What you need to know about temperature targets

This week marked the release of the long-awaited Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the chances of the world limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The report has been covered by many prominent scholars already (you can read here Professor Mark Howden’s and Rebecca Colvin’s excellent piece) so I won’t cover here the whole report but focus on key issues.

In all my years in researching climate change, temperature targets and associated emission pathways (trends in releasing emissions) are some of the hottest debated and misunderstood topics.

There are different viewpoints on what these really mean, how they can be managed, and how to do this effectively.

 

What temperature goals are really about

In 2009, I attended the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference that focused on the science behind climate change.

Even then, the question of temperature targets was on the agenda in the main plenary in a panel that consisted of both long-term high-level climate change scientists and politicians who would be attending the Copenhagen UNFCCC negotiations.

I still vividly remember one politician’s question to the scientists about temperature targets: whether it is ok for him to negotiate for 2 degrees, or whether, if pressed, he could settle for 4 degrees or 6 degrees.

The scientists in the panel did well in explaining that it doesn’t really work that way.

We can’t just negotiate up or down on global temperature, this isn’t like the stock market where you change your preferences when you feel like it.

Once the feedback loops are in, there is little we can do if we face a 4-degree or even 6 degree world.

I still remember the awe of the scientists that someone in such a prominent role would even ask such a question.

But I think this also reflects the ideas at the time of what the negotiations were about and how far the evidence was pointing towards in terms of what happens with what scale and level of temperature rise.

I think this also reflects the disparity between the science and the policy process that underpins the climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Somehow people still think it’s just about exchanging numbers for targets when it suits them, while making sure their economies are not taking more hits than other countries.

 

How to manage rise in temperature

The bottom line is that we have known now for years that any rise in global temperature is associated with adverse impacts.

The question now is how much, how soon, and where.

There have been no clear cut answers to these questions but the IPCC 1.5 report has harnessed that evidence base, including potential timings, the extent of the impacts, and what needs to be done to stay within 1.5 temperature rise limit.

The report is full of statistics and figures, which can be hard to understand.

But the key messages are that there are still a range of strategies that we can do, in order to at least minimize the risk of ending up in a world where we face more adversity than we can handle.

Yet, we cannot keep going business-as-usual if we aim to keep global warming within the lower limits.

The report is very strong on the need for transformational change where we really re-think our economics, ways of living, and do this fast.

There are already challenges for climate change adaptation (how we deal with and adapt to impacts of climate change) in our current state, and these challenges will be certainly magnified in the future as well.

For example, in chapter 5 (pp. 13-16) there is already a recognition of limits to climate change adaptation (how far we can adapt to particular conditions) and also that of loss and damage.

Coincidently, the first book on Loss and Damage (“Loss and Damage from Climate Change: Concepts, Methods and Policy Options” has also just been released that examines the extent that we have already experienced losses and damages from human-induced climate change, and what could be in store.

The message is thus clear: the science is more solid than ever that we can still act but it needs more political will and support also from the public to continue choosing more sustainable options and at a broader scale than before.

 

Space and opportunity for innovation? 

In many ways the IPCC 1.5 report has been portrayed as doom and gloom, that the world is heading to its demise and that we are on a roller coaster that is extremely hard to stop.

Yet, the report is also hopeful that there is space for change even if we are already faced by a range of constraints, limits to adaptation, and eventually loss and damage.

The key aspect here would be to acknowledge the many ways constraints could actually proper us towards more innovation.

This we can already see in many sustainability innovations where people and companies acknowledge the limits and constraints (e.g. overuse of particular resources, polluting production processes), and use those constraints actually to change their operational procedures.

I’ve covered the power of constraints in a previous blog, but I think many of those lessons are still very valid.

I believe that much of the current discussion about what we should do about keeping within a particular temperature target comes down to 3 mindsets:

ConstraintsMindset

It is obviously the Transformer mindset that reports such as the IPCC 1.5 call for, to scale ambition because of the current constraints and limits we face, to innovate not despite of but because of where we are and where we want to head to.

