Nicola Trathen blogs about her experience being seconded onto the SAAT programme
I decided to apply for a secondment on the SAAT programme after I attended a blueberry morning with the SAAT team where we worked in groups to look for ‘quick wins’. I was amazed at how positive and enthusiastic the team were but more than that, I could see that this was a way that I could genuinely affect change in a meaningful way. I went back to my office after that workshop feeling inspired, energetic and genuinely excited about what we could achieve, so I started filling in an application form for a secondment on the SAAT service design team.
So far, I can honestly say that I love it. My days are filled with workshops, meetings and brainstorming sessions; I live in a flurry of post-its and it’s brilliant. I’m challenged every day by the pace of progress, trying to come up with solutions to brain-achingly difficult problems (‘brain-achingly’ has become a standard part of my vocabulary) and getting my head around the vast complexity of the processes we use across the university. I get to talk to people across the entire breadth of the university, not just professional services staff but academics and students too. I’m also generally quite nosey so getting the inside track on what’s happening with the programme scratches my nosey itch
I think the biggest challenge for me on the programme, particularly being on the service design team which is very staff facing, is that people are often sceptical of the programme – and they’re not afraid to tell me that! But I get it, I really do. I have often felt frustrated at how change has been managed historically at the university. Trying to make positive change has always seemed challenging to the point of giving up and I think the recent staff survey demonstrates that I’m not alone in that feeling. On top of that, we will have a completely new student record system that we will have to learn to use from scratch. I understand the scepticism. But so do the SAAT team as a whole and they are totally dedicated to making this transformation programme work for everyone in the best way possible. They want to hear what everyone has to say, not just management. They want to know what makes your life difficult and empower you to change that and work in a better way and I never fail to be impressed by how astute they are – nothing escapes them and they leave nothing to chance.
I sometimes think that it can be easy to write off the SAAT programme as being a bunch of people in suits that use strange terminology and don’t understand our culture at Sussex, but that’s missing the point. Yes, they do wear suits (because they have to – I’m sure most of them would rather be in jeans and a T-shirt) and they do use a lot of terms like ‘agile’ and ‘on-boarding’ (I won’t excuse that, it is pretty annoying) but the point is that this is our chance to make our working lives the way we want them to be and to improve the student experience. The SAAT team aren’t trying to dictate what we should do but support us in making those changes happen for ourselves. And not only that, the SAAT team are excellent. They are some of the nicest people I’ve worked with, they’re really supportive and are always encouraging you to develop and improve.
So to conclude, applying for a secondment on the SAAT programme was the best decision I could have made. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and I urge you to get involved. Go on secondment, become an advocate, go to the blueberry mornings – just do something with the programme team because if nothing else, it’ll brighten up your day. Their passion, enthusiasm and general cheerfulness is infectious. You won’t be able to help yourself waxing lyrical to your colleagues about your agile approach and today’s quick win.