Identifying capability gaps in business school professional services

At Cardiff University we have a framework called the Cardiff Professional. This framework details competences and behaviours for all professional services staff at Cardiff University, structured into the categories of staff, team leaders and senior managers, and is used as part of our annual appraisal (PDR) cycle, particularly for more senior professional services colleagues. It builds on an approach developed by the Association of University Administrators and a pilot which the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, within which Cardiff Business School sits and contributed to, ran previously.

Following discussion with the Dean and my PS leads, in 17/18, rather than try to use both this framework and the Chartered ABS Professional Development Matrix in parallel, which would have been one developmental tool too many, we looked at a different way of using the matrix as a lens for examining capability and capacity gaps in our services against what we might imagine an ‘ideal’ business school might look like; a service maturity model if you will.

This work had three complementary aspects. Firstly, and importantly, the professional services leads worked with their teams on a self-analysis. Teams also undertook research on other leading business schools, including a number of visits to other schools to look at noteworthy practice. The second  aspect was to hear the ‘voice of the customer’ via academic leads and our wider Management Board members. For the final aspect, I was asked to give an honest personal opinion, given my own experience and knowledge, of our maturity in each service area.

A concern the Dean and I had was to ensure that the exercise didn’t feel like a performance review of the teams and their members. We did not want this to be a negative exercise. We therefore paid special attention to communications to ensure that this message was clear. We wanted teams to be aspirational whilst also celebrating the areas they excelled in.

The approach adopted for each of the three aspects was to provide a blank matrix template and to ask participants, either individually or in teams, to colour code (red, amber, green) where they thought the service was in its developmental lifecycle, giving text examples to back up the ‘rating’. Importantly, ‘red’ did not mean badly performing, just, for example, that systems might need investing in, teams might need upskilling or new ways of working might need to be considered.  Also importantly, teams were able to flag where they thought any investment, including staff, might be best deployed to bridge any gap.

The responses from  professional services leads and their teams included the option to grey out cells they thought their teams did not play a part in. Considering the sum of all of the grey cells across the teams, and any resulting uncoloured cells, was quite illuminating – identifying areas of need which no team felt ownership of as well as confirming activity areas which Cardiff Business School was not participating in (and so where there was no unmet need).

The response from the ‘customer’ was unitary in the sense that they completed a single template each, not one per area / professional services team. Indeed a challenge, as always with busy academics, is to get any sort of response, and so meetings were offered to capture their input and we were generally happy with any sort of response, even if the template provided was not utilised.

Finally, I gave my own opinion and analysis as to our capacity and capabilities.

A non-judgemental summary, including proposals for enhancements, was then presented to Management Board and shared with the participants.

In many ways, this was an exercise in confirming what we already knew, believed or felt. The three aspects of self-analysis, ‘customer voice’, and (fortunately!) my own opinion were also largely in agreement. There were some misunderstandings between teams, and between teams and customers, as to services offered and we were able to quickly rectify these.

However, for the teams in particular this was a new and different way of looking at their provision and resources and was felt to be a very valuable tool for self-reflection.

I shan’t go into huge detail as to our strengths and weaknesses, we have an awful lot to be proud of but also some work to do. In particular, our engagement support services were under provisioned and very rudimentary, and this is being addressed through additional investment in this team as well as consolidating all the School’s engagement activities under one umbrella, and one academic lead, so that synergies can be realised and duplications and confusion minimised.

A second area for consideration that we identified was systems, data and information, across all of the School’s services and activities. Aside from fresh ammunition to petition the University with, Cardiff lacks almost any workflow assist systems with its ‘systems’ being almost entirely databases for storing the outcomes of activities. When our new Dean took over in 2018, one of her first tasks was to create the academic leadership post of Associate Dean for Data and Technology. This caused a few raised eyebrows in the University at first, but the value of the role (and role holder, an expert in data analysis and our very own Professor of Uncertain Reasoning!) very quickly became evident and welcomed, particularly amongst Professional Services colleagues in the School, College and the centre.

Our case presents different way of using the  Professional Developmental Matrix, certainly, but one which we believe has been very effective in helping us honestly identify our strengths and shortcomings, and which worked well within our existing structures for assessment. You may well like to consider it for your own faculty!

Andrew Glanfield is Director of Administration at Cardiff Business School, and a member of the Chartered ABS Professional Managers’ Committee. If you’d like to discuss this case with him you are welcome to get in touch.

For more case studies and innovative uses of the Professional Development Matrix, take a look at our archive of professional services articles.