We should not allow ourselves to see the world through the mindset of a victim: this will lower our ambitions and what we think is possible.

This makes sense ams on a very personal level for me as I do feel like I often still slip into the victim mindset when I am faced with constraints.

Yet, I am hopeful that the IPCC 1.5 report can function as a wake up call for the global community to see the findings as a real opportunity in transforming those particular processes and systems that are at the heart of the issue.

 

 

 

 

Core guiding principles you cannot afford to miss if your goal is ultimate success

My current book is Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. I am consistently impressed by their data driven and empirically sound findings on why particular companies succeed, excel and why some simply perish.

The book is based on rigorous research of 10X companies and their counterparts.

10X companies are companies that have excelled over time, not necessarily consistently but they have maintained a large market share and leadership when compared to other companies.

This of course is what keeps every CEO wake up at night: what are we doing right, and how can we keep ahead of the game in a way that enables long-term success.

Some of Collins’ and Hansen’s findings (and their large research team behind all the data crunching) are actually quite surprising and not what you’d think.

3 core 10Xer behaviours for success

All of the 10Xer companies that have had massive success and keep leading in their category display 3 key behaviours consistently:

  1. Fanatic Discipline.

Fanatic discipline is about consistency: keeping consistency in goals, values, strategies, and being pretty much just fanatic about it.

Collins and Hansen coined the term “20 Mile March” as a perfect example of this: the 10Xer companies over time have just kept on progressing, not necessarily by big leaps but by being consistent in their product development, consistent in how company values keep guiding their strategies.

In today’s market place, there is a big push about being all the time “ahead” of the game and being able to quickly act on opportunities.

Yet, the most successful companies keep consistency at their core. They could do large acquisitions, change products quickly, branch suddenly to new markets.

But most of them are fanatic about consistency.

Collins and Hansen use examples from polar expeditions and company progress where the most successful ones only go 20 miles each day.

They could go much faster when the conditions are good and stop or slow down when external conditions are not favourable.

But they don’t go faster or slower.

Companies like Apple, Genetech, and Southwest Airlines go the same number of miles each day, they focus on consistent progress regardless of external conditions.

Having consistency helps you and your team to stay on track, you know the milestones which you are supposed to hit, and you also gain confidence when you do so.

 

  1. Empirical Creativity.

One of the main assumptions about successful companies is their capacity to innovate.

While this may be so, Collins and Hansen stumbled upon a finding they did not expect at all: the 10Xer companies were actually less innovative then their counterparts, yet they killed at the market place.

Successful companies like Intel, Apple (after Jobs took over), and Southwest Airlines, adhered to a simple yet a paradoxical strategy: they innovated but only to a threshold where they could remain successful.

As Collins and Hansen (2011, p. 77) note: “it is not discipline alone that makes greatness, but the combinationof discipline and creativity”.

These companies all exhibited a strategy Collins and Hansen call “fire bullets, then cannonballs”.

This is the essence of empirical creativity where you start testing new ideas and potential products by firing one bullet at a time and then empirically understanding whether that bullet is hitting its target or not.

This is not about going all in but rather an empirical learning journey about what works and what does not.

Once a company has a good understanding where these bullets are going, how they can hit their target, it is only then that they fire a cannonball.

3 key principles define a bullet: it is low cost, it is also low risk, and it is a low distraction.

Firing bullets does not take over the company’s everyday processes and progress but forms a part of testing ground as to what directions the company could take in the future.

The comparison companies were the opposite where they made drastic decisions to for example acquire other companies, leading to significant debt, and then not being able to reverse the decision when it turned out not to be a favourable one.

 

  1. Productive Paranoia.

Another myth about successful companies is that the best companies take large and grave risks.

Yet, the 10Xers in this study took actually less risksand succeeded.

Productive paranoia rests on asking “what if” questions and thinking about different scenarios, and then making practical decisions to prepare for the unforeseen events and circumstances.

