It’s good to talk

Woman whispers to the girlfriend secrets

Dr Stefanie Reissner, a lecturer in organisational studies from Newcastle University Business School, has revealed that what is widely considered gossip in the workplace can actually help boost work performance.

My research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), found that a company is a community that is maintained by sharing personal stories, which I call peer storytelling. Organisations that use peer storytelling well, establish constructive working relationships that are vital for effective operations, leading to improved business outcomes.

From childhood, individuals are conditioned to respond to and understand problems and issues, through storytelling. This translates into the world of work.

The research shows that sharing personal stories, from the funny to the emotional, can allow individuals to connect with others at work. Such a ‘connection’ enables them to understand colleagues and their actions in the workplace. This leads to improved judgement about behaviour, with benefits such as employees feeling more comfortable challenging one another. The result is more robust decision making and, arguably, better work performance.

Informal work conversations often get a bad press because they allegedly distract from the task at hand. But I ask: does being professional mean to be authoritative and impersonal on all occasions? My study shows that peer storytelling can alleviate pressure at work. If people are more at ease at work, they can be more focussed and productive in their daily routines.

I would encourage firms to appreciate the importance of peer storytelling as employees can convey everything from what makes them ‘tick’ to their ethics at work. In fact, far from distracting, peer storytelling can be good for an organisation.

This is pertinent nowadays when we are seeing rises in new business models like ‘hot-desking’ and limited personal interaction with colleagues and managers. Appreciating the human side of an organisation is vital in building a cohesive workforce in today’s network economy.

But, despite the potential benefits of peer storytelling, there can be negative effects on individuals and the organization. For example, the communication grapevine – an informal network by which unofficial information is transmitted within a place of work – can be harmful when rumour or inaccurate detail leads to misunderstanding and destroys relationships, trust and reputation.

I hope that the findings from this research can challenge the way employers think about how they build staff relationships and HR policies to foster meaningful interaction in the workplace.

The findings come from data collected from interviews with 75 individuals, between 2010 and 2012, and are now available in print. The book Storytelling in Management Practice, authored by Stefanie Reissner and Victoria Pagan, explores how managers use storytelling in practice, as well as its functions at different levels within an organisation.

We love TED(x)

If there’s one thing better than a free lunch, surely it’s a free lunch sandwiched between talks from some of the world’s most inspiring people.

That was Wednesday in a nutshell, thanks to Digital Union and TEDx Gateshead, who streamed TED Global 2013’s sessions into the Northern Design Centre in Gateshead, with food kindly provided by lunch sponsors Ward Hadaway.

The sheer depth and diversity of this world-famous conference makes it impossible to choose ‘favourite’ speakers as such, but we found ourselves really moved and amused by the ‘Listening to Nature’ segment.

Kicking things off was Bernie Krause, whose Wild Sanctuary project records soundscapes from natural habitats all over the world, giving us humans a fresh sensory perspective on the damage we are doing to many vulnerable species.

And we heard about bees and the massive role they play in our own, precariously balanced food chain. Marla Spivak brought to life the plight of this industrious and ecologically vital creature (of which there are over twenty-thousand species, by the way) and we were reminded of the global-headlining-grabbing research being carried out at Newcastle into the relationship between pesticides and bee pollination.

From there on, speakers and topics diverged and delved into wild animals’ sexual behaviour, Middle-Eastern politics, urbanization in Latin America, post-Chernobyl societies, and many, many other realms.

That’s the great thing about TED: regardless of your chosen career or hobbies, just one afternoon of talks broadens your frame of reference, connects issues you might never have thought about at once, and leaves you feeling that little bit more inclined to change the world for the better.

If you haven’t already, check out the videos from this year’s TED Global and if, like us, you want to take part but can’t make the main event, keep in touch with TEDx to find out when and where your next local screening is happening.


The best of both worlds

One of the first lessons I learnt when I qualified as an accountant was how different studying the theory of auditing was, to walking into a client’s office and trying to work the auditing software.
It is such moments in your early career that you realise the shift between ‘learning’ and ‘doing’.

Tomorrow, the Business School, PwC (PwC) and awarding body ICAEW, will celebrate its ten year anniversary of the ‘Flying Start programme’, a business, accounting and finance degree: a course that has had a decade of experience in merging ‘the learning’ with ‘the doing’.

The course is a long-standing example of how fusing theory and practice benefit the student proficiency of a subject. There is no denying that good work experience only benefits future career prospects.

