Change Conversations with….John Hogg, Director of Continuous Improvement at the University of Strathclyde

Hamilton Forth introduces Change Conversations, featuring interviews with leaders in change and innovation.  Our first interviewee is John Hogg, Director of Continuous Improvement at the University of Strathclyde.


Q1      John, there is a significant amount of transformation underway across all industry sectors, primarily underpinned by technology change and digitisation which is greatly impacting customer experience, new ways of working, and organisational culture & behaviours. As the Director of Continuous Improvement at the University of Strathclyde, what role do you and your team play in managing and delivering the change agenda in the Higher Education sector?

A1      Our role if based fundamentally on the concept of improving performance through enhanced employee engagement. We try to show how applying relatively simple lean and continuous improvement tools, techniques, and behaviours can have a big impact. We also work with our colleagues to evidence the impact of change, which helps to build the momentum for continuous improvement.

Q2      One of the two key pillars of Lean Management is ‘respect for people’. How can organisations ensure they keep people engaged and motivated during periods of change, particularly when the pace of change continues to escalate, coupled with an element of uncertainty?

A2      Change is a constant in many sectors and Higher Education is no different. The key is to have clarity of purpose around change. Why do we need to change/improve? Once this is clear and communicated well, it becomes much easier for people to identify how they can make a difference and the impact that improvements can have for the organisation.

 Then, it is important for people, both individually and collectively, to feel empowered to identify opportunities for improvement, which are aligned to the objectives of the team and the wider organisation. The people that do the work are very often the ones that can best identify new ways of working, and they need to be encouraged to do so, in effect, to own the change.

Q3      What are the key considerations when embarking on change in the Higher Education sector and what approach do you adopt?

A3     Prioritisation is a key aspect of our approach. Why should one project be prioritised over another? To help with this, you need to consider ‘why is this particular change necessary or being requested’ and ‘how will it help the team, department and wider organisation’?

We also do a fair amount of work up front with potential project stakeholders on benefits identification i.e. what are the potential strategic, stakeholder (e.g. students, staff), observable/behavioural, and measurable benefits of undertaking a particular change or improvement project. Using this consistent approach allows us to compare projects and help identify those that are likely to have the biggest impact for the organisation at that particular time.

Q4      You have been named by the Lean Management Journal as one of the most inspirational individuals in Lean Management in 2015, have received various awards and accolades for your achievements in change in the Higher Education Sector and serve on a number of Lean and Efficiency groups and networks…what do you consider as one of your greatest breakthroughs/ achievements?

A4      The things that have given me most satisfaction are more team focused. Establishing and developing a new function and team within the University in 2013 and developing an approach to continuous improvement that is appropriate for the University of Strathclyde. The team take a great deal of pride in what they do and are always looking for ways in which they can improve what they do on a daily basis.  I also take a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that we have been recognised for the work that we do through, for example, team awards such a national Times Higher Education Leadership & Management Award in 2016.

The key to achieving such recognition is, I believe, down to the fact that we have worked very hard to develop a methodology and way of working that allows us to evidence the impact that our work has had and continues to have. However, this is only possible through working and collaborating with excellent colleagues across the University.

Q5      What do you consider to be the principal opportunities in the Higher Education sector that could have significant impact, moving ahead? Is there anything truly ‘disrupting’ the industry?

A5      I think the main disruptors in the HE sector will be the emergence of new providers, digital technology and the increasingly competitive global market; coupled with the evolving expectations of students. A further disruptor will be the impact of Brexit, which has caused a great deal of uncertainty in recent years.

In such an environment, it is even more important to have an organisational culture of continuous improvement, to maintain that competitive edge and reputation. Having such a culture also helps deal with challenges proactively and effectively and also to be able to identify and maximise opportunities that arise. This will help ensure that as an organisation we continue to provide an outstanding experience for our students and undertake internationally leading research, with global impact.

Q6      Can you please share some simple tips and hints for those driving or experiencing change?

A6      I am asked this question quite a lot. The key things for me are as follows:

  • ensure that ‘respect for people’ is at the heart of what you do and how you do it;
  • empower the people in the organisation to seek and implement improvements;
  • develop an approach that fits the culture of your organisation;
  • keep it simple; if it’s too complicated, it’s extremely difficult to implement and embed the approach organisation-wide;
  • find a way to evidence the impact of the improvement activities to help build momentum;
  • learn from the things that don’t go well, understand why and use this as a platform for improvement;
  • focus on the ‘critical few’ and do these really well; and
  • celebrate and value each other’s achievements.

Q 7     We are seeing a significant rise in demand for Lean Practitioners and Continuous Improvement specialists across multiple industry sectors. What do you think is contributing to the increase in requirement for these skills?

A7       I think it will be down to a few factors including the particular circumstances of an organisation at any given time. Having said that, I think it can also be attributed to organisations and CEOs identifying ways that will give them a competitive edge. Many organisations are attracted    by the success stories of world class organisations who have embedded a culture of Lean/Continuous Improvement with great results. There is also a drive to ensure that we are using our resources efficiently and effectively, in a way that delivers value from the perspective of our customers, whoever they may be.


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