FutureSkills launched in June 2008 as the employer engagement division of Thames Valley University and the business plan outlined that the birth of this new department was to represent an important mission-shift for Thames Valley University. The project is both a trigger for and manifestation of, the University's ambition to be the leading employer engagement University in the UK by 2013. This target manifests overwhelming pressure in the performance levels of the FutureSkills team transcending through the hierarchal lines as all will be held accountable. [Please refer to Appendix A]
To realise this ambition and provide an appropriate institutional context for the FutureSkills project relies on an active partnership with a range of public, private and thirds sector partners and considerable energy has been devoted to building and developing these partnerships. One of FutureSkills main strategic partnering relationship is with Park Royal Partnership which forms one of its three learning centres - they are in the heart of one of the most vibrant zones in Europe. The partnership was developed as a key to ensuring access to the employers within the targeted business zone
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The aim of the FutureSkills project is to start delivering ASN (Additional Student Number) activity through a variety of products including a mix of short courses and substantive degree programmes. The products developed are flexible and granular so they can be tailored to needs and delivered in different ways. FutureSkills and Park Royal Partnership in accordance with the HEFCE bid and through a contractual relationship would be working closely together in supporting the achievements of these ASN activity deliveries.
The following IBW issues will be addressed and critically analysed in this report:
Internal communication barriers between the partners, within the FutureSkills team at all levels and with the rest of the University
(in terms of common agreements being followed up and implemented, different culture, positioning) lack of feedback of objectives and targets across the team and within centre.
Failure in communication to subordinates/ de motivation of employees by the uncertainty caused by the restructure/ non prioritisation of line management duties/ leadership behaviours
Definition of themes
Communication is the action of sending and receiving messages using a mutually intelligible symbol system [Guirdham, 2002] and it can take many forms in order to communicate. Thus, internal communication by definition is that action of communication between employees or departments across all levels or divisions of an organization. Internal communication is a form of corporate communication and can be formal or informal, upward, downward, or horizontal. It can take various forms such as team briefing, interviewing, employee or works councils, meetings, memos, an intranet, newsletters, the grapevine, and reports.
[Guirdham, 2002] in essence characterises management as the process of leading and directing all or part of an organisation, often a business, through the deployment and manipulation of resources (human, financial, material, intellectual or intangible). Management is very different to leadership but there is a very close relationship between the two, especially in a work environment and often the two issues are confused and inter-exchanged synonymously. It must be noted, however, that not every leader is a manager and not every manager is a leader. This report will briefly touch upon elements of leadership but will focus more on the management issues arising in the organisation. For the purposes of this report Leadership is defines as "the ability if an individual to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute towards the effectiveness and success of the organisation of which they are members" [Guirdham, 2002]
Problem Identification/ definition and causes of problem
The recent news of a third restructure by the Pro Vice Chancellor within the FutureSkills division has given rise to new priorities being proposed and unclear objectives being set. The message of the restructure has not yet been finalised and roles and responsibilities have been tentatively outlined without any discussions with the team themselves. On the back of the announcement, the Pro Vice Chancellor announced his departure and has left the entire team feeling dubiously uncertain and anxious about the road ahead for the division. It seems that every time a restructure is announced, it ultimately ends up in the departure of senior management. There is a significant lack of morale within the team and the Partners. The team is very much divided on individual activities as they anxiously wait for further news and confirmation of positions. The aim of the restructure was to rebuild the relationship between FutureSkills, the Academic Faculties and the Partners and have them working as one in order to communicate the mission and objectives of the project. There is still a sense of ongoing frustration in the reunion of the two which impacts the internal relationship and communication levels within the FutureSkills team
Strategic Implications of problems
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
If ASN numbers are not achieved by the end of the three year project, then the project is deemed not sustainable as it implies that FutureSkills cannot be a sustainable entity without the intervention of Government funding. Therefore, there will be a majority of job losses and senior levels will be held accountable for its failure and non accordance to target set. With the possibility of a loss of job and decrease in levels of security in the air, employees feel demotivated and demoralised as they are not sure of where their future lies. There is an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and uncertainty amongst the whole team and certain individuals which fits in with [Gudykunst, 1998] theory of Anxiety/ Uncertainty management (AUM) as the true picture is not being communicated to the lower levels thus leading to employees making assumptions which are usually of a negative nature. This theory will be discussed later on.
