higher ed,  OU

Too much bloody vision

There’s a scene in This Is Spinal Type where they visit Elvis’s grave and after some failed harmonising, Nigel says “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?”, to which David responds “Too much. There’s too much fucking perspective .”

It’s a line that often comes to mind, replacing “perspective” with whatever there seems to be a current abundance in. Recently this has been “vision”. It’s a strange one, because I think we all say we want a clear vision from any leader in an institution. Maybe it’s just me, but I currently feel Vision Fatigue quite strongly. We have an overall University set of priorities. Then we have research vision, teaching and learning plan, EDI priorities, Department plans, knowledge transfer goals, more local research theme, student support theme, business income targets, etc.

These are all good things. We want these things. But every single document you complete has to state how it will support the five (or whatever) themes of the [Insert topic] Vision. It is impossible, for me at least, to keep all of these in mind (and often they are assumed to be something you wake up every morning reciting so no need to remind you what they are). But also, it often feels completely fictional. We’re doing what we’re doing anyway and we find a way to match it to the existing vision. This is borne out when a new PVC or senior manager is appointed, creates a new vision, and we carry on doing the same activities, which now miraculously meet the demands of the new vision.

Maybe everyone has become too proficient at creating Vision Statements with priorities and targets. We said we wanted them, and now we have them in abundance. But for a while I’d appreciate a “we trust you, get on with it” vision.

I’m not sure what the solution is, as I’m guessing “I plan to have no vision” is not a winner at the job interview stage. But I think some acknowledgement that your vision is not the only one academics will be engaging with would be useful. Academics typically operate across many different roles – research, teaching, admin, scholarship, technical, public engagement, policy, etc. Vision switching is not a cost-free activity for an institution. I, like many of my colleagues, spend a lot of time relearning each vision whenever we have to engage with it and then often completing largely meaningless forms about how our current activity satisfies this.

Anyway, maybe it’s just January grumpiness. By the way, do you think I’ve used the word ‘vision’ enough in this post?


    • mweller

      That’d be my pitch “seems alright, carry on everyone, I’m here if you need me”. There’s probably a reason why I’m not a PVC…

  • David Longman

    The first thing I learned about classroom management (primary) when I started as a teacher was that when taking over a classroom from a previous teacher (it’s never a new classroom!) don’t rush into rearranging the layout. If it worked before it’ll probably do for now and the kids won’t be discombobulated. Take a few weeks to see what needs changing (if anything) and then get the kids to own it …

  • James Clay

    It’s all about the breakfast really (as well as the coffee). I wrote about this a few months back on my blog. Organisations are very good at setting out a strategic vision, but often fail to then operationalise that vision into action. As usually what happens is that, as you describe, teams map their activity to the vision. We do what we always do and what we’ve always done.

  • Scott Connor

    Too many visionaries, too much vision and too many visions with a serious lack of implementation. Vision is prized, nobody seems to prize operations…so basically, we’re all talk and no action…

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