Updates from the Director of Human Resources of University of Bath. HR isn't just about running recruitment processes – it's integral to defining the University's strategy and making sure that we have the people and skills to deliver it.
Why would someone want to come and do this job? At the top of our list, and hopefully high on the list of the type of people we wish to attract, is the opportunity to lead a high performing, ambitious academic institution to make a positive difference to society. Through the recruitment process we will explore people's motivation to ensure that we get a good fit with what we as an institution believe in.
Underlying this, we also need to recognise that this is a job. Albeit a job with a particular calling, but most jobs come with some form of remuneration. One definition of remuneration is 'reward for employment in the form of pay including allowances, benefits, bonuses and the monetary value of non-cash incentives'. Given the amount of attention on Vice-Chancellors’ remuneration we need to find a balance which is considered fair by the type of individuals we want to attract, fits with the values of our institution and supports the new Vice-Chancellor to do their role effectively. Or put more simply, “Salary: Competitive”
A good starting point is to look at other similar institutions. In the UK, HEIs such as Surrey, Loughborough, Lancaster, UEA, York are close to us in size and rankings. Others frequently quoted such as Warwick, Exeter and Bristol are a bit larger, but we may consider competitors. The financial statements of these universities, which are published every year, show what the Vice-Chancellor was paid in terms of salary, pension and other benefits. Of course these only reflect a backward look at the market, and the emerging guidelines on senior remuneration from the Office for Students and the Committee of University Chairs may change the nature of that market. If we look overseas, and this will be an international search, US and Australian universities tend to pay more; Canadian and European might pay less. Outside the HE sector, public sector organisations tend to pay less; private sector considerably more for comparable roles. So ‘competitive’ can be different dependant on where the candidate comes from.
At this stage we are only looking at the likely range. As we identify short-listed candidates later in the process, we will want to tailor our offer. For a less experienced candidate with potential it may look different to someone who is already established at VC level. And it may be that some of the other issues such as the opportunities at Bath are more attractive to candidates. Although we consider ourselves a Top 10 university nationally, this isn't a recruitment process where we expect to be paying Top 10 salaries. We expect to compete on the attractiveness of the opportunity, not simply on price.
When I got to the end of this blog I was a bit desperate for jokes. So I will leave you with this. “I love being a maze designer. I get completely lost in my work”.
Internet myth has it that the title of this blog was a genuine advert for a job. It's either very foolish, or a clever way to attract attention in a crowded market. I'm sure that those in the School of Management who study these things would have much to say about the psychology of advertising. And now we are entering into the market to advertise our requirement for a new Vice-Chancellor.
We are advertising in the UK and overseas for the next month. The candidate information pack, which is now available on our webpages is a bit of a shopfront, giving potential candidates a snapshot of the University. This is a competitive market - Sheffield, Dundee and others are recruiting new Vice-Chancellors as well - and we want good candidates to be attracted to the opportunities at our University. But this recruitment process doesn't just rely on advertising. Saxton Bampfylde, our recruitment agents, will be researching the market and using their databases of potential candidates to approach people and give them a richer picture of the role. Experience from other Universities is that successful candidates are more likely to come from this 'targeted search' but we are casting our net wide. If anyone reading this knows of potential candidates (with relevant experience!), do point them in the direction of Saxton Bampfylde.
The job description, and more importantly the person specification, draw heavily on the engagement exercise we carried out in February. Our emphasis on values and leadership style is different to many other Universities. This is something we will emphasise throughout the recruitment process and when we design the detail of how we select our preferred candidate. Feedback from our recruitment agents is that this should be a very attractive role, and they have already received enquiries. I am looking forward to getting reaction from potential candidates and will try and give a flavour through this blog in coming weeks.
Amongst the images of cats who look like Donald Trump and cardboard boxes which look like David Cameron (yes, really) we now have a presence on the internet, and specifically within our University web-pages.