Essentially this means excellence in 3 key areas:

  1. Build cash reserves and buffers: make sure that you have enough room to always move.

If you are hiking up the Everest, make sure you have enough oxygen canisters for several attempts to mount the summit, not just for one attempt.

The 10Xer companies Collins and Hansen studied, “carried 3 to 10 times the ratio of cash to assets relative to the median of what most companies carry” (2011, p. 121).

In essence, always make sure you have enough resources to get you through unexpected conditions.

  1. Bound your riskunderstand where your risk is coming from, and the kind of risk it is. In essence 3 categories of risk need to be understood:

Death Line risk(risk that severely damage or kill the company), Asymmetric risk (where outcomes are more negative than potential positive ones), and Uncontrollable risk (risks that are outside of the company’s control and simply cannot be managed).

The 10Xers actually took less of these risks than other companies.

An additional category of risk was also the time bound nature of these risks.

The companies constantly asked “how much time before our risk profile changes?”.

During times when their risk profile was changing slowly, they waited to see how the changes would unfold. When risk profiles were changing fast, they acted quickly.

This key question became more important than understanding whether to react fast or slow, but rather in understanding the time bound nature of those risks.

This aided more robust decision-making on how to react and which strategies to pursue.

  1. Zoom out, then zoom in.

What these companies then did was that they used a strategy of zoom out-zoom in: they looked at the big picture, the larger trends and risks, (what is changing, how fast are particular trends and threats approaching) and then they zoomed in to their own strategies and practices, and focused on executing their objectives.

But they did not change their operations just because of a looming threat:

“Rapid change does not call for abandoning disciplined thought and disciplined action. Rather, it calls for upping the intensity to zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution”. (2011, p. 122).

Zooming out means understanding the risk profiles and making informed decisions as to what that means for the company.

 

But you also have to have SMaC

So here we have the three key components in hugely successful companies. But it doesn’t end here.

Collins and Hansen also found that most companies actually used SMaC as their key strategy in combining all of these behaviours.

SMaC stands for Smart, Methodical and Consistent.

This means adhering to your key principles and is “a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula” (2011, p. 147).

Each of the 10Xers had created a set of principles which they adhered to through the test of time, and kept as their main operational and strategic formula.

The question Collins and Hansen pose then for their readers is what is your SMaC?

Which operational or strategic choices and practices have you made or feel you should make to make your company or career a success?

For me, as a scientist, this has also direct connections to disciplinary development and the need for the consolidation of the field as I’ve written about before (here).

In order for a scientific field to grow and become robust, we need to find our SMaC, and also use the strategies above to really understand which of our methods, practices and strategies are relevant and robust guides to enable more successful climate change adaptation.

Luckily there’s much happening in this space and it keeps me hopeful that the field will continue some level of deeper soul searching as to how we could amend some of these principles to scientific development as well.

 

 

Why leadership development is about consistency extraordinaire  

This week marks the end of my participation in the Coaching for Leaders Academy 2017-2018 cohort.

I was accepted to the Academy last October for 12-month training program and I just cannot believe that those 12 months have already passed.

It has been 12-months of waking up 4.30 a.m. every second Wednesday to make sure I am bright and ready to contribute with my leadership group, The Mavericks.

They’ve mostly seen me with a cup of coffee but still.

True, the time difference did not favour my participation, but I’ve only missed a handful of sessions and mostly because I have been sometimes travelling for work.

Many friends have asked me what I find the most useful about the Academy.

One even demanded to know “exact practical examples” of what I have done with the training from the Academy.

I thought I’d share some reflections this week why I decided to participate in the Academy, and what I have gained through participation, and also reflect a bit more broadly on key leadership principles that I have gained and wish to maintain in my life.

 

My journey that led me to the Academy

I came across the Academy at a time when I really needed support in both my professional and personal lives.

I had just left my husband at a time, was embracing single motherhood, and kept thinking that there must be some very practical ways I could start developing my leadership skills both at work and at home.

