Some more thoughts on the future of functions/’support’ services

WARNING: Even by my standards, this is a bit of a mish-mash of ideas rather than any type of coherent article…

I’ve previously considered the idea that corporate ‘functions’ should change their terminology to the language still used in many institutions, such as universities, namely to become ‘support services’.  However, more recently, I’ve wondered if this actually will exasperate existing problems – particularly the struggles professional groups have in ‘pushing back’ to those ‘in charge’.

The CILIP event on demonstrating value I mentioned in a previous post put across a very passive approach – recommending you ask the organisation “what else should I do?”.  On reflection, this is in part why I moved away from pure ‘library and information’ roles, there was too much focus on the niche and, often, the physical space.  Instead, why not look at the business vision and plan to build proposals with clear business cases to go over and above what the organisation expects or thinks is possible?

Many people working in corporate roles will be seeing something else – the attempt of ‘traditional professions’ to try to claim the ‘business partnering’ mantle.  HR, L&D, IT, marketing and more are all claiming organisational alignment and ‘performance consulting’ is a term being adopted to mean multiple different things.  This feels like an attempt to claim ‘the middle ground’ and position one professional group in power, like when IT departments claimed ‘information’ for themselves via ICT or where PMOs have aggregated expertise from across the business in a vacuum from BAU activity.  However, the question remains, how can we best support the ‘business as usual’ in our organisation/industry as well as dealing with change?

I thought about this again recently when discussing something on Twitter, following this tweet from a renowned UK education tweeter:

The physical enforcement of location on education is something that does irritate me so I asked the question of why that needs to be:

The reply included a perfectly fair question*:

* the way I’ve previously recommended use of social media is to “say what you’d say to people’s faces” – this tweet is a good example of exactly what you’d ask in that situation (say if discussing the issue in the pub, at a conference, over dinner, etc.) BUT…

…it also highlights the problem: too many people jump to “well have you ever done it before?” or even straight to the dreaded “because we’ve always done it this way”.  Depending on how you read that tweet it’s either a reasonable question or trying to ‘shout someone down’ (in this case me).  This won’t be unfamiliar to, say, support services in universities (“how can you tell me how to teach my subject?” ) when, in reality, learning technologists, librarians and other support staff can add considerable value (I particularly liked this recent post from a lecturer at Northampton Uni seconding to their learning tech team).

So, in a world of open opinions online (such as my tweets in the above thread) how do we best share and support ideation internally?  Of course hybrid orgs and similar models come and go (holacracy’s for example got a lot of attention a while back).  There also seems to be renewed interest in ‘fee earners’ vs support type models that have long existed in LLPs, for example where people are looking at a ‘core’ team supplemented by flexible resources that come and go – in part via the ‘gig’ economy.  Another I’ve had bashing around in my head is BAU vs project structure/model.  However, BAU and projects could encourage a ‘them and us’ and a move away from ‘continuous improvement’ in the BAU fields.

So if we want to be ‘consultants’, in part to differentiate our professional work as cognitive and to avoid replacement via automation/machine, to improve performance perhaps the flip side is ‘delivery’.  The challenge for L&D, however, is that ‘learning delivery’ can risk an over focus on that traditional area (as identified by Jane Hart and others).

For now I think all we can say is continue to look for continuous improvement via lifelong learning and organizational development.  Whatever our professional backgrounds we need to try to ensure a rush for the middle ground doesn’t end up being a rush for the bottom in lowering quality and the support our teams expect of us.