Powering Innovation and Creativity in Higher Education HR

05 May 2024      Martin Higgs, AUDE Communications and Campaigns Manager

Employee care has been given a whole new meaning thanks to the pandemic, and HR has been front and centre of the response as organisations have adapted to new ways of working almost overnight. In this trusted role, HR teams need to seize opportunities to help their organisations continue evolving and drive some real innovation in approaches to people management. This article is provided by the team at Oracle ahead of the UHR 2024 Conference.

HR elevated its influence in the corporate Higher Education (HE) hierarchy by responding effectively to a profusion of successive challenges that hit the sector. This has set a new bar for HR & OD, who must continue to involve themselves in strategic and operational decision making by placing people issues at the heart of agenda items seeking to address and overcome business challenges.

Some of the common issues being faced in the HE Sector today:

  • Fierce global competition for talent
  • Accelerating business agility and scenario planning
  • Increasing organisation performance, efficiency, and successful outcomes
  • Enhancing student and employee experience and fulfilment

A reactionary or tactical response by HR teams to these issues will not deliver the degree of change required for our re-aligned world; a reactive response will at best ensure survival. To thrive and flourish demands innovative, creative and radical solutions from HR teams, effectively supported by enabling technology.

Throughout the public sector and beyond, many organisations are struggling to retain and engage employees who have fundamentally re-evaluated their priorities for their work-life balance, their mental and physical wellbeing, and their careers. It is important to recognise the diverse segments within the Higher Education workforce, from full-time academic staff to contingent faculty, casual contractors and professional or support staff. Members of these diverse communities all have inherently different needs and motivations. As individuals they also have different personal goals, aspirations, and interests.

HR must listen to these employee groups and seek to enhance the employee experience in creative ways, through a number of lenses such as HR service delivery, total reward, benefits and career opportunities. Taking an employee first approach will be a critical step-change on the path to facilitating the conditions that will enable institutions to succeed longer term through addressing the needs, aspirations, and expectations of their primary asset - their people.

Improvements in the HR offer to employees can no longer be just esoteric refinements but rather be radical, relevant, and committed in the re-emerging world of work in HE.

HE HR teams should ensure that these aims are central to their people strategies:

  • Being an employer of choice and attracting world-class talent
  • Providing a positive and flexible employee experience for all
  • Driving representation and advocacy especially with respect to Diversity, Equality & Inclusion
  • Being digital by default in all business facets
  • Maintaining a clear skills and talent pipeline
  • Reducing employee turnover and improving engagement
  • Accelerating automation in HR for transactions and improvements in organisational data

Pre-pandemic, many of these now business critical issues were often considered by some institutions as marginal activities and received scant attention from senior leaders.

A core primary undertaking for HR to achieve these ‘must-haves’ should be to enhance the digital savvy of their own communities. Removing paper-based systems isn’t radical for some but there are still many employers requiring employees to fill in paper forms on-site, or email Word documents to HR, thereby affecting job satisfaction, overall experience and potentially even career progression. Use of the right HR technologies is proven to provide employees with a far more tailored and streamlined experience, while freeing up HR professionals’ valuable time to focus their efforts on addressing the challenges outlined above.

The status quo has been forever disrupted and employees of today, let alone the organisations of tomorrow, are demanding from HR a radical rethink, in order to successfully nurture their institutions through their continued growth journey. 

The landscape of work, workers and the workplace has been changed in HE by external forces that necessitated quick and reactive responses. There has never been a more opportune time for HR teams to demonstrate their commitment to proactive, innovative and creative continued improvement.  

Wherever you are on your growth journey, we are here to support you. We would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about how we have delivered solutions enabling HR innovation and creativity across the HE sector, and how we could help your institution to thrive and succeed.

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