Dave Stachowiak hosts one of the best and widely listened leadership podcasts, Coaching for Leaders, that really aims to equip people with sound leadership principles, and encourage people to reflect on their leadership skills and abilities.

When I heard on the podcast that Dave was going to open up applications for the Academy, I jumped at the chance.

The Academy is essentially a 12-month training program around personal leadership that is grounded in biweekly teleconferences with Dave and a leadership group.

The beauty of this program is that you can be wherever in the world and still participate as the Academy uses zoom platforms for all of the meetings.

For someone like me who is a single mother and has limited capacity to travel, this form of Academy training is ideal as I don’t have to be away from work, I don’t need to travel or worry about paying for babysitting.

Each session we reported on our leadership commitments, tracked our progress, and discussed key mechanisms in how to take the next steps in our leadership journeys.

 

Consistency is everything

The Academy has made me consistent in ways that I never imagined was possible.

It has instilled me “a fanatic consistency” in attending the sessions, following through on my commitments, and showing up even when I have not felt I am in the mood to contribute.

Such consistency is essential for leadership and this is what true discipline is, as noted by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book “Great by Choice”:

 “Discipline, in essence, is consistency of action- consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time… True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to confirm in ways incompatible with values, performance standards, and long-term aspirations” (p. 21).

True leadership is then exactly that, following up consistently, keeping the big picture goals and visions in mind, and making sure that our actions are aligned with what we are fanatic about.

For someone like me who has immersed herself in leadership and management theories and principles as of late, such statements seem now common sense.

Yet, this is not always the case.

For example, I recently attended a media workshop where the presenter pretty much told us in the first 5 minutes that social media is not about consistency, academics are busy people and should not care about developing a consistent media strategy for themselves.

I had hard time staying quiet, but I did, mostly because I did not want to embarrass the presenter.

But anyone who is one bit familiar with branding, leadership and management literature would say that consistency and discipline are the first and the core principle.

And social media in particular is about creating your brand and being consistent with it.

This is what Academy has really instilled in me, that I can be and become consistent in what I do, but that I don’t have to worry about doing it alone.

The Mavericks and Dave have truly kept me to my word, and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to get to know these amazing people all around the world.

 

Practical examples and change

There are several other things that spring to mind when I think how I have changed in the last 12 months.

I finally had the courage to establish my own website and I have followed through my commitment to write and publish a blog each week.

This has not been easy by any means as I often have struggled finding the time to write (like now am writing on a Sunday afternoon that is not an ideal time to publish).

I have learned about different ways of handling conflict at work, about the differences between managers and leaders, how to start building my own leadership ideas and principles and what not.

But it is not just about practical examples of what I have done.

It is the way that I have grown as an individual, the way that I have been able to share my journey with the other leaders, and how over these last 12 months I have gained profound insights into who I am and who I want to be.

That is priceless.

And it has been life changing.

The academy has really given me the skills (and btw no, Dave is not paying me to write this) to understand leadership better and in a far deeper level than before, to keep moving on my goals and targets, and not forgetting that life is really about work and family, intertwined.

I am therefore saddened to leave the Academy but I don’t have the financial support from my institution to continue this time around.

And buying a house does put other demands on my own finances.

But change is good, and I suppose the ultimate test of leadership training is how I use those insights and lessons learned from such opportunities in my everyday life.

I wish and hope I can keep up my consistency even without our biweekly calls with The Mavericks, and keep the friendships going, which I have formed over the past 12-months.

I do want to say a heartfelt thank you to Dave for opening up the Academy for emerging leaders like myself.

As I’ve learned over the past year, one of the key principles is to keep moving.

For me, I will continue walking my leadership talk, and hopefully I’ll be back for a second round soon.

ps. Imagine if we could say similar things about learning how to adapt to climate change… someday we hopefully will.

Building blocks in drafting a winning strategy

 I have been moving to a new house and this process has opened up a Pandora’s box of customer experiences with very different kinds of companies.

