Heriot-Watt University

Mark Adderley

Our interviews with business leaders span a range of organisations and areas of focus. Mark Adderley is the Human Resource Development director at Heriot-Watt University and recently spoke to Anna Auld about his role as HRD in the university’s recent growth and future aspirations. Having worked in the public, not-for-profit and private sectors, Mark brings a wealth of experience to his role. 

Tell us a little about Heriot-Watt University and your time there

It’s going really well. Over the last five years we brought in a new senior management team including myself as HR Development director and a new strategy came about from there. The University now has three strategic themes: Research Intensification, Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and Internationalisation. It’s an ambitious strategy, but we’ve enjoyed good success to date and we’re doing pretty well.

How does your team in Human Resource Development support these strategies?

Research Intensification is all about more people doing higher quality research.  As a university we look for collaboration opportunities, and my HRD team have introduced a global platform recruitment initiative, and worked hard at developing research skills.  We now have more 4 star researchers than ever before, and don’t see any reason why this should stop. We support their researcher development through courses, programmes and events, all focused on their academic leadership.  We have won or been shortlisted for a couple of recent Times Higher awards for our academic leadership programmes and just this month won an ARMA (Association of Research Managers and Administrators) for our Heriot-Watt Engage initiative, improving the engagement of our research with public and private entities.
Internationalisation is a big focus and we’ve had lots of developments. Our campus in Dubai has been going for just over six years. We’ve got 3500 students there and we’re nearly at capacity with a strong and growing reputation for engineering and management.  We also started MBA courses in a borrowed facility in Malaysia two years ago, and after opening our impressive new campus there; aim to grow to 5000 students in the next few years. Growth means recruitment, development, reviewing of pay structures and rolling out HR policies globally. By the time Malaysia and Dubai are up to capacity, we’ll have more ‘on campus’ overseas students, than those based in Scotland. It’s an ambitious strategy, but we’ve enjoyed good success to date and we’re doing pretty well.
When it comes to Excellence in Learning and Teaching, HRD’s role is around embedding our values into everything we do, developing and sharing best practice, from recruitment to Learning and Teaching development and staff engagement. We deliver research-led teaching, and in 2013 we won the Outstanding Human Resources Team category at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards. A big part of that award application process was around how we deliver across the range of university strategic initiatives.

We have discussed how Heriot-Watt University approaches talent attraction; how do you retain and grow that talent?

I’m pleased to say our turnover is very low at about 6%. We offer a pretty good employment package, and our pay rates and holiday allowances are good. We can’t offer everything we’d like to yet, but we do consider broader employee benefits. We have a nursery on site, and offer childcare vouchers. It’s a nice campus and a good place to work. 
We try to make sure that our staff have clear objectives and regular performance development reviews, with a big emphasis on career development. Academics also face a key decision at some stage in their career; should they follow a management route? We try to help people make that decision. We’re not perfect at it, but we have a number of management and leadership programmes and tools we use, which all fit within our Leadership Excellence Framework. This framework also lets us recruit, select and develop people against these criteria.
Our global platform brings high quality researchers into the university from overseas, and this has been our main talent acquisition initiative over the last 3-4 years.

How do you approach performance development reviews?

My view of an effective performance development review (PDR) is it should be all about conversation, not paper.  The outcome could be written on a blank piece of paper. It’s really just an excuse to have a discussion about personal and career development and ensuring long term career development takes place. 
'Managers' set SMART objectives at the beginning of the year and following regular performance discussions an end of year performance review takes place. These reviews should be holistic, looking at career development and promotion and not just a form that needs to be filled out. 

Staff engagement seems to be an important factor for you.

Staff engagement is critical, and while we do lots to engage staff (values-based awards, student-assessed teaching awards, staff surveys, employee engagement forums etc.) we also try to work in partnership with the trade unions.
When I joined Heriot-Watt we were mid-industrial dispute. At least one of our unions was refusing to participate in PDR. We’ve turned that around and have gone from about 30% participation, to over 80%.  We tried to work with the unions with a generally open approach and while challenging, that constructive partnership is important.
I am a fan of talking rather than reverting to process.  So when we get to formal processes, e.g. disciplinary and grievances, we try to get people to talk, bring in mediators, and have discussion before things become too formal. Partnership through alternative resolution to conflict helps us avoid a legal route. We have a couple of trained mediators, including myself, and know that we add value through informal rather than formal processes.

Staff wellbeing is a key concern for any HRD, what is your approach?

When any organisation employs someone, in my view, you’re employing the whole person, not just their competencies 9-5, but also their character and their commitment. I believe people operate best when they can be themselves at work. We’re trying to ensure the person you want to be can come to work too; you don’t leave who you really are at the campus gates. 
For me it’s about ensuring we’re thinking about the individual. Organisations need to ask themselves: how can we help people find a good ‘life balance’? How does work fit into their life alongside leisure time and family and friends? Around a third of people employed in professional services here have some type of flexible working arrangement, which can be formal or informal.  Although this is a two-way agreement; it has to still support the university delivering objectives. That’s just one example of our approach. 
While these things are not exclusively HRD’s responsibility, we do facilitate and support the cultures across the university. I have a phrase I apply to what we do in HRD: “enabling Heriot-Watt people to be the best they can”.
Mark Adderley was talking to Anna Auld, senior consultant at Michael Page Scotland. Are you looking to take the next step in your career? Are you looking to hire talent? Or are you simply looking for some further advice on the market? Contact Anna for a confidential discussion.
T: +44 141 331 7931