The importance of this to the Business School is paramount, but it also raises interesting questions about what employers expect of graduates in today’s competitive job market, and what we can do to meet these needs.

Delivered by a team of academics and PwC, the Flying Start programme is a four year degree that enables students to put classroom theory into commercial practice on placement, and relates practical experience back to studies.

The degree affords students with an insight to the world of work, providing them with a great opportunity to harness the practical skills needed, with their own knowledge-base gained from within a lecture theatre.

In my position as a degree programme director, I have spoken to many employers about what they want to see in a graduate: one who can ‘hit the ground running’, a good level of industry, with team work and communication skills.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are charged with the brief to create students who are prepared for the demands of the workplace – something that the Business School has been dedicated to achieving, and meeting such needs through programmes like Flying Start.

HEIs are moving away from the ‘chalk and talk’ educational experience to far more innovative and practical ways to impart knowledge: it’s an exciting time for the Business School and we are looking forward to the next 10 years.

Dr Simon Parry, Degree Programme Director BA (Hons) Business, Accounting and Finance

Dr Fiona Whitehurst reflects on the importance of being ‘civic’

Newcastle University aspires to be a world-class civic university delivering benefits to individuals, organisations and to society as a whole, so it was a delight for the Business School to host Professor John Goddard OBE, Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies and former Deputy Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University to speak about his recently published book The University and the City  co-authored with Paul Vallance.

John is a leading proponent of the civic university concept, arguing in a 2009 NESTA Provocation that all publicly funded universities in the UK have a civic duty to engage with wider society on the local, national and global scales, and to do so in a manner which links the social to the economic spheres.

John revealed three tensioned themes emerging from his research – passive local physical, social and economic impacts of universities (campus footprint, student purchasing power, employment generation) vis a vis their active engagement in the development of the city; economic vis a vis more holistic views of engagement with civil society and the ‘external’ civic role of the university vis a vis ‘internal’ processes within the university and state higher education policies that shape these external relations.

John’s distinguishing attributes of a ‘civic university’ are:

  1. It is actively engaged with the wider world as well as the local community of the place in which it is located.  This engagement is achieved through dialogue and collaborations with individuals, institutions and groups locally, nationally and globally.
  2. It takes a holistic approach to engagement, seeing it as institution wide activity and not confined to specific individuals or teams.
  3. It has a strong sense of place.  While it may operate on a national and international scale, it recognises the extent to which is location helps to form its unique identity as an institution.
  4. It has a sense of purpose – an understanding of not just what it is good at, but what it is good for.
  5. It is willing to invest in order to have impact beyond the academy.  This includes releasing financial resources to support certain projects or activities, or to ‘unlock’ external sources of funding.
  6. It is transparent and accountable to its stakeholders and the wider public.
  7. It uses innovative methodologies such as social media and team building in its engagement activities with the world at large.

Plenty of food for thought, especially for a Business School. What does a ‘civic’ business school look like and how well does Newcastle University Business School fit that description?

Those are questions for a later post, but as I was pondering them I came across an article in the Financial Times (15 April 2013) by Della Bradshaw on German Business Schools. She notes that while Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world, the country has no world-renowned business schools or top-ranked MBA programmes. In the article Robert Wardrop, research fellow in sociology and finance at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, ascribes this to the stakeholder value model of German business, which is incompatible with the methodologies that drive most Business School rankings. The MBA rankings tend to have an emphasis on salary maximisation, the traditional US individualist justification for undertaking an MBA. So, another question, does the third of John Goddard’s tensioned themes – the external role of a civic institution vis a vis internal processes and state policies have an added dimension for Business Schools?

Do Business School rankings take sufficient regard of an institution’s ‘civic’ role? In a time of unprecedented societal challenges globally I would like to suggest they should.

Dr Fiona Whitehurst, Director of Accreditation


100% of placed Newcastle University Business School students are rated as effective team members by employers

Commercial placements helped 98% of placed graduates to a first class or 2:1 degree

Students from Newcastle University Business School have been given top marks by a range of employers based worldwide, and have gone on to achieve first class or 2:1 degree classifications. A recent survey of employers working with Business School placement students revealed that 100% of students were conscientious, showed initiative, were effective team members and over 70% of employers indicated that the students exceeded their expectations.

New statistics from the Business School also reveal that a staggering 98% of recent graduates who undertook a 12-month placement between their second and third year of study received a first or a 2:1 degree classification. 