This has come down to choosing electricity providers, trying to get the roof fixed, internet connected, you name it.

The beauty of moving houses is that it really provides a goldmine for anyone interested in researching how companies treat customers and how they have built strategy as part of their business model.

In this post, I’ll draw on my interactions with several service providers in discussing how a company can succeed or fail in overall strategy and its implementation.

But don’t worry, this won’t be just a mere rant from a frustrated customer.

I’ll also draw on the latest book that I am reading: “Playing to Win: How strategy really works” published by Harvard Review Press.

The book is written by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, both who have immense experience from Procter & Gamble in the area of strategy in particular.

Procter & Gamble owns a variety of key brands that most of us use every day (Head and Shoulders, Tide) and they have had to make hard and strategic decisions in how to grow the company and interact in the marketplace.

 

Playing to win  

Anyone who has ever contemplated on how to develop and then built strategies knows that although it is not an easy task, it can be done.

Yet, many people profoundly misunderstand what strategy is.

Vision, for example, is not strategy but a crucial but only a part of strategy.

The main message from this book is that strategy does just not “happen”.

Crafting a winning strategy is about 5 very specific and interconnected factors:

  1. Determining the winning aspiration.
  2. Choosing where to play.
  3. How to win in that playing field.
  4. Identifying the capabilities that you need to win.
  5. Developing the management systems that support these choices.

Sounds easy, and yet so many companies make wrong choices either in the top management or at the operational scale e.g. how the staff translates these to everyday practice.

At Procter & Gamble, their whole business model is driven by 3 distinct themes that form basis of their strategy (p. 141-142): 

Make the consumer the boss.

The aim of the company is to literally “improve the lives of customers” (p. 142), and this means that if the service/product that the company is offering is not contributing positively, then there needs to be a change.

This means also that the customer is the focus of all activities from “innovation, branding, go-to-market strategies, investment choices”.

Win the consumer value equation.

The company seeks to make sure that their products deliver “unique value” while maintaining their profit margins yet being affordable to customers.

This means investing significantly in innovation, improving their products and all the activities across the company so that they can keep winning in the market place.

Win the two most important moments of truth.  

The two important moments of truth are “when the customer encounters the product in the store for the first time and when he or she first uses it at home” (p. 143).

Both of these moments are interconnected and need to live up to the brand promise: did the stains get removed? Did the customer get the service he or she expected based on what was advertised?

In here, feedback loops and learning across the organisation are essential so that products can be improved, trends can be understood in advance, and changing social and economic contexts taken into consideration.

 

Belong

I have unsuccessfully tried to get wireless Internet to my house. I say unsuccessful since after almost 2 weeks activating my account, I have nothing.

I have so far spoken with 9 different people who each of them have said how my matter is very important, that they will escalate the matter and that someone will be in touch with me.

Each time I call the company, I get a new person on the line who is frankly not very interested except stating the common line of “I will escalate this order and we get this sorted”.

Nr 9 was the most helpful and seems to actually looked into what the problem was with the order.

The company calls customers and if you miss a call from them, they won’t send an email.

But for most professional people email is much easier to handle as sometimes, like many times I am, in a meeting and cannot just pick up the phone.

After speaking with that many people (and more to come for sure), I can’t help but wonder why the customer service trend is nowhere close to where they could be if they would live up to their brand of “making everything easy”.

This is the most I have had to struggle with an internet provider.

 

Qantas

Although this is not move related, I thought this example is quite interesting in terms of customer service.

I left my notebook in the plane recently (with 8 years of notes in it). I reported the book and initially got a call that it had been found.

The Qantas lost property office in Brisbane International however only takes voicemail messages and when I had to check more details about how to get the book, I could not get a hold of anyone.

I wrote emails to Qantas, I chatted on the web about the matter, just to get the response that of course my notebook would be there and the customer service is looking after it.

I left 5 voicemail messages to this office, the last one noting that I would come the following week to get the book in person as I had managed to organise so that I could take the train (nearly 2 hours one way) to the terminal and fetch the book myself.

