profound impact upon how I write. These are entitled ‘Why I write’ and ‘Politics and the English Language’. If you have an essay or a report to write in the near future you might like to read one or both of these.

Thanks to President Trump’s focus upon ‘alternative facts’, Orwell’s ‘1984’ is now topping the best sellers lists again. If you haven’t read this book you really should. It is in fact the first novel I ever read…but then I never actually started reading seriously until I was 16. I might talk more about this in a future blog.

GROW: Gender Balance in the Workplace

Why are we still discussing gender inequality and the pay-gap that exists in contemporary organisations? This was among the questions asked by attendees at a vibrant event held at the University of Suffolk.

Supported by the Institute of Directors, (IOD), ‘Gender Re-Agenda – resetting the Conversation in Organisations and the Workplace’ or #GROW, launched the Suffolk Business Festival 2016, a week of events  managed by the Suffolk Business School, at the University of Suffolk.

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This year the Festival had a clear focus on diversity, in its many forms and the first event focused on how change can happen in organisations, public private, large and small, to the support gender equality agenda.

Taking the form of an open space forum, the event drew together representatives from businesses and organisations, academics and students to discuss their questions around gender balance in the workplace.

Research by McKinsey found that, in the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in the 107 listed companies it analysed. For every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity at these companies, earnings before interest and tax rose by 3.5 per cent.

Closing the gender gap in the UK workforce alone, McKinsey estimates, has the potential to add £150bn to gross domestic product in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 more women in the labour force.

Chair of the Suffolk IOD Graham Kill said “most company directors are men. Most of IoD Suffolk’s members are men. Progress is being made in increasing the number of women in leadership positions, but arguably too slowly. Yet, company directors, including male directors, have seen and clearly understand the data that diversity (on the basis of gender, race, etc) on boards, senior management teams and amongst employee teams is good for business.”

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Laura Locke, Senior Lecturer in the Suffolk Business School, introducing the event. (C) Suffolk Business School

“Much of the diversity conversation has been about quotas to: proactively and more profoundly achieve diversity balance. We believe that more concrete conversations need to happen in parallel to ensure directors understand how they should change their organisations to be more inclusive (to all, including women). Therefore, IoD Suffolk was pleased to support University of Suffolk’s Gender Re-Agenda open space event.”

“Participants universally applauded the open space approach. It ensured a diverse range of views were expressed and we look forward to seeing the synthesis of those conversations. That synthesis will undoubtedly stimulate further conversations and lead to tangible actions that the business community can implement to become increasingly more inclusive.”

Greta Irving from Transcend Development facilitated the event and expressed why she loves ‘Open Space Technology’: “It is a wonderful way to bring teams, groups or organisations together to have conversations that matter.  I love facilitating Open Space because it brings people together in a new and different way to create new connections and new dialogue. It is such a simple powerful tool is such a simple and powerful tool that supports creativity, cooperation, collaboration and communication!”

Jackie Clifford, Director of Clarity Learning and Development said “What a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours – I truly wish that we’d had longer to participate in the Open Space event led by Greta Irving. The methodology really lent itself to exploring a wide-ranging and, potentially, emotive topic and the groups that I took part in grappled with some real issues in a thought-provoking way which stimulated a broad depth and breadth of ideas and conversations.  Thank you to Laura Locke and the team at the University of Suffolk, along with the Institute of Directors, for enabling us to participate in this excellent event – I look forward to the next one!”

The next event is provisionally scheduled for 19 January 2017; please email talkbusiness@uos.ac.uk and quote #GROW if you are interested in attending.