There are two documents which might be of interest. Firstly, a report on the focus groups and survey we carried out during February. With over 2500 comments and 100 sheets of flipchart paper, I am really grateful to Rachel Armstrong from HR who spent a lot of time helping analyse everything you said. Anything you disagree with in the document is my responsibility but I hope that readers feel that it is a balanced summary. I do expect candidates to read it, to get a good idea of the opportunities at the University. More importantly at this stage, it will provide one input to the Committee on the Office of Vice-Chancellor in defining the job description and person specification against which we will recruit.
And that brings me to the second document, the recruitment process. Over the next four months we, and potential candidates for the role, will proceed along a path towards finding who will be our next Vice-Chancellor. 'Path' analogies always give me plenty of opportunity to have fun with puddles, diversions and people straying from the marked route, but hopefully the hurdles will be few and easily surmountable. One of the key events in this recruitment process will be the meetings in July between the shortlisted candidates and members of the University. A chance for them to see what we are really like and for us to start picturing people in the role. One of my next tasks is to start planning these events; the Crystal Maze seems like a good pattern from which to start!
This week is an important milestone. As well as being 50 years since Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch had a Number 1 with the Legend of Xanadu it is the first meeting of the 'expanded' Committee on the Office of Vice-Chancellor. We now have an external viewpoint from academia, Professor Julia Buckingham, the Vice-Chancellor at Brunel University as well as three more members from within this University. We welcome Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey from the School of Management, Jane Loveys from AHS and Mandy Wilson-Garner from the Students' Union who have all agreed to bring their unique perspectives to this selection process.
I asked Mandy why she wanted to take on this extra piece of work....
Studying for A levels as a single parent was hard, finding the right university was harder still. I needed somewhere that understood a person comes as a whole package, often requiring differing levels of support. My first university interview (not naming institutions here) was a disaster. A suit-wearing academic asked me pompous questions about Jane Austen, had no idea where the university nursery was or how to access it, and, having ticked a box, sent me on my way. Rejected, the first person from my family to ever go to university, I almost didn’t try again. Luckily I did and, to my relief, I found a different institution with a set of values and behaviours that made me feel welcome and supported. Universities are not all the same. Universities can consciously adopt a new culture, challenge values/behaviours, strive to be different. They can choose to change. So, why did I agree to joining this committee? To bring about that change.
It looks as though Mandy is going to be interesting to work with. At the meeting this week I am hoping that we can agree the main elements of the job description and person specification. The next stage will be advertising and undertaking the active search for candidates in April. If we can arrange it, I also plan to set up a web-page in the next couple of weeks to give anyone who is interested access to the results of our engagement exercise, the job description and these blogs. I am sure that will prompt further debate.
(now back to that black, barren land of HR with Dozy, Beaky etc.)
Does our next Vice-Chancellor need high quality academic credentials to fulfil their role successfully? I think that many would accept that an inherent understanding of the academic enterprise is important in who we engage for this role, and one way to get that is to have fully experienced it. To have been through a career of teaching students and carrying out research. Some of you have pointed out to me that the world's leading academic institutions are, by and large, led by academics with a track record of achievement. That makes a strong case for 'high quality academic credentials' being near the top of the person specification.
The survey we ran in February, against a list of 15 possible characteristics for our next Vice-Chancellor, asked respondents to identify up to 5 as 'Most important' and 5 as 'Least important'. The results are interesting:
While we might expect staff from the Education & Research job family to lean more towards this as an important characteristic, I was surprised at the proportion who assessed it as one of the least important characteristics. Overall, in the league table of results, characteristics about the ability to engage with staff and students, build teams, lead a complex organisation and have strong personal values ranked higher. I hope to be able to publish the full report of the engagement exercise later this month, which I hope will prompt continued debate.