I showed up on the day and was told that the notebook had been thrown in the trash over the weekend.

Apparently “there is some really great staff working at this office” and then there is also staff who just don’t do the right thing.

What was interesting to me was that I already had left 5 messages in that voice mail with requests of someone calling me back with my contact full details every time.

So apparently the great staff must not have listened to these but the other staff.

They did in the end pay for my taxi back to the city.

Yet, there is no compensation possible for that notebook and the 8 years of notes (note to self: check the floor space as well for items when leaving the plane and take all notes electronically).

 

RACQ

I had to change my insurance details and I called the company to update my details with the move.

The lady on the phone was so helpful, arranged everything quickly, and also gave me additional information about my insurance that I didn’t even realise to ask.

Walking away from such an interaction makes me at least feel that I am putting my money into the right company and that this is as much about my well-being as it is buying a service.

This is not the first positive interaction with this company but rather a customer service trend that I experience every time I interact with this company.

Every staff member I have spoken with over time is extremely helpful, checks out all information and often goes beyond that.

The staff is always professional, quick to help, wants to know more about my situation so they can give the best advice they can.

They always go beyond the standard response and to me, that is just a perfect example of how the company is winning.

 

Why feelings matter when it comes to strategy

The bottom line is that the way your company or service makes customers feel is what matters.

If you are looking for high returns but pay no attention to actual customer experience, the chances are that you will not retain loyal customers.

As Lafley and Martin note, gaining “brand loyalty” is the best win any company or service provider can have.

Brand loyalists will praise the company by word-of-mouth and are in fact a crucial aspect of building the brand on the ground.

Failing to understand and really focus on the customers’ needs and experiences will result in reduced growth via both word-of-mouth and public shaming of companies by angry customers.

So why do we still have systemic issues with customer service in companies that publicly claim to be all about improving the customer experience and having the customer at the heart of their strategy?

In the end, it is all about strategy and the 5 critical factors that either make or break you in the marketplace.

Companies that do put the customer first understand how each staff member at all organisational levels needs to understand what the core strategy of the company is about.

Customer service systems then should also reflect this.

 

Rise of adaptation services

To make this long post even longer… So why is this a timely reflection also for us who work in the field of climate adaptation?

Increasingly there is an acknowledgement that in order to adapt successfully to climate change, we need more knowledge and services that can help us to use that knowledge.

Whoever and whatever companies and organisations work in this space, we have a lot to learn from businesses like Procter & Gamble in how to deliver services and products.

But keeping the customer at the forefront seems to be the key.

I’ll keep my thinking hat on on this one how we can do this better and how the science – policy linkage can enable more useful adaptation services.

 

3 mistakes most people do in career transitions

Those of you following me in Twitter or LinkedIn already know that only last week I began a new job at my university, transitioning from research role to a role of lecturer in environmental policy where my job will consist of teaching, research and service.

Given many people have flagged to me how teaching often takes the biggest part of your time, especially the administrative tasks associated with answering to students’ emails, marking, actually teaching, and all of that, I have tried to also find out how I can perform in my new role the best I can.

Universities have naturally performance reviews and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that the university as a whole needs to tick but individuals as well.

I’ve spoken already with a range of people who have offered very interesting insights into how to navigate competing demands on my time.

3 helpful steps 

There are in particular 3 steps that I’m told people often fail to take when they transition to a new career. This is not university specific necessarily but I would think can apply across many career transitions.

Keep the right balance across the work profile 

 Many people who change roles often focus on those skill areas in the new role where they don’t feel confident.

This often leads to overemphasis of those areas where the person wants to be seen as excelling with the cost to other components of the job description.

This, although understandable, is not wise since most roles consist of a number of activities that all need to get done.

What this means for those transitioning from research roles is that often those with less teaching experience have a burning need to demonstrate that they can teach.

They start spending more and more of their time in improving their teaching, with the outcome that their own research and also service components of their job suffer.

