New deputy director with a strong focus on researchers

When John Westensee takes up the position of new deputy director of AU Research and External Relations, one issue in particular will be at the top of his agenda: the university’s researchers must have accessible and relevant service.

And this service must be provided as close as possible to them. This is the mission of the new deputy director of AU Research and External Relations, John Westensee, whose top priority is to establish the right interfaces between his administrative division and the departments and centres.

"The most important thing for me is to strengthen our focus on the researchers, to ensure that they can achieve and maintain a strong position in their various fields of research. We want to get to know the university’s research environments really well, to learn more about what they need from us, and, at the same time, they need to know more about what our administrative division has to offer. For me, it’s crucial that the researchers experience our services as accessible and relevant," says Westensee.

According to John Westensee, a challenge on the way to fulfilling this mission is to organise research support function in a way that compensates for the geographical and organisational distance between the administrative division and the university’s researchers.

"Coordination and knowledge-sharing are extremely important elements in an organisation as complex as ours, especially as we aren't located in close physical proximity to the researchers and students. One of our main tasks will therefore be to advertise all the university's many support services in every corner of the university, and we have to investigate how we can do so in a more targeted manner. We need, for example, to identify the forums and departmental committees we can enter into dialogue with in order to improve the support provided to the departments' research activities and thus leverage the full potential of that research," he says.

The administrative division's cohesion to be strengthened

It is not only the relations between the administrative division, the academic environments and the other administrative areas which need strengthening. John Westensee is also very keen to promote collaboration within the administrative division, which is the result of the fusions and fissions involved in the recent reorganisation.

"Ours is a portfolio of extremely diverse activities – we have research funding and technology transfer, business partnerships and the Student Incubator, talent development and researcher mobility, as well as events and communication. And we must ensure that all these forms of expertise work together, so that we can provide the departments and centres with a coherent service. Jokingly, some people call it a bag of mixed nuts, but in fact, I see a high degree of cohesion all the way round. There are some very obvious synergies, which we must exploit," says Westensee.

He stresses that his approach to ensuring internal cohesion in the administrative division is based on an outgoing and inquisitive approach to the needs of the organisation.

"We must avoid getting too self-centred and introverted in our processes. It’s crucial that we find common ground when it comes to the services which we are to deliver to the organisation, and therefore we must focus on these very same services to get to know ourselves and each other better. I think it’s important that we focus our efforts on specific services which relate directly to the employees' everyday work. This is what makes a strategy operational. All employees must be aware of their own role in the administrative division, and they must know exactly why their work is important," says John Westensee.

Employees must have elbow room

As acting deputy director since autumn 2014, John Westensee knows that working together across organisational boundaries is one way of heightening quality, while at the same time ensuring that the employees can see their own tasks as part of a greater whole. This also gives them a clear sense of the strategic direction for their work; a direction within which the employees should have considerable freedom, according to the new deputy director.

"I strongly believe in allowing people to work independently. The employees must be allowed to use their competencies, and they must be given responsibility for executing their tasks in the way which they deem most expedient, based on their own professional expertise. I have great respect for the employees' expertise," he says.

Micromanagement and control therefore have no place in John Westensee's managerial toolbox. He believes that trust is key to employee dedication. As a manager, you must provide a clear framework and a general direction.