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In 2017 the University launched its Transforming Lives strategy. It set out Sheffield Hallam’s vision to be the world’s leading applied university, with a mission to “transform lives...shape our students' futures, preparing them for whatever they choose to do, and create knowledge that provides practical solutions to real world challenges.” The HROD Directorate at Sheffield Hallam University led a four-year project to develop and embed an Academic Careers Framework (ACF) in support of these aims.
Academic colleagues are central to the achievement of these ambitions. The ACF translates the strategy into a set of indicators of achievement organised into four strands. In doing so it facilitates shared understanding of the types of contribution that best support the strategy; sets expectations of levels of contribution; and provides clarity about what ‘outstanding’ looks like so that academics know the benchmark for career progression to professor and associate professor.
The ACF was developed inclusively and collaboratively with a diverse range of academic and professional services colleagues and with input from UCU trade union colleagues. As People Portfolio Operations Manager Sam Coulby describes, “Our frameworks had been aligned to a more traditional version of what a university is, and perhaps that suited the REF but not necessarily the many types of applied contribution which are key to the university’s reputation. We set out to build a framework that recognises diverse types of academic input. The prevailing career progression culture, prior to the ACF, was: ‘research is king’. This not only devalued non-research contributions, it also led to talented academics moving away from their academic work and into management roles in order to achieve promotion, neither of which align to the overall strategy. We’d found that colleagues could get ‘stuck’ at a particular level if they did not have a research profile, and that the many other types of contribution to the university weren’t always recognised sufficiently for the value added.”
Developed and implemented over two years (2017-2019) and then fully embedded over the following two, the framework defines four strands of academic contribution with a set of indicators of achievement within each. These strands allow for a much wider understanding of individual contribution, and cover academic citizenship and leadership, research and innovation, teaching and learning, and external and professional engagement.
“I’m thrilled to bits to hear about our UHR award win,” said Dr Sally Jackson, Chief People Officer and Pro Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at Sheffield Hallam University said. “This work has very much been a collaborative effort and I would like to thank all those, both HROD colleagues and those from outside the directorate, involved in shaping and embedding the ACF. I am grateful to academic colleagues who have used it for performance, development and progression purposes and continue to provide feedback which helps us improve the framework, ensuring the ACF has impact and influence.”
As UHR Chair Joanne Marshall said, speaking on behalf of the judging team, “The four-year timescale demonstrated in Sheffield Hallam’s entry really helped cement the progress achieved in the judges’ minds. Not all universities need or want to be the same in the way they acknowledge and reward academic careers. The themes chosen for the ACF set out the many types of contribution to a successful university including the path of external engagement – universities can and should be out there beyond the institutional walls advocating for what we do and learn and believe. The ACF is wide-reaching in its impact, data driven, transferable to other universities, and was developed inclusively and collaboratively with a diverse range of academic and professional services colleagues. Many congratulations to Sally, Sam and the team.”
University of Glasgow - Performance, Pay & Reward Team – People & Organisational Development: "People First - Digital Transformation for a new era of HR"
Edge Hill University - Human Resources Team: Supporting Staff to Support Students
Aston University has embraced the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the Covid pandemic to reset work using a hybrid dynamic working model. Through a ‘people, space and digital approach’ the university has set out to provide working conditions that empower staff, to build a culture of trust, to be dynamic and focused on outcomes and to be a truly agile institution, able to provide the best experience for colleagues while responding to the ever-changing operating environment.
Lisa Gregg, Director of Organisational Change at Aston, explained that the University’s approach to hybrid working has been about empowering colleagues to think about their home and work situation in ways that allow them to think about how best to support the University’s beneficiaries and the activities they do to support them. “Individual conversations with managers and their teams gave us all space to think about these activities in new ways. The pandemic brought about a lot of change quickly, with many new technologies and opportunities all at once. Our approach has been iterative and we are most proud that we’ve brought together our thinking about our people, the tools they will need and the spaces they will have to work in, not being cautious and pilot-led, but committing to prototype new ways of working and learning as we go.
“Our professional teams on campus now work from three spaces with common technology underpinning them all. We’ve dived in, seen and heard what needed to be learnt from the experience of working during Covid and then moved on with change step by step, using staff feedback to guide us. The work impacts on individuals, teams and on entire departments, on collaboration, on focused styles of working, and how and when we choose to work in different ways. More than 500 professional services staff are working with us on this change programme.”
