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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

PartnersOctober 13, 2022

The next big challenge for Aotearoa business is resilience

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

A new course by The Mind Lab aims to help students master change and resilience – for themselves, for their work and for their communities.

Change, we have become used to saying, is a constant. The phrase makes change sound, if not predictable, at least steady. But change happens for different reasons, at different scales and in different places. And, as we’ve discovered in the past couple of years, it can be rapid, acute and even traumatic.

This is the world into which The Mind Lab’s Master of Change and Organisational Resilience will soon launch. The idea of handling change is in The Mind Lab’s DNA: since it was founded, it has gone from teaching children to teaching teachers and then to providing further education for people already out working in strategic and leadership roles. Change has also long been a key theme of its postgraduate courses.

“The seed of the idea for this programme has been growing since we launched the postgraduate certificate in Leading Change for Good,” says Hayley Sparks, The Mind Lab’s national academic manager and lead developer of the masters’ degree. “As students started going through that programme, it became obvious that they wanted further learning opportunities and that there was an opportunity for us to develop a masters’ programme around that change leadership space.”

Hayley Sparks, The Mind Lab’s national academic manager (Image: Supplied)

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a course only for people in top leadership roles. The organisation is aware that many in senior leadership positions don’t have time for additional study – but they’re not the only ones who can benefit from leadership and resilience. And they’re not the only ones who can lead change from within an organisation.

“Everybody needs to know about change and organisational resilience,” says Sparks.

“We like to think about leadership as being able to come from any level of an organisation. You don’t necessarily have to have the word ‘leader’ or ‘manager’ in your title, to be leading change or to have an impact within an organisation.”

Often employees further down the chain, like the HR team or those working in strategy or digital transformation, don’t yet have a background in change and leadership. But they do have all the skills that can be extremely relevant and influential on an organisation’s growth, says Sparks. That’s where the course comes in. 

It’s not only individual learners who have something to gain from this new programme. Having staff that are equipped for change and resilience is sure to be a huge benefit to organisations as we head into a post-covid and tech-focused future. Sparks says the masters’ programme provides a real opportunity for executive leadership teams to upskill their staff in a way that both fits around, and benefits the workplace in the short and long term. 

And being in a group alongside a range of other mid-career people during the study period brings its own educational value, says The Mind Lab’s general manager Fee Webby.

“Across all of our programmes, the average age of a student is about 44 years. So these are people with jobs, families and mortgages, big life stuff happening,” says Webby “And they do their postgraduate study with us on top of that. It means that you have this incredible experience of brain power in the room. The collaboration aspect, and just learning from one another, is huge.”

The Mind Lab’s general manager Fee Webby (Image: Supplied)

Collaboration is one of the most important parts of study at The Mind Lab. Bouncing ideas off one another and using lived experiences to inform the study means the learning experience is tailored to each class and individual learner.

“I think sometimes we forget how impactful that can be, sitting with someone else who talks about a challenge that they might have, or an experience that they might have, or where they’ve had some wins and how they’ve done something a bit differently, what worked and what didn’t,” says Webby.

The presence of another word – resilience – in the title of the programme is also significant. As Covid and all the other unexpected changes of the last few years have shown, people often aren’t equipped to react to change in beneficial ways, says Sparks. As with The Mind Lab’s micro-credential Leading Beyond Sustainability, where students learn to create practical changes in their own personal and professional lives towards a sustainable future, the masters’ course is designed to both help people create change and prepare their organisations for inevitable shifts that happen in the world around them. 

“It’s about reacting to change – but it’s also learning how to strategically be proactive, to build resilience at a systems level so that when shocks do come, the impact is not as great because there are resilient structures and processes.”

A large part of change is digital transformation, so the programme includes pathways for students to learn about emerging technologies and how they might be used as tools or levers for organisational change and resilience. The programme is designed to help students think about technology, and its role in their organisation, in a range of different ways. 

“It might be that artificial intelligence and machine learning is being used within an organisation to more efficiently analyse the data that they’re collecting. Or perhaps technology is actually hindering change, because they’ve got this massive legacy system that’s been built over the last 10 or 20 years,” says Sparks.

“What we don’t want is technology to be seen as either only positive or only negative. We want students to actually think critically about the role of technology.”

You can stack your learning, to get a masters’ your way at The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab (Design: Archi Banal)

Communicating change well is also vital, says Webby, who worked in advertising and communications before moving into education with The Mind Lab.

“It could just be the small things of how you might communicate with your team, jumping online or into a standup for a moment with your team to check in where everyone is at. That could be completely different from what some organisations have traditionally done.”

But perhaps the keynote to the course is another part of The Mind Lab DNA – applied learning. The third part of the masters’ programme in particular revolves around real projects. 

The goal was to make sure the student output wasn’t just a thesis gathering dust on the shelf – “like mine did,” says Sparks, who did her PhD in geography. Instead, students are encouraged to complete projects that are of value to them, their organisation or their community. And they’re designed to be immediately applicable and relevant to their current job. 

“One person might develop a fully-fledged business case that they can then present to their exec team or their leadership team to get that process started within their organisation. Somebody else might write a project evaluation report, where they actually implement part of a bigger project. The key thing is that we want them to develop outputs that are going to be of value to them and their organisations once they’ve finished.”

The course is designed to accomodate people from diverse backgrounds and professional and academic experiences. And Sparks is eager to emphasise that there’s more than one way into the masters’ of Change and Organisational Resilience.

“If I was to describe the program in a few words, that would be that it can be personalised, it can be flexible – and it’s applied.”

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