Skip to main content

Turning the spotlight on strategy, change and digital in higher education

10 Nov 2020 | Doug Parkin New Advance HE online series for senior strategic leaders with Doug Parkin

We are delighted to launch a new, highly focused and responsive online series turning the spotlight on a range of key development challenges for senior strategic leaders in HE during this ever changing, ever evolving world.

Created and facilitated by Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management at Advance HE, the Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders focuses on three core, very topical and relevant challenge areas: strategy, complex change and digital.

In this blog, Doug explains how he will turn the spotlight on each theme in the series:

A Spotlight on Strategy: Mastering the Pivot and Being Strategic

We haven’t just pivoted; the pivot keeps on turning! This exclamation of words brings with it a lot of truth. The progressive uncertainties brought about by Covid-19 mean that far from a single strategic realignment, institutions are having to change, change and change again.

Strategy right now is a difficult game. It was becoming trickier anyway with strategic planning horizons drawing closer and closer as cycles of innovation and change accelerated (particularly technological). But now, in the pandemic landscape of 2020/21, we are experiencing an inversion of strategy, that challenge of trying to shape the future, as the short-term suddenly feels much more uncertain than the longer view.

Rather than strategic planning, the art of being strategic is what matters now: acting with agility, dealing with fragility, and discovering new ability. And linked to a clear and unwavering sense of purpose, steadfastly doing the right things for the right reasons. Moving forward, rapid and creative scenario planning, working collectively and inclusively with a wide range of colleagues and stakeholders, is going to be one of the key skills for successful strategic leaders.


A Spotlight on Change: The Truth About Change - the paradox of uncertainty and confidence

The truth about change isn’t a secret, but it can sometimes be very hard to see amidst the solid pillars of tradition and the well-rehearsed narratives of the status quo. If only something would come along to really shake us out of this complacency and inertia…Well, as one recent workshop participant put it, “there’s nothing like a pandemic for focusing the mind on enhancement”.

These difficult, dangerous and tragic times really mean that resisting change is no longer an option (if ever it was). Fascinatingly, however, everything we know about change, from organisational behaviour through to psychology and neuroscience, is right there in front of us. And as regards complex adaptive change, the paradox of moving through uncertainty with confidence remains the key challenge of strategic leadership.


A Spotlight on Digital: Leading in a Digital World

Going beyond the strategic use of digital assets to achieve institutional goals, and issues of fluency and literacy, digital is now manifested in nearly every aspect of leadership engagement. Our leadership identity has a strong digital dimension, how we communicate and build trust operates across digital platforms, and the behaviours we model for others is captured and expressed through digital technologies. Our digital awareness has to grow to match this changing world.

Institutional strategies and the delivery of research and teaching are underpinned by digital, never more so than during the Covid-19 emergency. This workshop will engage leaders in understanding the ramifications for leading in this increasingly digital world, reflecting on some of the lessons learned during 2020, and looking forward through a digital lens at what might be possible and what might be needed in HE over the next five years.


With a focus mainly on leadership, Doug Parkin is responsible for a range of Advance HE's national open programmes as well as undertaking bespoke consultancy assignments for universities both in the UK and around the world. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, leading change, and leading with emotional intelligence. An accomplished teacher, facilitator, coach, author and conference speaker, Doug has achievements across a wide range of leadership, educational and organisational development projects. He was also recently the project lead for the large-scale Creating Socially Distanced Campuses and Education initiative.


The Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders starts in January 2021. Find out more and book now 


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter