Social capital creates value for CBS
By Peter Jonasson, University Director, CBS
Social capital creates value for CBS
You’ll be chairman for a project about social capital! That was the invitation I received from HR about a year ago, when I started as university director.
I was sceptical. In my opinion, staff projects based on very complex theory to be facilitated by consultants often fail to produce tangible benefits in the daily life of employees. They become words on slides, which no one ever uses.
Today, I am quite happy about this project. I think we have succeeded in creating a project which, based on social capital theory, has addressed concrete issues, but also points to a way forward in developing our management practice, the way we work together across our organisation and the individual staff member's approach to the task at hand.
Specific, relevant and manageable
Basically, the project is about how social capital can contribute positively to collaboration issues between the different units within education, research and administration, because we know that collaborating across these main areas is particularly difficult.
The steering committee were quick to agree that the concept of "social capital" is very difficult to make concrete and relevant. So we took it down to trying to solve specific collaboration problems between the units in the different areas. The challenges were to be about something that the units found relevant. And the problem had to be manageable enough to be solved. It didn't mean that the problem had to be easy to solve, but that the problem formulation had to be clear enough to decide whether the issue had been solved. On this basis we could draw some more general conclusions on how to improve the types of collaboration at CBS.
I think that exactly this approach is the very essence of why this project receives positive feedback, and why we have been successful in engaging a relatively large group of staff with the support of local managers. It has to be noted that the managers were allowed to say no to participate in the project and that the hours spent on the project haven't been reimbursed. So it has been a criterion for participating that the local manager could be convinced that the outcome of this experiment would be of at least the same value or more than what the individual employee would have created for the unit.
A couple of examples of experiment headlines are:
· How data on applicants/admitted students can be retrieved, when they can be retrieved and how they are communicated
· Collaboration on a server environment for management information data
· A joint calendar for courses, events and interviews/meetings
· Collaboration on the use of Prophix between the full-time programmes and the budget unit
The learning in this is simple: the best way to get people to cooperate is to place them together and give them the space and the time to find the right solutions without being too restrictive. This is not new - these words probably appear from numerous PowerPoint slides. But it is new that we in fact had some of the units at CBS to collaborate on issues about which several participants said that they had been around forever. They had just never been addressed. So there has been created concrete value for CBS.
Where do we go from here?
This project is very much about employees taking initiative to find a solution together and then attempt to implement the solution in daily life. However, the challenge with this approach is that the Financial Support Unit cannot just come up with their own solution to how we enter expenses at CBS. And the IT-development at CBS cannot just be driven by the individual IT developer.
Over the past couple of years we have worked very hard and determinedly towards creating common standards and procedures at CBS. Usually, this makes efficient and compliant procedures that ensure uniform standards for a given product. And we need that to create a well-run university.
But I firmly believe that all these procedures, rules and concepts are a prerequisite for being able to make room for innovative inter-functional experiments. The musician always needs to learn about the basic elements of playing his instrument. It takes years of practice. And then it is possible to experiment with new ground-breaking types of music. This also goes for good administration.
So now we need to focus on translating the results of our experiments in the project into practice, so that the administration managers can work on how to dose procedures, rules and concepts in a way that makes room for a more experimental method of working - without urging everybody to invent their own local solution.
This will be something we will work on in the CBS administration in the future. The first initiative is a joint seminar on this topic before the summer vacation for all administrative directors and team leaders across the main areas.