HR Director Profile: Dean Morley, HR Director, Kingston University

Dean Morley

Marathons are Dean Morley’s passion. He has completed the 2016 London marathon in an impressive two hours and fifty-six minutes. Morley, who is the HR Director at Kingston University and Chair of the London HEI HR Director's Forum says his hobby helps him to keep space and perspective from his busy job. Looking back at his career his overarching comment is that it has been enormously enjoyable and his success has come about not from a particular strategic plan but from taking opportunities as they arose and getting involved in the things that he was interested in the most. He admits he has perhaps taken the ‘indirect’ route to the top but looking back he wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s his story.

  • Early career:

Morley started out in financial services in the 1980s. It was a time when you assumed that you were starting out on a job for life but then the Big Bang happened and there was a sudden deregulation of financial markets and everything changed: “I was in branch banking in the Midlands working for a time at the National Exhibition Centre. The Big Bang meant that larger organisations like Natwest were exposed and my career started to take a different route.”

As part of the bank’s ‘fast track’ management programme, Morley was given a secondment working in regional HR: “The banks were looking to do a programme on productivity management which was fundamentally about cost saving, but also the need to protect and improve customer service. We had to become more effective to save money. To reduce costs by 20-30%, we had to look at headcount.”

The bank engaged Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The plan was to recruit internal NatWest staff who would be trained up by consultants from BCG to help implement the cost cutting exercises. Quick to spot the opportunity, Morley put his name forward. “I spent a couple of years doing that, typically being parachuted into one branch at a time and at the end of three months we reduced costs by 25%”. It was an important experience because whilst Morley wasn’t very popular in branches as the agent of change, it got him thinking about the role of line managers. “I started to look at organisations through a different lens than before,” says Morley.

Morley went on to manage the team and, started work on the creation of service centres taking the back office away from the branches. “It was the first time any banks had done that.” However, the interest in changing behaviours continued and coupled with the analytical experience gained from working with BCG, Morley felt he could bring the two skills together for a generalist HR role: “I was appointed as Head of HR for NatWest Mortgage Services’ salesforce. At the time it employed around 2,000 people and the salesforce gave regulated advice.”

Working with sales and marketing was a significant cultural change: “The people were just light years apart from those that I had worked with before. I began to work with the National Sales Director on reward schemes. At the time mortgage advisors were encouraged to sell a mortgage with no determination on whether it was a good sale or not.” Morley recognised that it was time to introduce a reward scheme that recognised the sales that had some ‘sticking power’. It was an innovative move and one that paid off as quality of sales improved and better performing mortgage advisors were retained.

It was at this time that NatWest was taken over by RBS, so it was a time of huge change and Morley spent a great deal of his time supporting the merger and working in strategic re-organisation. This included some of the harder aspects of HR, including making previous colleagues redundant.

In 2000 Morley moved to Pearl Assurance Limited (Pearl) which was part of the wider Australian owned AMP Assurance. The business was buying up other life assurance companies at the time and Morley worked alongside the CFO creating a shared finance service. Reporting to the HR Director, Morley also worked closely with the Chief Actuary and Executive Legal Counsel. The role operated at the most senior levels in AMP with a very demanding client base of 700 finance and legal professionals.

The change management programme that Morley headed up removed 30% headcount but it was implementing the behavioural change that was harder. “When other teams came into join the business, they continued to identify themselves as being from their old company. They would say for example, “We are the London Life team.” It was learning how to overcome this that was the real challenge. After three years, Pearl started to close the life book and Morley felt that with this there was not enough to get his teeth into. It was time to move on.

  • The mid-years:

Morley had been an Assessor for the Midland Excellence Awards when he was at Pearl and it took him to Long Lartin, a Category A men’s prison, located in the village of South Littleton in Worcestershire. It was an experience that never left him: “We were shown around and I can admit to being scared. They took us to the shake-down room where we saw items that had been confiscated including razor blades in toothbrushes. It gave me an insight into the prison service and a huge respect for the role of prison officers.”

A role came up at the Home Office working for the Prison Service (HMPS) and Morley was intrigued to learn more about prisons. “I started as the Head of Resource Management and was charged with a sizeable team there with responsibility for workforce and succession planning for just over 40,000 employees. Whilst in this role I was fortunate to be sponsored to study for my Masters in Strategic HRM, which broadened my perspective on the impact HR can have in a business. I was then asked to head up a project team tasked with a review of the 1500 roles in HR. At the time every prison had its own model. We decided to pull out the operational side of HR from the prisons, introduce business partners and set up a shared service centre in Newport.”

The whole project saved £150 million over a five-year period and reduced HR’s headcount by half. “There was a nervousness from the prison governors who had to rely on the remote services. We had to sell to them the idea of what they would be getting and how the service could improve.” Morley also introduced a new Enterprise Resource Planning system which was a part of the project. “Working for HMPS was a solid job that I enjoyed but the role was to change as the Home Office decided to merge the Prison Service with the Probation Service and the result was the National Offenders Service.”