“This all needed a fundamental commitment to change,” said Richard Billingham, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development at Aston. “We’ve had support from a committed VC and Executive who championed this degree and type of transition to happen, and we’ve had officers at every level who have embraced the ambiguity of this iterative learning process. We’ve established the spaces, deployed the technology and socialised the spaces all at rapid pace during the pandemic. The innovative test/learn/adapt approach isn’t usually seen in large scale organisational change projects. We will make costs savings – around £6m per year is projected in estates savings by 2023, from an estates footprint that is 12.5% smaller - and we are also not just doing things better, but we’re doing better things. People, spaces and tech do not sit independently of each other: this approach gives choice and autonomy to colleagues, and empowers people to work where the best value can be added. We’re delighted to have won the UHR Award.”
UHR Chair Joanne Marshall spoke on behalf of the judges about the Aston entry, which deals with one of the defining experiences for all HR teams of recent years – the move to agile working as a result of the pandemic. “We’ve all dealt with this task and its complications in different ways. Aston’s approach has not been cautious, and that would be of major concern to some. But it has worked, through open dialogue about the nature of the task, the benefits of an iterative approach and successful engagement at every level across campus. UHR Award winners are often able to give clear evidence in the form of hard stats that back up the nomination, and the value to Aston in estates cost savings alone is the kind of winning detail our judges look for each year. This was joined up, transferable, with significant practical application for others.”
University of Plymouth - "Plymouth HR: making an inclusive impact"
University of Brighton - Leadership and Management Development Team: "Collaborating for a consistent leadership culture - Creating the Brighton Leader"
Northumbria University - HR Team: "Northumbria University: An employment framework to enable nurses, midwives and the allied healthcare professions to establish and sustain a clinical academic career"
Staffordshire University - #StaffMakeStaffs: Let’s Work Better Together
Elevate is a cross-institutional leadership development programme for individuals who identify as female from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds – and it has been heralded an unmitigated success. Initiated by the University of Bristol, colleagues from the universities of Cardiff, Bath and Exeter worked together to commission an innovative pilot, led by a highly experienced facilitation team. This creative programme sought to acknowledge and celebrate the history, culture and diverse lived experience of academic and professional service staff across the four institutions. It aimed to encourage participants to reflect, explore and grow through connecting and building solidarity together and to centre the lived experiences and development needs of women.
Over just 7 months, throughout the height of the pandemic, the online programme offered an engaging range of interactive online webinars and activities including cross-institutional mentoring. Participants worked on a personal development project of their own choice that would support their career development and have impact in their organisation.
As Kathryn Miller, Head of Academic Staff Development at Bristol explained, “Elevate is about recognising and galvanising the experience of women from ethnic minority backgrounds in HE, where the experience is often very different to that of white women. Elevate set out to attract individuals who identify as female at all grades, to create a safe space where colleagues could learn together and reflect and create for themselves a new network that is resourced, where they have permission to think about what they need and want to support their career development. They don’t have to comply with cultural norms, they have a voice, and they can learn in different ways – action learning sets, buddying and more. It’s been a rich and diverse experience for participants. The second iteration of the programme in collaboration with five universities offers a combination of online sessions and face to face sessions, to maximise the networking opportunities and depth of connection. The alumni are now actively participating in different university activities that are already having an impact on organisational culture and structures.
“Key to attracting people to the programme was the language used and presentation of the comms, and we had great support from our facilitators in developing that initial outreach material. Many of the applicants noted that this programme ‘caught their eye’. They had never seen a programme that explicitly centres their lived experience and recognises that structural and systemic barriers have historically ‘fixed’ their identities within organisations.”
Claire Buchanan, Chief People Officer at Bristol said “Feedback and immediate outcomes have been significant. Six of the 30 participants in our initial programme have already been successful in finding new roles. Evaluation feedback demonstrates impact on self-esteem, confidence to challenge existing beliefs and barriers and the development of networks. We are so grateful to the participants for whom this was a daring step into the unknown; to the amazing facilitators Yvonne Field, Dr Peggy Warren and Jamie Schearer-Udeh; and to our partner universities for their faith in our ideas. Elevate is a fantastic programme that we are really proud of so to win the UHR award is really great news.”
Speaking on behalf of the judges, UHR Chair Joanne Marshall spoke of the impact of this really interesting and impactful project. “There was a huge sense of ‘welcome’ for this project amongst the judging team. The Elevate project is a creative development programme that sets out to acknowledge and celebrate the history, culture and diverse lived experience of participants, for those who might not ‘normally’ see themselves as candidates for career support. There was great evidence and powerful stories of personal impact. Colleagues particularly like that this is not viewed as a deficit approach but rather acknowledges the discrimination that exists when it comes to promoted posts for women of colour. Whilst small in scale, this is about action on the ground to identify and work with a defined cohort – not wider policy or merely good intentions.”