Internal communication between FS and the Outreach Centre Partner
FutureSkills outlines in its mission statement that it "delivers on demand, innovative programmes in training, expert employer support and knowledge transfer opportunities to organisations of all sizes across the Thames Valley. Our high quality and responsive delivery will result in TVU becoming the UK market leader of employer focused university programme delivery by 2013"
Partnering with Park Royal Partnership, their shared objective is to determine the skills that employers in West London need and to drive the Government's agenda on 'Skills Shortage' and to promote work based learning and flexible innovative short courses or degree programmes.
The aim of putting in place a mission with a set of key objectives is to allow an individual in the workplace to aim towards a set of common goals on which they can act daily. This in turn brings coherence into the workplace and allows better coordinated action.
This is the message that the division is externally communicating with the assistance of PRW. However, in the last 18 months of operation, this has not yet been the case. FutureSkills are struggling to deliver on demand training albeit innovative due to the internal communication breakdown, demotivation of employees by management activities and long winding accreditation processes that the University has to go through.
The internal communication breakdown transcends from the management level through to lower level employees and externally to its strategic partner - Park Royal Workforce (PRW). The problem at hand is that FutureSkills and PRW are communicating that they can meet the demand of the employers in the local community and accredit and tailor their existing training but internally are not getting communication levels right.
Â Berne's  theory of Transactional Analysis (TA) analyses the varying degrees of communication between people. "It is a psychological development and a method of analysing communication between individuals" [Guirdham, 2002]. The aim of conducting such analysis is to improve interrelative communication between individuals and it can also influence how employee development can take place as it is underpinned by the philosophy that people can change.
The theory outlines that when two people met, they each assume one of three roles or ego-states behind each and every transaction which he characterises as:
Parent -responding as we have been taught
Adult - responding as we think we should based on experience and logic
Child - reacting as we would feel we should, from our emotions
This theory was initially criticised as being too simplistic as it only touched on some concepts so it seemed very tight in terms of situations where these egos could arise as commented by [Dusay, 1972] Therefore, this report will only incorporate elements of the modernised theory.
Approaching TA through a contractual approach - "an explicit bilateral commitment to a well-defined course of action" [Berne, 1966], means that all parties concerned in this contract need to agree the following: why they want to do something; with whom; what they are going to; by when; any fees, payment or exchanges arising.
FutureSkills and Park Royal Partnership have outlined their expectations as to what each party can get from the agreement and the incurrence of remuneration. However, as FutureSkills priorities and senior management targets keep changing within the two differently cultured organisations- the agreement lines become more clouded as different expectations come into play.
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Sporadic meetings take place between the two senior management levels from FS and PRP without the presence of the Centre Administrator and both parties state what they are prepared to do and are willing to undertake in accordance with the existing statements of purpose and functions. They both have the requisite competence on delivery available but because one party (PRP) has to wait on the other party (FS) to confirm agreed objectives with the Faculty - interest is lost in the delay and there seems to be an unwillingness for full cooperation as Park Royal work ethic follows that of a speedy turnaround, quick actions and fast results whereas FutureSkills (FS) cannot deliver those results ie marketing literature or the availability of lecturers that intend to deliver the training programme.
There is an overwhelming level of irregular communication between line management - the FS Broker and the strategic partner manager. There is lack of direction after targets are set between the two parties because the FutureSkills line management does not effectively communicate all set and agreed targets back to the Centre Administrator; whom has to carry out and adhere to the targets.