My last thought reflects some of the wider changes being spoken about in higher education. There is a discussion around thinking differently about Universities. In this engagement exercise, people have consistently talked about the 'marketisation' or 'corporatisation' of the sector. While this blog isn't long enough, and I don't consider myself informed enough, to make comment on such a big issue, we might reflect that the current stock of Vice-Chancellors, and their teams, have been brought up to deliver success in this environment. If there is a movement to change the nature of the sector, do we need different skills to lead it?
As a source of wisdom, the Friday Night Comedy on Radio 4 may not be up there with the usual academic texts, but I was struck by a description of a politician on The Now Show last week. "Politicians are there to set direction and connect with the public". Hugh Dennis then went on to say that politicians shouldn't do detail; that is for Civil Servants. Certainly that is my experience of how the roles divide, having supported Ministers at a range of events when I was a Civil Servant. However, nowadays it is often failures on detail which politicians will be remembered for. Anyone remember Diane Abbott's interview about Labour's plans for increasing the number of police?
The snow last week gave me the opportunity to start thinking about the job description and person specification for our next Vice-Chancellor. The phrase 'set direction and connect with the public' seems to me a very good starting point. Looking at Vice-Chancellor job descriptions from Australia, Canada and the UK, there are, unsurprisingly similarities in the job descriptions. When I review the results of the focus groups and survey we carried out here in February, there are some common themes about the type of person you want to deliver this. That person is very 'values' driven, which I can probably categorise into three main headings:
Personal standards: integrity, public-service ethos, diversity, transparency in decision making
Engaging with people: visible, approachable, inclusive, listens
Leadership perspective: global, working in partnership, entrepreneurial, visionary, confident
We are meeting with the recruitment agents later this week who have the experience of engaging with the market. We will be seeking their advice on how best to position this role to attract the best possible field of candidates and that will come through in the advertising material as well as the job description and person specification.
If anyone has other choices of Radio 4 programmes which will help this search, do let me know. I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to on the daily commute.
You have to have been a project manager to understand why I might feel excited about colouring in the final box on a Gantt chart and declaring Stage One of the project to find our next Vice-Chancellor complete. So having put the crayons away, I'll get on with this week's blog.
The survey which has been running since late January closed on Friday with 857 respondents (41% staff, 25% students, 24% alumni and a broad range of other stakeholders) who made 2,488 comments. We also finished the focus groups last week with over 200 attendees, which has given me over 100 sheets of flipchart to assimilate. Thank you to all who took the time to contribute, but engagement with this process doesn't end there. Please do write to me if you have questions or suggestions, and I'll feature any common themes in this blog. The Committee overseeing the recruitment process are now reviewing the results of this engagement exercise which will feed into the job description and person specification for Stage Two.
I am also pleased that, after initially starting with seven possibles, we have now commissioned Saxton Bampfylde to help us with the search stage of this project. Hamish Laing and Dr Jennifer Barnes will be working with us, looking nationally, internationally and beyond (sorry, got a bit carried away - lets stick to this planet); inside and outside the HE sector to find individuals who have the skills and experience we need.
The next meeting of the Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, will be on 21 March at which the job description and person specification will be discussed, alongside advice from the Remuneration Committee on what we might offer to secure the right person for the role. More on this in a future blog.
Last week we held ten focus groups. To all who came along and contributed to the debate, many thanks. After each one I use my phone to photograph the flipcharts, and while I can edit out my shoes, I haven't yet managed to keep the whole thing in focus. The words "clear vision" seem, ironically, to always avoid the auto-focus function and become somewhat of a blur (you can make up your own jokes from Blur album titles).
While being out-of-focus might make translation of the results more challenging, allowing some latitude in the direction of discussions has proven particularly illuminating. Our lay Council members who ran six of the groups last week have all learned something new about how the University operates at the coal face and I have already seen some of this new-found knowledge coming out in email discussions. 'Trust' is probably one of the most repeated words in these discussions, so as I start to draw together the common themes from the whole engagement exercise, I will try to leave the corrective lenses at home.
