HR Sceptics, Academic Promotions and Induction

Do you wince at ‘strategic’ Human Resources’ increasingly Huxleyan language?   Nudge, Engage, Align, Disrupt, Agile, and, classics from management gurus such as ‘thought partnership’ suggest that Human Resources could be renamed the Department for Behavioural Manipulation.  (More on the usefulness of fads in another blog.)

But, if you’re the kind of sceptic who feels like you’re sticking pins into your eyes when you read buzzwords but you still like practical Human Resources, do not despair.  There are major employers whose values you already share and whose front-line workers marshal evidence and logic to snuff out catchphrases used by ‘visionaries’. Universities! (OK, a minority of academics are bovine-ordure generators but they provide others with corrective work. Not all academics are equal.)

University HR is a great place to work if you love critical thinking, learning new stuff and being part of a community merrily divining the knowledge upon which modern civilisation is dependent.

Careful though, if you move into a university HR department from another sector you might find it hard to grasp what the front-line workers, academics, do every day in the pursuit of and propogation of that knowledge.

Lucky, though, there is an HR process which tells you exactly what they do, their value to the university and their immense value to society at large.

Academic Promotions Processes

Research-intensive universities run periodic academic promotions processes. And, if you work on promotions, you gain detailed insight into the workings of academia … if you have time to read the applications.

Reading an application from a Reader, say, to become a Professor is eye opening. The evidence in support of a promotion ranges across teaching duties and quality, research outcomes, publications, involvement in academic communities, ability to ‘capture’ grant income and more.  When you join a univeristy you might rarely see Dr Foster in her office and wonder why noone is bothered by her absence. But, after reading her application for a Professorship in Nuclear Physics you might realise that she’s a respected modeller of subatomic particle behaviour, working in a global team at gigantic particle accelerators with multi-billion Euro funding to gain knowledge aiding the development of nuclear medicine. Dr Foster is not in Gloucester but at Hamburg’s DESY, say.

Academic Promotions as Instant Induction

The academic promotions process is so informative that I would recommend all new operational HR staff get involved and read an application pack or read the criteria for promotions.  Caveat: before rolling your sleeves up to help, ensure that the transactional elements of the process are automated – obviously using Geiger-P – or you might spend more time chasing paper and collating it than learning about academic performance.

So, if you don’t like managerialism but do like HR action may I nudge you to apply for a job in a university, where blah blah is more likely dismissed as not and where you can get an quick, detailed induction by either:

  1. thumbing through an academic promotions committee pack to get a sense of what makes a university tick (good academics, obviously, but what is a ‘good academic’?)
  2. read my next blog, which provides advice on academic promotions
  3. read your university’s academic promotions policy and related documentation.

My Favourite Example to Date

My favourite promotions application came from a Senior Lecturer in Constitutional Law for a Readership. He had been quietly advising a national government on the modernisation of its constitution. It did not contain new knowledge (like proving the existence of a subatomic particle) but it was a masterful piece of scholarship which helped millions of people live in a modernised state.

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