Morley explains that the two current services weren’t joined up with the work done with an offender in a prison not always carried through when they were released to probation. The aim of the new service was to overcome this by establishing ‘offender managers’ who would track and manage an offender’s whole journey through the system. Morley became the Head of HR for the new National Offender Management HQ. The job was to get the group together and implement a significant HR and OD change programme in support of the establishment of the new NOMS. By now Morley was working just below the level of Senior Civil Service (SCS).

In June 2007, Morley decided he should move to take the next step on his career. He was appointed to the SCS as Head of HR Strategy & Change for the Pension Service, part of the Department of Work and Pensions: “About five minutes after I joined, the government decided to merge the Pensions Service with the Disability and Carers Service. A new board was formed and I got my teeth into a culture change.” Morley was able to draw on his earlier work in behavioural change and put it centre stage. “We wanted to create a more constructive culture, where people identified with and were proud to work for the new service, so all of the Board got involved in holding sessions with local teams to ask them about what made them proud to work at the Service but also what frustrated them”. That gave Morley some great insights and ideas about what they needed to do.

“After about three years I took a bit of perspective on my career and realised that I had been the number two for a while and wanted the challenge of taking on a number one position,” says Morley who followed through on his ambition and was duly appointed as the HR Director at Kingston University in January 2011.

  • Challenges at Kingston University:

“It was another sector I hadn’t worked in before. The change agenda resonated with me in terms of my experience and led me to the role at Kingston University. We’re working on building the University’s reputation to ensure it is as strong as it deserves to be.”

One of Morley’s main challenges is developing and implementing a new, cohesive People Strategy for Kingston University’s 2000 employees that is aligned to the University’s corporate and academic priorities.

Morley has already implemented a revised academic role and career structure for the academics, improving the focus on core academic domains and has additionally introduced a new performance and development appraisal scheme and a redesigned executive and senior staff reward scheme. “Interestingly we have moved away from Performance Related Pay, it just wasn’t right for Kingston University.”

An element of the job that has continued to captivate him is the culture. “We have artists, engineers and scientists at the University. There is a broad Kingston culture but you don’t have to scratch too far to see they all have their own cultures and ways of working. It’s a fascinating and stimulating place to work.”

  • Top tips for HR, Higher Education candidates:

Morley advises candidates hoping to enter the sector to do their research: “The sector, and most universities within it, are going through a significant amount of change; do your research to understand what this is, how it affects the institution to which you are applying and how your experience can contribute to that.”

He adds that even applications for entry level roles need to show some understanding of the main issues facing the sector, what the University's mission and priorities are as well as those of the HR function.

“Whilst the sector can be complex and have its own terminology and jargon, the essence of many of these roles can boil down to skills and competencies that you probably already have, for example, good customer service and IT skills,” says Morley.

Tapping into existing contacts is a good way of landing that first job, he advises: “Use your networks; more and more people have made the move over to Higher Education – speak to them about how they translated their experience into the requirements of the role, and ask them about any vacancies they might be aware of!”

Candidates should also be aware of the wide range of academic disciplines in the sector, ranging from art to science and what this will mean in terms of working alongside a diverse mix of highly qualified professionals.

Above all, Morley urges candidates to just: “Go for it; it’s a great sector to work in and, if you enjoy working in a challenging and complex environment, it offers some fantastic opportunities and challenges – it’s one of the things that attracted me and keeps me interested in the sector.”

  • The next chapter:

Morley has become the Chair of the M25 HR Directors Group. He is also a member of the national Universities Human Resources (UHR) Executive Committee, which is responsible for formulating policy, planning activities and giving strategic direction to the association. The UHR works with associated bodies such as Universities UK, UCEA and GuildHE to offer co-ordinated responses to consultations by bodies such as the Funding Councils and government, and to share information and best practice. Most recently he has also been invited to join HEFCE’s strategic advisory committee for leadership, governance and management (LGMSAC).

“I’m really interested in contributing to the wider HR community and that is where I want to focus my efforts as well as Kingston University.” Now that he has landed in the number one spot, Morley is happy to consolidate a little and is relishing contributing more to the University’s success. He also wants to spend time with his three daughters, two by his first marriage, one of whom is starting University themselves, and his youngest who is just two and a pre-schooler. The running also helps him keep perspective and, is a passion that his wife, a Chartered Accountant, also shares; they first met at their local running club.

As to Morley’s guilty pleasure, it’s early 80’s music. “Most of the time I can hide this in headphones as I run listening to bands like Specials, Jam & New Order. But somehow I once managed to get my wife and eldest daughter to go along to a Madness concert in Hyde Park, which I think they secretly enjoyed!”

Morley’s sunny disposition to life has helped him get to where he is today but he will admit that he has relished all the change programmes that he has been such a big part of and he could not have carried on down that path if he hadn’t had somewhat of a steely determination to do the right thing for the business and its people. Hard decisions had to be made, many times over but Morley was able to do the hard stuff and stick around for the difficult bits long after the changes had occurred. It’s this resilience and readiness to take on new challenges that has seen him rise up the ranks of HR and to where he sits happily today.

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