Case study: Interim Employee Relations Manager at University Of Wolverhampton

Interim Employee Relations Manager at University Of Wolverhampton

Rebecca Brandwood talks to Interim HR & Employee Relations Manager Sue Simkin about implementing a new reward and recognition programme at Wolverhampton University

The issue

Within the higher education sector in the UK, reward and recognition for staff has historically focused very much on research. This has been the state-of-play across the board, despite the varying levels of dependency on research income for future growth. Now however, there is a need to ensure that the strength and quality of teaching is both assured and ‘future proofed’ as the income streams from academics that are excellent at teaching gain more significance and increasing focus.

Whilst a very robust research assessment framework exists to support recognition for university staff research achievements, there has been very little sector wide work on teaching delivery recognition that focuses on teaching and assessment. However, with the increasing focus on value for money, as well as the introduction of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), universities are turning their attention to the quality of their teaching.

With this in mind, Wolverhampton University made the decision to draw up a teaching and assessment framework that would recognise and reward staff for teaching excellence. In order to implement the framework however, the legal validity of the programme needed detailed explanation with different ‘embedding’ processes attached to each stage of implementation. For full engagement and utilisation of the framework, a cultural acceptance of the possible benefits of utilisation was paramount, otherwise any change throughout the workforce would be negligible in impact.  

The solution

Bringing about a new method of rewarding excellence required going through a legally robust consultation process – some staff, although not the majority, may be materially affected. The university’s leadership team needed to be advised on these changes and key stakeholders needed to be convinced that potential contractual changes would be for the benefit of academic staff.

The university’s new HR director Tracey Hulme recognised the strategic importance of such a programme. Tracey knew she needed someone who could help bridge the gap between the university’s leadership team and those stakeholders with reservations about the programme. That individual would have to work through the programme and present it in a way that achieved buy-in from both the university’s leadership team and its staff.

The candidate

To bring this about, the university brought on board Sue Simkin as their Interim HR Project Manager. Sue brought first-hand experience to the role, having interim and permanent senior HR experience at the University of Oxford and King’s College London. 

The university had laid out the programme delivery into three phases, and working with Tracey, Sue helped to roll these phases out. The first phase involved approaching the 800 university staff members and their leadership teams, working with them to identify the new job descriptions that best matched their role, removing old descriptions that were no longer fit for purpose. This meant holding workshops and briefings with managers and staff to explain changes, benefits, and re- focusing their discussions around the skillsets of current individuals with the future in mind.

At the same time as holding sessions and communicating with university staff on all levels, Sue had to keep stakeholders abreast of any updates and manage any complaints or queries they may have; a busy role that required a sensitive project to be delivered at pace.

Sue’s understanding of employment law was critical, as it gave her the ability to navigate and explain the changing conditions of service to all the parties involved, and ultimately enabled her to succeed in the role.

The outcome

Following Sue’s work with the university, the level of resistance to the new programme decreased significantly and the 800 staff members Sue had worked with were transferring onto the new job descriptions and person specifications. Having worked with staff at all levels of the business, including all faculty Deans and Vice Chancellors, she succeeded in getting the workforce on board with the project. 


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