Our new People and Culture Strategy 

As I reflect on all that’s happened since becoming HR&OD Director in May this year, as well as the turbulence and challenges we faced in the year prior, I am proud of what we have collectively achieved despite those toughest of times. The difficult decisions we have made, the commitment and strength of our staff and the efforts we have gone to in the interests of the continued sustainability of the University are outstanding. I recognise with this has come individual pressures and challenges and whilst we are not there yet, we would not have come as far as we have without the hard work, dedication and commitment of all of our staff.

We still have much to do to return to being self-supporting and to provide the longer-term job security we all want, in an organisation where we are all proud to work. This will require focus on growth opportunities, the development of new areas of activity and, above all, making the best use of the abilities and creativity of our workforce. We can’t afford to stand still and will need to continually adapt, develop and improve.

Working together 

I can’t mention the challenges of the last 18 months without paying tribute to our JSNCC staff and trade union representatives. As well as asking the difficult questions, holding management to account and arguing for changes to proposals, they supported their colleagues through difficult consultations, sharing their emotional burden often while uncertain about their own futures. The reps do a difficult, often thankless job; we don’t always agree and our conversations are often difficult, but I believe we share a common purpose for the University to prosper for the good of us all.

The role of the reps will continue to be vital as we look forward and continue to navigate the choppy waters ahead. Upcoming challenges include the USS pension valuation, concerns over the outcome of the national pay negotiations, job security, equal pay, and high workloads giving rise to issues with mental health and wellbeing. We have work to do to embed the Organising for Success (O4S) changes, whilst also reviewing our processes through How We Work, and we must challenge ourselves to identify things we can stop doing or we could do more efficiently or effectively.

People and Culture 

This brings me onto our cultural challenges. We have started to break down our siloes, but new structures alone won’t change attitudes and behaviours.  If we want to become a more agile, more inclusive and more creative institution, which I believe is a necessity not a nice to have, then collectively we need to make it happen. To enable this, we will be refreshing the University’s People Strategy, re-branded as a People and Culture Strategy, in support of our 2025 institutional plan and consistent with our core values. As part of the refresh, we will hold focus groups to enable staff to shape the thinking – if you would like to be involved, then please let me know.

At this point, I should mention the HR restructure. Earlier this year we moved to a new devolved structure with dedicated HR teams in each division, plus one for central PSDs and one for Estates, IS and Commercial Services, all supported by a much smaller central HR&OD Directorate responsible for strategy, policy and specialist advice. As my divisional colleagues will confirm, it is early days in the transition to the devolved HR model, with challenges still to overcome, but by locating HR services closer to those they support, we believe our HR teams will be better able to deliver the high-quality professional and solution-focussed guidance and support that will help facilitate the development and growth of our divisions. My vision for HR&OD success is that we will feel proud of our contribution to Kent being recognised as a great place to work, with a positive, supportive and inclusive working environment in which all of our people feel valued, trusted and recognised, that their wellbeing, development and performance are of equal importance and that they are able to give their best and reach their full potential.

And talking of people giving their best, I am delighted we have just launched the Kent Staff Recognition Awards which this year will particularly focus on the amazing contributions of our staff during the pandemic. Nominations are still open and so please follow the link and nominate a colleague.


Martin Atkinson | Director of HR and Organisational Development