When it comes to performance reviews however, each individual is rated in how well they have performed across all their tasks and not just how great they were in for example teaching.

Overly focusing on teaching then and not driving research outcomes will backfire as the review still requires even teaching staff to demonstrate new research outcomes such as scientific publications. 

 

Learn and contribute to the organisational big picture

People are very focused on their own careers.

We are told to go after our dreams, find jobs that empower us, and do things that we truly enjoy.

While this is obviously a great mindset to have, only focusing on our own career especially if we work in a large organisation can mean that we fail to link our own activities to the big picture stuff.

Each institution, universities included, has strategic goals and aspirations that they expect staff to be part of and to deliver.

It is the big picture stuff that makes the organisation what it is.

If you don’t make a strategic link in how your own work fits to the broader organisational framework or vision, you risk failing to demonstrate how your work is in fact advancing some of the big picture ideas and goals.

So when starting a new job, pay attention to company vision, strategic aims and goals, new emerging areas of interest, and find ways to contribute to those through your work.

In some cases this happens naturally but especially for academics, we need to keep in mind what the university’s big picture organisational vision is.

Linking our work at least to some extent to these will also enable us in career progression within the institution that we work in if we are seen to understand and support such aspirations.

 

Pay attention to leadership opportunities

The trick with developing leadership is not waiting until you have the title of a Professor or CEO but actually recognising which skills are needed in those roles and which areas you need to improve in order to land such a role in the future.

Even if you are not quite there yet career wise, any job is an opportunity to learn new skills but also to start tracking that skill development.

Being a professor or dean or CEO requires a vast set of skills, starting from managing staff and budgets, participating in committees, drafting strategic documents, public speaking at events and representing the university or company.

These are not skills that most people automatically have, or if they have them, they don’t necessarily know how to do each well.

Taking on budget management for example in a project, or volunteering to help in taking notes in committee meetings can start enabling you to acquire these skills.

Learning these skills is essential but also often forgotten: most people don’t put in their CVs many of the informally learned skills but often emphasise formal qualifications.

LinkedIn is an excellent way of promoting these more informal skill developments e.g. by explaining which roles you did in which projects, and what skills you learned in addition to the official tasks and job description.

 

What counts as an impact

Having said all that, what many companies and now universities in particular emphasise is science that has an “impact” in the real world.

But when we are asked what that impact actually looks like in practice, I think few of us can really pinpoint as to what that means.

So of course, I have asked this question from several people because I am also curious how universities measure impact.

One person in particular noted that often impact equals research income (how many grants you get): if you are making an impact, you get money.

The point here is that if your research is widely recognised as highly useful and impactful, you will have a track record of grant money coming through because of that recognition.

This of course can be debated: there is plenty of theoretical research that is highly necessary, and on which then applied research is built later on.

I think there is a blurred line here as to what makes research “useful”.

There are also a number of other metrics such as memberships in international committees, speaker invitations, and of course Higher Degree Research completions (how many students have you helped to finish their degree).

All of these together demonstrate different aspects of impact, yet all of them are based on numbers (things you can count) but not necessarily reflect always the quality of interaction.

There are also other things we cannot measure directly such as providing informal mentoring among other staff and students, and taking on additional leadership roles that are not necessarily always recognised such as forming informal support groups for students or helping particular students to find career direction.

But, again, the trick is to find the balance and make sure you don’t overcommit on lots of informal activities that don’t get the tick when it comes to KPIs and performance reviews.

(I have a lot to say about performance reviews and how these could be more relevant and nimbler, but I think for now this will suffice).

But to be fair, no one has claimed that research income is the one and only measure of impact.

There are many more obviously and universities in particular have began to expand their notions of impact in a way that does not just look at numbers of publications but rather they seek a more robust measures about real world impact.

Am sure those of you who have been in the university environment longer than I have are murmuring with insights of your own while reading this.

But as said, am just transitioning to the new role and would love to hear what your thoughts are or best tips how to move across roles even within the same institution.