Applying Berne's TA theory, it is important to note that the FS broker has a parent to child ego state whereas the PRW line manager has an adult to adult ego state (both have experience and understanding of their industry sector), but if things do not go according to plan or as agreed then their childlike egos begin to appear. Hence, there is always frustration on both parts as they communicate this frustration to the third party - Centre Administrator, rather than to each other. This "crossed transaction" of egos (like for like) always results in communication failure in the workplace as the relationship is being addresses in a manner where the partners are addressing ego states other than that their partner is in.
However, the relationship between the line management and the centre administrator follows the path of parent and child in accordance with the TA model. Yes - it is fair to say both line managers have increasing knowledge in their sector area but the Centre Administrator has little knowledge of both industries as they have recently left higher education and this is their first experience in the working world letting alone the world of academia. Therefore, they are still at the learning and absorbing stage and the lack of communication and willingness to explain criteria in more details makes the centre administrator job more frustrating.
The barrier of communication is as a result of the little to non regard of the FS Broker in his choice of words, language and communication style towards the Centre Administrator, to whom he believes, understands the tasks and project at hand. The parent-child ego states are apparent
Centre Administrators in the organisation have two reporting lines of management often creating confusion, frustration and an overall sense of lost direction. One reporting line stems from within the FutureSkills division who responsibility is to give strategic direction from a University point of view; and the other is from Park Royal Workforce who give direction as to what employers on the Park Royal estate want and what training and learning packages would be attractive. However, problems occur when there are conflicting objectives between the two which are not fully communicated within partnership meetings but arise immediately after with the Centre Administrator. Centre Administrators have a sense of commitment to the strategic directorship of FutureSkills as that is their source of salary. However, from a cultural perspective, they are more embedded into the culture of their learning centres as they have 80% presence there, whilst spending 3 if not more out of the 5 days a week there.
The question arises as to who is driving forward the objectives: FutureSkills or Park Royal Partnership. There is a clear lack of strategic direction from the FutureSkills line management leading to high levels of uncertainty and anxiety among the centre administrators.
If this anxiety and uncertainty could be cleared up, centre administrators would feel empowered because by understanding basic values and the sole purpose of the organisation, will give rise to opportunities whereby they can make decisions that fall within those parameters. Communication works by an operation of mutually agreed set of ethics [Guirdham, 2002]
Much of the anxiety and uncertainty experienced by CAs is due to the lack of goals, constant priority shift because of the current restructure. This can be further analysed by considering [Gudykunst's, 1998] Anxiety/Uncertainty Management Theory of interpersonal and intergroup levels of communication.
According to [Gudykunst, 1998] one way to reduce anxiety and uncertainty is to maximise understanding through effective communication and he developed this viewpoint through the (AUM) theory. FutureSkills line management need to be mindful of the fact that lower level subordinates (CAs) do not understand academic procedures and therefore for the union to effectively work there needs to be compromise and an ongoing thought towards the way that information is communicated in this relationship. Mindfulness, for the purposes of Gudykunst theory is defined as "thinking about our communication and continually working at changing what we do in order to become more effective".
Most of the frustration and anxiety caused to the Centre Administrators is the different working cultures the two divisions have. Park Royal Partnership's strongly emphasises the importance of team work and meeting targets together and this is quite apparent when considering the working ethics of the team. Whereas, FutureSkills do not hold this working ethic as dearly and the team is quite divided.
Stemming from this, there is line management agreement with PRP over targets for Centre Administrator to deliver a selection of workshops promoting FutureSkills portfolio of products but then there is no tangible product to effectively promote or uncertainty as to how the University can accommodate individual learners.
With the restructure looming, anxiety is caused by the feeling of apprehension about what might happen if targets are not achieved with the centres and uncertainty in its cognitive format is created by not knowing who is going to leader the FutureSkills project and their behaviour as they may decide that the centres are consuming too much resource and money and wish to get rid as it could be seen as a liability.