The Walt Disney Company, Nissan, Estee Lauder, and Microsoft are just some of the global giants that welcomed students from the Business School on a 12-month placement opportunity, and the recent figures are among the strongest ever received since the Business School’s placement initiative was launched.

Placement opportunities promoted by the Business School give students the right type of environment and support to apply their academic theory while gaining valuable employability skills.

The types of roles available to the students vary, depending on what the organisation requires, and the skills and interests of the students.

Business School student, Sakshi Grover, commented on her placement at international organisation IBM:

“I believe the time on my placement helped me to develop as a strong individual and I’ve seen many positive changes in myself.  The year has been a great success; the steepest learning curve I have experienced so far!”

Marketing manager at Bel Valves, Alison Ennis, commented on the Business School students that were placed with them:

“We have been extremely encouraged by the aptitude displayed by the marketing placements we have taken on recently. Within a very short period of time the students contributed significantly to the departmental goals demonstrating not only a ‘no nonsense’ approach to applying marketing theory but also an impressive level of confidence and initiative.

“In return we aim to offer the students opportunities to experience international marketing practice in all its guises from research and statistical analysis to creative design, customer liaison and event management.”

Ernst & Young’s Nigel Burgess counselled Business School student Tom Holroyde during his commercial placement and commented on his time with the company:

“Tom has shown great “people” skills and has built an excellent working relationship with his clients.  He performed his work to a high standard; remained professional at all times and was an ambassador for Ernst & Young and our values.”

Nicola Burnip, placement officer at Newcastle University Business School said:

“In the increasingly competitive higher education and labour market we want to ensure that, as a business school, we are doing all we can to prepare our students for the world of work.

“These recent statistics reveal the hugely positive impact a placement can have on a degree: a rounded experience of both theory and practice enables students to respond to academic questions with a commercial outlook. Something you cannot learn from a textbook. 

“Students get the chance to go anywhere in the world, however we ensure regional businesses benefit from the initiative, with a quarter of all placement opportunities taking place in the North East.

“The enthusiasm and positivity that a placement student can bring to a work-place can be invaluable. As students adapt to their working environments, they provide a refreshing new perspective to solving problems, displaying creativity and using their initiative.

“The majority of companies that have offered placements in the past continue to work with the Business School on an annual basis as they know that they are gaining a person who is knowledgeable, driven and, most importantly, eager to learn.”

If you think your organisation could benefit from employing a highly competent Business School student for 12 months please contact Nicola Burnip by phoning 0191 208 1632 or emailing


Two Business School students awarded Excellence Scholarship

Newcastle University Business School undergraduate students, Kimberley Lee and Monica Molesag, have been selected to receive £2,000 worth of tuition fee discounts to put towards any of the postgraduate taught programmes offered by the University’s faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS).

Now in its second year, the Excellence Scholarship aims to encourage high-achieving Newcastle University undergraduate students to further their study in a postgraduate programme following their graduation.

Along with their recent academic grades students are required to apply for the scholarship themselves by completing an online application form including a personal statement indicating their motivations for applying, why they should be considered for an award and what their career direction is.  This year saw over 20 students from the whole University apply for the chance to reduce their tuition fees,with 14 being awarded the final prize.  Successful students can also benefit from the 20% alumni discount as graduates of Newcastle University.

Kimberley, who has chosen to study an MSc in E-Business (E-Marketing), commented on what it means for her to have won this Excellence award:

“I am delighted to have been awarded the scholarship offered by the University as I was playing with the idea of beginning a master’s degree and this has allowed me to make a decisive decision about where and when to study.

“It’s really comforting to know that I am coming back to University here in Newcastle in September, as I definitely was not ready to leave.”

The awards recognise academic achievement and commitment to further study, with a long term vision of related employment or research opportunities.

The Business School looks forward to welcoming all of its new students in September and welcoming back those returning for their second and third years.

To read more on the PGT Excellence Scholarship please click here>

Welcome to the Business School blog!

We’re delighted to (finally) bring our Business School blog into the world. This is a place for academics, support staff, guests, and students to share their views on life inside and outside the Business School.

Through our musings and knowledge exchange, we hope to stimulate thought and debate on topics ranging from the sublimely intellectual, to, occasionally, the downright frivolous. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry here at the Business School!

Please use this site to keep in touch and tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you, no matter who you are.