For Higher Education (HE) staff to give students an incredible experience at university, they need to be supported and empowered to do the best job they can. For Steve Igoe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Edge Hill University, this means showing all staff the purpose behind what they are doing as well as ensuring that he listens to their needs and seeks to meet them. Steve sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview to discuss his journey into HE and his unique approach to inclusivity initiatives.
I have been here for 28 years after I studied law and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1988. I spent 10 years in the private sector after that and joined Edge Hill in 1996, so I’ve seen it grow into the successful university that it is. The university itself is very focused on teaching, learning, and student experience and we are increasingly becoming STEM focussed too.
The pandemic was, of course, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen. I’ve managed the university through a lot, but this was very different. I am very fortunate to have been here through so many phases and joined when it was very small. Over the years we have developed a culture of inclusivity and growth. We’re growing a lot in terms of technology too.
Universities are about experience, they aren’t just about merit on the basis of learning. It’s about the staff that are committed to the institution and the student experience. Like many universities, we experienced the hybrid working challenge and decided early on that hybrid would not work for everyone here. The thing about Edge Hill is that our staff want to be here. They could probably earn more money elsewhere and have a hybrid work offer, but they opt not to because of the culture and environment we have cultivated.
I’d love to tell you that there’s a single strategy or plan that can transform culture, but for me, it's a culmination of tone and how we lead. We don’t believe in quick-fire strategies that leave staff confused and disconnected, we very much aim to keep it simple. We are trying to create a great environment that our staff enjoy, create a great student experience, and retain both staff and students. We continue to invest in people, products, and infrastructure that supports those goals.
The critical aspect is that we know everyone — you can walk around the campus and have conversations with one another. Everyone knows one another, and that has a huge impact on culture.
I tend to stay away from initiatives that are too structured because they can be alienating for staff. Instead, I prefer activities that empower people and have them cascade down. I am always looking for ways to help people to grow and develop, even if it means putting people out of their comfort zone — although I always do this in a sheltered and protected way.
It’s also about making it okay to fail. No one wants to come into work to do a bad job, but what often get in people's way are structures and processes, which I come in and disassemble. When you remove that, you get down to the important message, which helps staff prioritise.
It’s about having objectives that we can justify and will deliver a specific outcome. I might not be able to prove that an objective will have a specific outcome, but I can prove that I have a healthy organisation. I can look at feedback and retention and see the impact of what we’re doing.
We’ve been working hard on leadership and soft skills. This is about how we manage, lead, empower people, give feedback, and look at ways of improving the culture of the institution without necessarily having hard targets to hit. When institutions do this, they set themselves up to fail.
Recruit well; be open honest, and transparent. Seek to provide space for people to grow and develop. Value everyone’s contribution no matter what their job is. Support people and be completely honest because that benefits everyone.
Enjoy your job, you spend too much time at work not to. I love what I do, and I know my sense of value is here. My job is to make the university stronger and to empower those working around me.