Gudykunst goes on further to use create examples by the use of axioms as building blocks to demonstrate the theorems of AUM, whereby the axioms are "......statements that imply direct causal links among variables" [Blalock, 1969]
FutureSkills and Park Royal's line management relationship is shaped by situational processes and can be determined by the four axioms (axioms 23 - 26). Please refer to Appendix B for more details. Miscommunication is apparent when people follow a script they assume the other party with whom they are communicating to be familiar. This leads to many breakdowns in relationships. This goes back to each party having knowledge within their own industry sector but are failing to understand the other stranger's.
However, the AUM theory does not give rise to further expansion and Casmir and Ascuncion-Lande  commented that there should be a third culture apart from anxiety and uncertainty. This third culture should aim to create opportunities for mutual development
Management issues within FutureSkills
Although a distinct lack of internal communication is key to a structural and relationship breakdown, it is useful to examine the management lines to which the internal communication grows out of. Since the birth of FutureSkills- 18 months ago, there has been three restructures with the most recent being announced a few weeks ago The team are faced with different priorities and targets each time a restructure is announced and do not have time to fully adjust and wind down on recent activities they have undertaken. Since the Brokers took on line management duties, it is apparent that some of them lack people management skills and they find managing others a burden in light of their own priorities and targets they need to achieve. Some also view the line management of others as an additional responsibility imposed on them. This leads to de motivation and demoralisation of those they line manage as it is clear that they are not seen as a high priority and
[McGregor, 1960] developed two theories in order to view employee motivation; namely Theory X and Theory Y.
These theories are based on Maslow's Hierachy of Needs . Maslow outlined in his hierarchy that there is an overwhelming need for people to progress in an organisation [Guirdham, 2002]. Once people satisfy a need at one level, it ceases to motivate them and instead they are motivated by the need to fulfil the next level of hierarchy. [Mumford, 1976] took on board and further developed Maslow's hierarchy and defined a number of more specific needs which offer clearer insights into the nature of motivation in the workplace. He defined five in total - Knowledge needs, Control needs; Psychological needs; Task needs and Moral needs. FutureSkills employees do not simply see their job as a means to an end but encompassed needs to the nature of the work and actually need for the work to be satisfying and fulfilling in order for them to develop in the organisation.
[McGregor, 1990] grouped Maslow's hierarchy into "lower order" needs (Theory X - traditional view of management) and "higher order" needs (Theory Y - new attitudes in organisational psychology). Both X and Y theories begin with the premise that management's role is to assemble the factors of production, including people, for the economic benefit of the company, but diverge thereafter. His work suggested that managers can select either set to motivate employees.
Theory X assumes that people work only for money and security and lists examples of dislike for the work at hand, through to non ambitious and resistance to change.
Hence the developments of Theory Y. FutureSkills have already taken active steps within the recent restructures to try and harness motivational energy of its employees. Using theory Y this can be achieved rewards were put in place that address higher needs such as self-fulfilment. There needs to be an alignment between personal goals with organisational goals by using staff's own quest for fulfilment and success as a motivator.
The restructure was set in place to decentralize control from the Head of FutureSkills because at the moment there are 8 eight lines of management within the team of 20. It was thought to be a good approach to reduce the number of levels of management so that each manager will have more subordinates and consequently will be forced to delegate some responsibility and decision making to their subordinates as they are failing to make those necessary decisions due to their heavy agendas thus causing angst and frustration among team members. Decentralisation, team based organising and downsizing increases the influencing opportunities for subordinates [Guirdham, 2002]
Another motivational tactic that recent restructure is trying to employ is job enlargement. By this, McGregor comments that by broadening the scope of an employee's job adds variety and opportunities to satisfy ego needs. Centre Administrators will now be taking on advisory duties which will enable them to make their individual outreach centres more active as they now have the added responsibility of deciding what events should take place and can work on their own to fully make this happen.
