Heaven Sent/Hell Bent – new managers, existing staff and the issues in higher education | Education- jobs.ac.uk career blog

Heaven Sent/Hell Bent – new managers, existing staff and the issues in higher education

This third and final blog post in my trilogy of posts, the first being Institutional Signature Pedagogy — Like Avocado on Toast? and the second, Things to consider before you go on the distance learning road. The title is inspired from the Doctor Who episode of the same title, ‘Heaven Sent’ and ‘Hell Bent’.

Under New Management

In higher education, as with any other sector, change of management happens from time to time. Depending on the level of this management change, it can unsettle people, asking questions such as “Who are you?” “What are your plans?” “How will you manage?” and “What will it all mean for me?”. In this Harvard Business Review article, Harvard Business School Professor John J. Gabarro conducted a research project to examine what happens when general managers take on big new jobs.

The results are fascinating for several reasons. Firstly, there’s a difference in the behaviour of the outsider to the insider coming to management. Secondly, there is an element of build and fix to the implementation of new processes and procedures, which both the new manager and the existing staff should be aware of. Finally,  most importantly and unsurprisingly, it was the relationship the manager had after the first year with their direct subordinates that impacted how successful they were. At the heart of this, the article says, is the ability of the new manager to “develop a set of shared expectations with their key subordinates or their bosses” and this was how they communicated to build trust. The author notes this important difference in an ‘executive’ and a ‘manager’ “..namely, a good executive sets goals clearly and delegates responsibility to subordinates without interfering, while a good manager gets involved in details and is action-oriented and decisive.”

Relevance to Higher Education

As mentioned in the previous blog post, Harvard Business Professor John Kotter’s Change Model (Kotter, 1996) is a common vision/strategy creation framework.

Kotter defines his 8 step process as follows:

  • Establish a sense of urgency. …
  • Form a powerful coalition. …
  • Create a Vision. …
  • Communicating the Vision. …
  • Empowering others to act on the vision. …
  • Planning for and creating short-term wins. …
  • Consolidating improvements and producing still more change. …
  • Institutionalising new approaches.

As we have seen, in the Harvard Business Review article above, it is crucial to the new manager and the existing staff for both parties to create this shared vision and strategy. This is more than a document developed in the deputy vice-chancellor’s office with senior management but should be something that embodies how the organisation operates on a daily basis, including management, leading by example.

It’s about the people

You may be wondering why this matters in Higher Education? The answer to this question is simple. Higher Education (as is all of Education) is about people, their education, their development and their careers, we don’t deal with products on a factory belt. We need to stop seeing the development of people as products with key performance indicators and quality assurances. We need to see the sector as ‘brain gym’ or how a restaurant gets a Michelin star. Do you pay your gym membership and magically get fit? No, you don’t. So why do students think just because they pay £9,000 they can get a degree? How is the chef judged on their quality? As we have seen through both Professor Kotter and Professor Gabarro, relationships and communication are the most important things. It is in this current climate that a new manager in higher education arrives.

So whether you see a new manager as heaven sent or hell bent on change, it’s worth considering how each side feels and in the context of higher education, the decisions we make as administrators and senior managers impact the lives of hundreds of staff and thousands of students. This makes it both an exciting nexus of change as institutions look at what type of pedagogy they want and whether or not they want to go down the distance learning road, but at the heart is people, their relationships and communication. If we put these as signposts in our journey, hopefully, we won’t go far wrong.


Gabarro, J. (2007). When a New Manager Takes Charge. Available: https://hbr.org/2007/01/when-a-new-manager-takes-charge. Last accessed 27th February 2017.

Goodlad, S (1995). The Quest for Quality. Sixteen Forms of Heresy in Higher Education. London: Open University Press. 1-137.

Kotter (n.d) 8 steps for leading change Available online: https://www.kotterinternational.com/8-steps-process-for-leading-change/ Accessed 27st February 2017


About Santanu Vasant

I am currently an Educational Technologist in the Learning Enhancement and Development Centre at City University London. I have previously worked at Brunel University and Imperial College London in similar roles and in a number of schools as an ICT Teacher over the past ten years. I am also a School Governor at Northwood School in North West London. I have a Masters (MA) in ICT in Education from the Institute of Education, University of London. The area of Learning Technology is a varied job in most Universities and continually evolving. My day to day job looks at how Learning Technologies, in particular in class technologies are used in the physical space and how these spaces are designed to aid learning and teaching. I also support the School of Health Science in pedagogically embedding Learning Technologies into their courses.

One Response to Heaven Sent/Hell Bent – new managers, existing staff and the issues in higher education

  1. Steffi says:

    So we have to ask every manager to take place in the field! This is great!

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