What was your journey to the position you hold now?
I joined the University as a HR Officer in a job share in 1996. I brought previous experience in HR from the Health Service. In 2005 I undertook a secondment to IT for six months developing the new help desk for the Oracle system and followed that by taking on the First Line Support Manager role in what was then, ‘Business Services and Projects’. I then moved in to a Business Change Manager role working full time for 5 years on the preparation and implementation of the HRIS/CoreHR system and associated processes. Following this I moved back to Personnel Services to take on the position of Head of HR Systems and a couple of years later, in 2016, I took on the role of Head of HR Operations which included management of the systems teams and development programme and also the central HRBP teams. I have been the Programme Manager for the Focus Programme since 2018.
What does the Focus Programme involve?
The Focus Programme is helping the University to improve the way in which professional and support services are delivered across the University. It is a change programme working with people to embed a culture of continuous improvement whereby small changes and incremental improvements introduced by individuals and teams make things work better. The Programme encourages us to work in the best way we can for the sake of ourselves, our colleagues and ‘customers’ and the organisation as a whole. There are a number of tools and approaches available to help with this but it also represents a shift in mind set. My role has also involved managing a portfolio of varied and complex process improvement projects, overseeing the development of the Continuous Improvement Practitioners and building mechanisms to support the sharing of best practice and developing the continuous improvement approach across our highly devolved organisation.
How have you balanced your career with your family commitments?
During my employment at the University I have had three periods of maternity leave. I’ve been lucky to have some very supportive managers in this time and have undertaken a range of flexible working patterns and part time working arrangements.
I have always been mindful that I needed my career to balance with my family and home life. The University is full of opportunities and so I have looked for the ones that have allowed me to develop and made them work for me.
I have always been mindful that I needed my career to balance with my family and home life. The University is full of opportunities and so I have looked for the ones that have allowed me to develop and made them work for me. This has required me to approach things with a positive attitude and to be flexible and open-minded. It hasn’t always been easy but I have been able to progress through a series of interesting roles and work with a lot of talented people.
What are your career highlights?
There have been a number of big projects that I have been involved with and new initiatives I’ve introduced but, what I have really valued in my career, is having the opportunity to support the development of other people. I am most proud of putting together really strong teams of people and helping them develop whilst also delivering the best for the organisation.
What career advice would you give to your colleagues?
Don’t be afraid to take the leap. My professional qualification is in HR but that has also opened doors to opportunities in other professions. For example, I’m not a professionally qualified IT person but I have done a lot of work in IT. You can apply your skills in different areas you don’t have to stay in your profession in a narrower field. Every stage of your career is a platform for the next step. You don’t know what skills and experience you are going to gain from a new role so approach opportunities with an open mind.
It is also really important to talk to people across the organisation as it can open doors and enable people to hear about opportunities. Being positive, professional and showing willing (for example to engage in project work across the organisation) can be hugely beneficial to development.
It is helpful to consider how successful people operate and whether there is anything that you can apply or learn from their approach. I have recently been working with some very senior members of the collegiate University on the Covid-19 response and it has been fascinating and inspirational to see how they operate and approach such big topics.
I have recently been working with some very senior members of the collegiate University on the Covid-19 response and it has been fascinating and inspirational to see how they operate and approach such big topics.
What networking opportunities have you benefited from?
There are lots of networks and updates that can help keep you alert to developments in your profession and HE more generally. For example, I follow University news, CIPD HR updates, IT updates and I’m part of the Lean HE network (an international group). I’ve chaired groups with membership across Universities. I’ve found that a broad range of approaches is helpful for gaining a different perspective. I also took part in an action learning set organised by the Professional HE Groups for Finance, HR, IT and Estates which involved networking with my equivalents from across those professions. I found this a great environment for considering challenges and giving different perspectives. I noticed that about 50% of the participants were coming up for a career change or changed roles following the group meetings so it may well have been a useful forum for reflecting on career pathways and helping people to take the next step.
I’ve found that a broad range of approaches is helpful for gaining a different perspective.
What lessons have you learnt form the workplace changes imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic?
It has been important to step back, recognise the scale of the effects and give the situation proper attention in order to best enable continuity and ensure appropriate support arrangements are in place. It’s helpful to think about what is important to you in the ‘new normal’ and to make time for that. I’ve noticed that people have dealt with the situation in different ways. We shouldn’t be afraid to work with colleagues to share experiences and ideas and to adapt our working environment in order to make things work for everyone in the team.