St George’s University of London - Diversity and Inclusion Team: "St George’s Fair Recruitment Specialists"
Teesside University - Human Resources Team: "Digital and Compassionate – a fresh approach to managing sickness absence and supporting colleagues with disabilities at Teesside University"
In 2017 an all-staff survey provided clear and direct feedback to Ulster University that much more needed to be done to advance the focus on many aspects of the employee lifecycle, and the combined ‘employee experience.’
“It’s fair to say that our journey continues,” said Damian McAlister, Chief People Officer at the university. “But the results of that staff survey acted as a clear ‘burning platform’ - a catalyst for change. There was unmissable feedback from colleagues on their perception of how the institution dealt with people. While not every organisation will necessarily have such a far-reaching burning platform, it is always beneficial to start with clarity about what the work is trying to address. We needed to address the issues raised to allow the organisation and its people to flourish”.
In the five years since, a significant transformation has been undertaken both in terms of the way in which ‘Human Resources’ are managed, and in the expectations and responsibilities of all colleagues to contribute to a more progressive and engaging culture. The focus was around three linked but distinct areas. Firstly, the creation of a new ‘People and Culture’ structure. Secondly, the creation of the organisation’s first ‘People and Culture’ strategy, and thirdly delivery of a series of strategic ‘people pillars’ that would provide evidence that staff survey themes were being responded to, and which would build the reputation of the university as an employer of choice where staff ‘can achieve excellence together’. The additional significant challenge of Covid added a fourth area of focus, with a specific co-ordinated effort in how to keep colleagues well, working and learning.
“We have had successes and made mistakes along the way, learning from each in equal measure,” explained Mark Latuske, Deputy Director for People and Culture. “Like any period of significant and intense change – there have been disagreements and missteps along the way. This is perfectly natural and for us is a sign of a willingness to do the right thing rather than the easy thing. By creating and maintaining an open and honest culture, the conditions have been created for a true learning organisation, where we benefit and grow from all experiences – good and bad. The P&C Strategy’s tagline is ‘Achieving Excellence Together’ – there will always be more to do collectively for the benefit of our people and our culture. HR had been seen as very transactional in its approach. Now, wellbeing is at the heart of everything, and the wellbeing impact of any decision is one of the first questions our SLT will raise with us.”
“The culture has definitely shifted,” continued Damian. “We asked what staff wanted, and we really listened, to understand. What did they need to improve their wellbeing at work? Managers hadn’t had enough support, but mentoring and coaching processes are now in place as just one aspect of this cultural shift. I think in previous years we might have really struggled with Covid, but the work we’d already put in by 2020 meant our teams were engaged and far more aligned than they might previously have been on solving those tough issues together. I am absolutely delighted and shocked in equal measure to have won the UHR Award for HR team of the Year – you perhaps think you really only have a small chance when you put the application in, but you have to buy the ticket to win the raffle as the saying goes! We are so grateful to everyone that has made this possible, not least the leaders of our staff networks, people that have stepped up to act as ambassadors for the new strategy on the ground, and the fantastic HR team that has made this possible.”
Speaking on behalf of the judges, UHR Chair Joanne Marshall discussed the clear impact of the work on the university and the quality of supporting data. “The work of the Ulster team has a clear role within the wider organisational strategy. There is a clear and coherent approach which covers a broad range of people interventions, with good evidence of outcomes and a strong intention to prioritise the people agenda. Ulster have been really honest in saying ‘This wasn’t working – we just have to change’ and following the logic through from that: the context for action is clear and compelling as a catalyst for change. Congratulations to Damian, Mark, Paul and the entire HR team at Ulster.”
University of Glasgow - People and Organisational Development Team: "Lighthouse Laboratory in Glasgow: creating a bespoke national service based on our core capabilities" / People & Organisational Development Transformation Project Team: "Agility and Collaboration at the heart of HR transformation"
University for the Creative Arts - People & Culture/EDI Teams: "Diversity2Inclusion"
Thankyou so much to every single entrant including those not shortlisted this year. We know the task of submitting an entry for the UHR Awards takes a little time, and we hope that time has really helped you cement the achievement within your team. The UHR Awards 2022 are sponsored by our Premium Partners for UHR22, Alumni Global (part of the Harvey Nash Group) and Workday.
Thank you so much to every single entrant including those not shortlisted this year. We know the task of submitting an entry for the UHR Awards takes a little time, and we hope that time has really helped you cement the achievement within your team.
The winners of the UHR Awards for Excellence in HR 2021 were announced at UHR’s 2021 Conference, themed ‘Refreshing HR’, on Wednesday 12 May 2021.
It is part of our role to identify and share good practice in HR teams across HE and there is much to learn from all of our shortlisted teams. To our winners, congratulations, and to everyone who took part, our thanks and very best wishes
The winners of the UHR Awards for Excellence in HR were announced at our annual conference in Manchester on May 23rd 2019
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