Line management has recently adopted the notion of participative management and consult their employees in the crucial decision making process and tap into their creative capacity whilst also providing them with some control over their work environment. Further to this point, [Tannebaum and Schmidt 1973] developed a continuum model that showed the relationship between levels of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager. By delegating out more duties to staff, will boost up moral and motivations as staff can prove themselves and work towards fulfillment goals and develop within the organisation
Please refer to Appendix C to see the seven levels of delegation that are open to managerial. With direct reference to the model created by Tannebaum and Schmidt 1973, FutureSkills restructure at the moment loosely follows level 5 whereby the Pro Vice Chancellor (the overall head of the FutureSkills project) presents to the team -the situation forecast and the problems that need quick resolutions, before asking for suggestions and then deciding. However, it is notable that most of his decisions have not fully encompassed the majority of the team's suggestion. So at one level - the team have freedom to come up with options but if they are not taken on board-this leads to further demotivation.
Rationale for choice
By having a more coherent form of line management and internal communication between the two partners will give the Centre Administrators a sense of identification, with the goals, mission and procedures of both organisations combined in this project. This will have direct effect on the Centre Administrators level of efforts and efficiency. It will have the potential to reduce the day to day conflict which is generated by conflicting ideas on what is important to both organisations in terms of the project. This is often a clear indicator that the parties involved do not share common vision or understanding.
Simply put, if we want to create a workplace that is populated by people who are working towards the same goals, and by the same rules, internal communication, in its broadest sense, is the key to bringing that about. It won't happen unless we are proactive in our communication and coordinate our efforts so they convey consistent, combatable messages.
Strategies for Implementation
Management need to develop a sound internal communication strategy which sets out internal communication objectives and how they can be achieve. For example, have a summary of audit finding, key priorities, clear aims and objectives including individual targets, milestones, and an evaluative measuring process for its success. The strategy should be two-way between manager and administrator and visible action should be seen as resulting from the administrator staffs input.
A risk management strategy can be adopted for the lifetime of the project whereby there is ongoing analysis of risk, which involves identification for example ongoing communication breakdown plus the evaluation of impact and consequent actions. Tighter risk management controls would cover the activities in the planning, monitoring and controlling of actions that will address future threats and problems
Recommendations and Solutions
In order for the team and the relationship with the centres to become sustainable and adhere to its outlined mission and objectives within the next 18 months- it needs to refocus on its internal communication and managerial procedures by way of :
Performance appraisals are crucial to the operational growth of most large organisations [Guirdham, 2002]. Therefore, regular recorded appraisal meetings between FutureSkills line management and all FS staff for example every quarter with distinct and measurable objectives or penalties for non compliance and it should be in a way that separates it from too close a link with career prospects. It will prove to be a useful motivational technique to have the manager and employee sit down together and set objectives and allow the employee to participate in the process of evaluating how well they were met.
Regular one to one meetings with Centre Administrators where by SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time based) objectives are outlined and can be reviewed by both levels of line management in FutureSkills and PRP.
Regular communication and monthly meetings between strategic Partners and line management where the CA is present and all communications should be recorded in document form.
All managed staff to provide weekly written status reports to their line managers or keep up to date diary records of all activities.
Have line managers meet with their direct reports in one-on-one meetings every month
Timescale of implementation
As soon as the new Head of FutureSkills is officially appointed as in place and the Pro Vice Chancellor's replacement is overseeing the project.
FutureSkills know that they have a short timescale in order to resurrect certain practices that have been embedded into mainstream procedure. Hopefully, with the appointment of the new Head of FutureSkills (known but not yet confirmed), clear and set objectives can be made and appraisals will take place between the top levels before transcending down through line management. Staff will also have the chance to concentrate in their areas of expertise and where they can exercise their know-how as the new Head is prepared to listen to employee view points. By a clear understanding and embracement of the internal communication problems and management issues, the barriers can be worked upon to make the team work more effectively as a unit in order to achieve individual targets as well as departmental targets. This will result in an increase in motivation within employees as they incorporate a hierarchy of needs and remain satisfied at each step of the hierarchal chain until their day of departure.