Blog and opinion
23 January 2018 • Deborah Mevissen
The path towards an open and professional culture
An open and professional culture – it is more than just a policy theme. Of all of the points that our organisation needs to work on in 2018, this is probably the point that everyone agrees on. More than ever, at THUAS we want to interact with each other in an open and professional manner. You can almost hear this in your colleagues’ sighs (sometimes literally too).
An open and professional culture is a fusion of two broad concepts that certainly do not mean the same thing to everyone.
There is the ‘open culture’ part. This is the principle that everyone within our organisation should dare to have their say. They should dare to have their say to the executive board and the direct management, from the staff and student councils, but also within teams and between colleagues. Being able to put your view forward and be heard is essential within an educational organisation such as THUAS. As is giving good feedback to each other. In my view, this is an absolute condition if we want to educate competent global citizens.
Secondly, there is the ‘professional culture’ aspect. Almost everyone at THUAS feels that it can be improved. However, there are various interpretations about what it is exactly and how it is created. A frequently heard frustration is that “we at THUAS” have a lot of ambition, but little focus. We find it difficult to take decisions together, for instance when streamlining or changing processes. When a decision has been taken or a policy established at THUAS, this is not the end of the decision-making process, but rather the start of a new discussion. We also often do not take the opportunity to make adjustments gradually and so improve through experience.
At THUAS a lot of attention is given to individual development and professionalism, but we sometimes have difficulty working on collective professionalism, which is a precondition for achieving plans together. It is precisely in a newly formed service department such as Education, Knowledge and Communication (OKC) that it is extremely important to be clear about collective professionalism. It is essential to think about how we relate to each other and to the rest of the organisation, if you want to contribute to collective aims as a business unit.
In his recent blog post, Mathieu Heemelaar put his finger on a sore point in regard to these aspects, namely the amended Result and Development Interview form introduced in the OKC department that should have contributed towards this desired change. The intention behind the change was to spur discussion about individual, but also this collective professionalism in particular. A collective framework was created by including guidelines and revealing in advance a part of the Result and Development Interview form that created space for an open discussion about the responsibilities of the individual. Furthermore, it fell to managers and members of staff to decide what did or did not come up during the discussion, and therefore what should remain, be removed or amended in the form.
It has since become clear that: The form did not lead to the intended effect (a better discussion about professionalism, responsibility and ownership). Instead, there was resistance; members of staff felt patronized and therefore less involved. I am concerned that I and the rest of the management team at OKC did not satisfactorily manage to introduce the form and clarify its purpose.
Fortunately, members of staff did feel free to inform me or their managers about this. Signs were also given to the staff and student councils, including the services council that is responsible. This is something I am pleased about. After all, it is also part of a professional culture – having and using a structure to map out the problems we experience. It has led to an open and constructive discussion that we are conducting in the services council about this and other topics. The HRM department has held discussions with the unions. Following close consultation, the decision was taken to go back to the original form. The text has now been included in an annex as a discussion guide.
Naturally, I am cross that it has worked out this way. However, I am pleased that we are now having the discussion, both within the service department and with the services council, about what a professional attitude entails, and how to deal with this within a Result and Development Interview.
Above all, I think it is a shame in this regard that Mathieu did not ask me about the intentions behind the form before he wrote his blog post. I could then have reassured him that the intention was never to censor members of staff or question their loyalty. On the contrary, the intention was to create dynamism and commitment in achieving organisational objectives. I will be very pleased to go through this with him and in fact anyone else who would like to discuss this further.
During a Service Department meeting, Deborah Mevissen, Director of the Education, Knowledge & Communication service department discussed the department’s policy plan and the R&D form with staff.