Exploring the deep at the Oxford Summer School

Published by on Monday, 18 Apr 2016

It's a lot of fun, and it's fast approaching: the Oxford Summer School Foundation programme for retail professionals. It's a popular and prestigious annual event - a week at St. Catherine's College in Oxford learning and developing management skills. I'm on the Executive Board and am responsible for programme design, which means I shape the agenda and then hand it over to others to deliver. This year, as I have been designing the programme I have been thinking about collaboration, principles and change.

We've tried to really work with feedback we've received from previous years to create a more collaborative feel to the design and delivery of the Summer School so that we can go to a deeper level than we ever have before.

At times this has presented challenges when there are the views and preferences of 100 delegates and 13 leaders to take into account, and this highlights a dilemma managers face and one we will be exploring. Should I work collaboratively and ask for people's views, knowing that whatever decision I make as a leader will disappoint some of those I lead, or do I just make my own decisions without consulting and so avoid being seen to go against anyone's will? Collaboration is clearly a good thing, but even when we're working in a collaborative way and asking people to contribute to the decision making process, we still have to take responsibility for leadership. We can't absolve our responsibility.

Principles and change come together because in the midst of the 21st century culture of intense and rapid change, we are asking ourselves: what are the fundamental principles that will not change? Retail managers, just like all leaders, must question themselves and their principles: Is this still relevant? Is it old hat? Is it a principle or a fad? Until we delve deeper we can risk making false assumptions, for example lots of people know about Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix which helps us to analyse the important versus the urgent, and many now think it's old hat. But is it really? I was speaking with someone last week who had used the matrix before but felt he had only just started to use it properly and effectively, and had realised the enduring truthfulness of what it represents and the deep impact it can have. Consequently, that method of time management has become a principle for him.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the clearer we are about what is fundamental to our organisations, the easier it is to be flexible and adapt on other things. In retail, customers can lose sight of who they're shopping with if the principles of the retailer are unclear. Many people like to have a relationship with a retailer and know what that shop stands for, for example Apple is known for its creativity and cutting edge innovation. It can be easy for people to lose sight of who they are dealing with and then they lose confidence and the relationship is potentially lost. If people know and understand the principles of the retailer they are dealing with, they can make a clear choice about whether to keep shopping with them.

All of this stuff - collaboration, change, principles - comes back to relationships, and the Oxford Summer School is a great place for considering and building relationships - with customers, suppliers, staff and colleagues. I hope that sharing some of the thought processes that have helped shape this year's programme has been of interest and of use. If it has stimulated any ideas in you, please do let me know.

Rob Husband
OSS Foundation - Programme Designer

The Oxford Summer School Foundation programme takes place 27 June - 1 July 2016. To find out more, visit the Foundation page.

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