“The Higher Education Academy is at the top of the tree in terms of credibility so having them on board as an external voice helping people buy into the changes that are happening has been a major asset.” John Hawksworth Director of Human Resources Leeds Trinity University
Leeds Trinity University is an institution that prides itself on teaching excellence. Visitors are left in no doubt about this from the moment they arrive television presenter Gabby Logan’s declaration that ‘I’m proud to be chancellor of a university that is renowned for its teaching excellence’ is displayed on a banner positioned at the main entrance. Traditionally the institution has always undertaken an annual staff review or appraisal with admirable rates of completion in excess of 90 per cent. However in 2016 the university began to consider introducing a different method of performance management and development one based more around regular high-quality discussion together with recognising and building on existing strengths.
“Our rates for completion of annual reviews were very good but we wanted to go beyond that ” says John Hawksworth Director of Human Resources at Leeds Trinity University. “The challenge was to look at issues such as the quality of the dialogue that we had with staff and how meaningful the process actually was for the people involved. We wanted to leave the annual staff review behind in favour of an alternative approach that provided people with a more enriching experience something that staff wouldn’t regard as a chore or simply a tick box exercise.”
Having undertaken an initial review the university spent the next 12 months devising that alternative. The result was unveiled on 1 May 2017 in the shape of Performing and Developing a name reflecting the fact that this new approach is a live forward thinking ongoing process rather than a one-off review. Performing and Developing also fits into an over-arching strategy aimed at embedding what are considered by the university to be key staff qualities. Called Attributes this strategy is designed to highlight the behaviours and characteristics that underpin the delivery of the institution’s vision and values.
With Performing and Developing officially unveiled on 1 May another challenge presented itself for those at the university tasked with its implementation namely helping the institution’s core staff members negotiate their way through the new changes. This is where the Higher Education Academy came into the equation.
To help staff at Leeds Trinity University understand negotiate and embrace the changes associated with the implementation of Performing and Developing.
“Leeds Trinity University approached the HEA to support them with the launch of Performing and Developing as they were keen to fully engage everyone right across the board whether they be executive senior leaders academic staff or professional support staff ” says Caroline Ackroyd the HEA’s Academic Lead on Staff Development. “They believed that the HEA with its vast experience and knowledge across the sector could bring an element of externality to proceedings together with recognition of some of the challenges associated with methods of performance management and development.”
The HEA has previously worked with several other institutions implementing changes to their methods of performance management and development. However every institution is unique varying from size and the number of staff employed through to the range of courses and programmes on offer. That in mind the assistance provided by the HEA is always of a bespoke nature. Being a relatively small institution that prides itself on a sense of community Leeds Trinity University were keen that the HEA’s support offered something of a ‘personal’ touch reflecting the nature of this tight-knit environment.
“At the Higher Education Academy we are aware that a number of higher education institutions are looking at more innovative ways to support and develop the management of performance ” says Caroline Ackroyd. “However I was especially excited about this particular piece of work as Performing and Developing centres upon conversation. This is a dialogic approach that extends way beyond the traditional appraisal. Leeds Trinity University is encouraging staff to enter into regular conversations and adopting more of a coaching approach. It’s been my role to help prepare staff for this introducing them to what is a new concept and looking at the range of skills they will need in order to have these conversations.
“Some people can be resistant to change. For instance Performing and Developing involves Leeds Trinity University switching from a paper-based form of monitoring staff performance and development to an online system. This makes it more accessible for staff almost like a living organic thing that can be updated at any time. No matter how pioneering that sounds and how much easier it is to use there will still be people who require a little coaxing before they embrace it. Moving online also enables the university to identify common threads in terms of development which can help them target their resources more effectively. There are many many advantages to Performing and Developing and being actively involved in its launch and contributing to the skills development sessions has been a pleasure.”
“The Higher Education Academy is at the top of the tree in terms of credibility so having them on board as an external voice helping people buy into the changes that are happening has been a major asset ” adds John Hawksworth. “We knew that we could implement the vast majority of Performing and Developing ourselves including much of the training but the involvement of the HEA has given it another dimension. It’s like having a new voice for people to listen to one that staff might not be familiar with and are perhaps more likely to take notice of. The HEA has certainly brought us extra value.”
Having only been launched on 1 May 2017 Performing and Developing is still in its relative infancy. The early signs are positive in terms of how well it has been received by staff but in the words of John Hawksworth “we will need time to settle.” In the meantime the university is closely monitoring its progress and has adopted a flexible approach where more planning training briefing and guidance can be provided for staff as and when is necessary on an ongoing basis.
Having been there for the launch of Performing and Developing the Higher Education Academy will continue to mentor the university over the coming months with Caroline Ackroyd conducting a 2017 summer review into proceedings. That will include the HEA running some focus groups to ascertain how Performing and Developing has been received and to what extent it has become embedded in the university’s culture.
“A key to delivering excellence in all that we do is enabling supporting and encouraging all our people to continuously perform and develop ” says Professor Margaret A. House Vice-Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University. “The recent changes in our approach reflect the importance of regular high quality discussion between staff and managers throughout the year to reflect on how we are doing and to keep refreshing objectives and development plans in a fast-moving world. The introduction of Attributes brings clearer focus to the behaviours and characteristics which underpin the delivery of our vision and values that are relevant to all of us. They are there to guide us without being overly bureaucratic. The new on-line system allows individual staff members to take greater ownership of the whole process. Reflecting the feedback from staff we want this to be of real practical value.”