It’s time for officers to think about the future

Nick Smith is a consultant specializing in governance

I studied English Literature and the cliché of a love of language is very true in my case.

I seek out compound plurals, am always pondering collective nouns, and will torture a metaphor within an inch of its life.

We’re on the home straight for SU officers and while not quite at a sprint finish the race is soon to be over.

Our elections may not use first past the post – but there’s definitely a sense of coming to the finish line before the starter gun sounds for the 2023/24 intake.

Too much?

About this time last year I wrote an article on what officers can achieve in the Summer Term – a call not to be disheartened and a request to use these weeks wisely.

One of the main things you can do is prepare an excellent handover – something which takes more effort and time than you might imagine.

I’ve compiled a guide to great handovers.

To return once more to that metaphor – you aren’t in a solo race, but a relay.

Passing on information and skills to your successor is a great final act to your performance.

Come together

One of the greatest strengths of students’ unions is their ability to be nimble and connected. A small number of sabbatical officers and staff will have access to a huge range of committees, people and data.

I’ve been in a situation where two different university departments who shared an open plan office were not aware they were running very similar projects but the SU sabbatical could bring them together.

There are disadvantages for so much insight to be routed through a small number of individuals, but the huge advantage is that knowledge is accumulated in student representatives.

A good handover document is important because it allows this to continue beyond your term in office.

We can joke that our higher education institutions are full of faceless bureaucracies and a set of committees and rituals that feel like something out of a Mervyn Peake novel.

However, they are actually full of people with actual faces as well as drives, ambitions and values that affect how education is delivered.

We elect officers in part because people respond well to people and relationships can’t be built or captured through an algorithm or a survey. Setting up your successor with information about who they are going to be working with and how they can help students is a brilliant legacy for officers.

Release the balls

Younger readers may be unaware of the 90s cultural phenomenon of Mystic Meg who recently died. In the early days of the National Lottery she would predict the winner each week – inevitably someone who had eaten some food in the past month or slept between the hours of 10pm and 6am.

I’ve known some incredibly talented SU staff members who are able to deliver events on the smallest of shoestrings and respond to the oddest of requests from student societies.

Despite this I’ve never met anyone with Mystic Meg’s skills of premonition and no one who can read minds. As well as a useful piece of cultural memory for incoming officers, a decent handover can help staff in your students’ union for many years to come.

Almost certainly you’ll be working in a team of other officers as well as volunteers who help run the democratic edifice that is student council or other policy forums.

Start planning now how to work together – can the council chair explain how motions work and could the welfare representatives meet the university head of counselling alongside the VP Welfare?

No leader can go it alone and building that sense of collaboration from before the role starts is a good thing.

Don’t feel any shame that you may also be thinking about your own future as well as that of the students’ union. In a few months there will be interviews to be had and CVs to prepare. Reflecting on your own time and development is a worthwhile thing to do and combining that in the handover document for others is efficient and useful. A triple win.

For outgoing officers, I would say enjoy your last term and use it to strengthen the union for those that come after and review the excellent work that you’ve achieved. Working in this sector has challenges but also huge benefits and the connections you make will hold you in good stead for the future.

This particular race may soon be over – but your Olympics continue and the SU sector will cheer you on.

Nick’s guide to great handovers is on the site to download.

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