This week we expect to appoint a recruitment agent. We met with the companies last Thursday to learn from their experience of recruiting Vice-Chancellors, and to understand their perspectives on this job and on the market. All were very positive about the exciting challenges this role brings, and believe that we will have a lot of interest; national and international; from within the HE sector and outside. As a panel, what we were looking for was someone who will work with us, listen, not impose their ideas but add expertise we don't have at the University. I see that the Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Dundee have also announced their retirement, so it will be interesting to see how these parallel competitions pan out.
As we come to the end of the first phase of this recruitment project, there is still the opportunity to make your views known on the appointment of our next Vice-Chancellor. The last two focus groups, mixed groups open to anyone are today; the survey is open until Friday.
As we come into the third week of the survey about finding our next Vice-Chancellor, we've had over 500 responses. Thank you; this is a really important decision for the University and will have a serious impact on our future. Perhaps a little disappointing is that only about 170 of those are from staff. Yet this is a group we might consider most affected by the future appointment of a Vice-Chancellor. Each Monday, after we have published a reminder, we get a peak of responses. This Monday, it would be great if an even higher peak was created by staff contributions to the debate.
Immediately following Valentine's Day we are seeing four of the recruitment agents to choose one to support us in this campaign. (In case you were wondering, there is no connection between the first and last parts of that sentence.) I am very pleased that Mandy Wilson-Garner from the Students' Union is part of that selection panel. One of the key things we will be assessing is how well these companies understand this University in particular and have creative ideas about how to engage the right sort of Vice-Chancellor to meet our needs; Mandy will bring another perspective to this. We hope to start working with the recruitment specialist to develop our requirements for the new Vice-Chancellor later this month.
I really enjoyed the focus group at the Virgil Building on Friday. Ten people attended, but between them made the noise and contribution of twice that number. When asked what we should preserve about the University, "high ambition" was right up there, but this was coupled with a desire to build a more coherent team culture across the organisation. I once heard someone described as 'profoundly superficial' and, while you might consider me judgemental, I've been looking for an opportunity to use that delightful phrase ever since. But that won't be today. This group was the complete opposite, generating a very thoughtful and challenging discussion and exactly the sort of input I was hoping for. It gives me real confidence in people's interest in this process. Some of our focus groups in the coming week will be led by members of Council and I know that they are looking forward to hearing people's views first hand.
One week into the survey about our search for a new Vice-Chancellor and we have 350 responses. 49% from students, 25% from Professional Service staff, 18% from academic staff and a range of others including alumni, partners and employers. What a great start and thanks to all who have completed the questionnaire, and particularly to those who have offered some very thoughtful comments. Not many jokes yet, but I’m still hopeful. Of course, this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t see if the number 350 has any particular significance. So, it’s a worldwide movement for action against climate change (after 350 ppm, the ‘safe’ concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere). And in 350 AD the Romans started another civil war, though I’m not sure that this distinguishes it from all of the other years of the Roman empire!
Anyway, Googling over and back to the survey. What is most striking in the first week is the broad variety of views. Some highlight the importance of enterprise and innovation; others see it as selling out to the market. Student satisfaction is prioritised by many; others want a less ‘consumerised’ approach. Research (excellence, impact) is coming through as a consistently strong theme along with education, staff engagement and transparency of decision making. We also started the focus groups last week, and these give an opportunity to delve beneath the surface of such comments. What exactly does ‘transparency’ mean in a University? What examples have we experienced of good and bad decision making processes? I was going to title this blog ‘Frank’. Not because he made a particularly good contribution at a focus group, but because those who have contributed so far have been just that – honest and unafraid to express their views. It makes for really healthy, enjoyable and insightful discussions.
So if you haven’t offered your thoughts yet, with just one click, you can be on your way to influencing who becomes our next Vice-Chancellor. Or come along to a focus group and join in the discussion.
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