HR leadership with Dean Morley, HR Director and Founder of People Capital Ltd. Working from the ‘Outside-In’; first understand the organisation, then look at the people.

As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited HR Leaders across the UK to share the secrets of their success.

This week, we had a great conversation with Dean Morley. Dean’s HR career spans a wide range of sectors starting with Financial Services in retail banking at NatWest, Civil Service as the Head of HR for the National Offender Management Service and Deputy HR Director at Department of Work and Pensions. He later moved into to Higher Education where he served as HR Director at Kingston University and the Royal College of Art. Dean now runs his own HR consultancy, People Capital Ltd.

Were you always interested in an HR career from the start?

‘I’d love to say that I had this massive career plan that saw me one day being an HR Director and doing consultancy work, but to be honest, it didn’t work out that way; the path I followed tended to be more about following my instinct when opportunities came up.

‘If you look at my career, I started off in NatWest Retail Banking. When I joined, I thought, “I’ll be at NatWest until I retire.” Then came ‘Big Bang’ and bank deregulation[1]. The whole sector was turned upside down. That was a huge learning experience for me about how you can never fully predict the future – and how organisational (and personal) agility is arguably more important than well-formulated strategic plans.

So I would say it’s more about whether or not you want to take up opportunities that present themselves; if you’re focused on getting to be x in y years, then fine, but you might miss out on some interesting experiences along the way.

After branch banking, I did a stint in Regional HR, and then moved across into Regional Operations as part of a drive to improve branch productivity and improve cost/ income ratios; that taught me a lot about the business side of retail banking and also developed my analytical skills. From that sense it was the ‘hard side’ of HR; not that it was more difficult, but it involved driving and leading structural and operational changes using a lot of MI, something I have found isn’t strong enough in many HR people.

Have you ever come across the age-old objection of not having industry experience in any of your roles?

‘Oh yes, every single time! Even within Higher Education, if you talk to any university, every one of them is different in some way, and every sector does also have its differences. I still come across that today, but provided you obtain a core understanding of what makes a particular organisation successful, I have found good HR can take you through organisations and sectors.’

In practice, the biggest challenge I experienced was going from NatWest Retail Banking to NatWest Mortgage Services, and being Head of HR for the Sales and Marketing teams; in my experience, sales people are motivated differently from corporate individuals – so the HR priorities and focus needs to shift accordingly.

What key themes and challenges are you seeing in the HR sector at the moment?

‘I’m seeing a lot of reward challenges because of increased regulation and scrutiny over senior manager’s pay. There’s also an increasing focus in all sectors about equality and fairness between pay increases for senior management and rank and file employees. Both these issues are actually a key focus of work I am helping two of my current clients address.

‘The other area that I’m seeing an increasing interest in is strategic workforce planning (SWP); whilst most organisations will have a strategy for where they want to be and what they want to do in the future, there is very rarely a connected vision for what the workforce needs to look like.

‘To give you an example, one of my clients had a strategy for where it wants to be in 2021 in terms of research, academic courses, students and international locations. But there wasn’t any parallel vision for how each School should look, even from a preliminary structural perspective that would have given them a better idea of the capabilities and capacity needed. Once you have that stake in the ground, you can then look at your workforce today and gauge how well it aligns with future goals. The subsequent SWP will involve things like L&D, talent, succession, and rewards – but it’s all very clearly and consciously connected to the broader strategic plan, not lots of isolated initiatives.’

‘Finally, I continue to hear management debates about the need to ‘change culture’, but unfortunately this is not something I’ve generally seen done that well. The general approach seems to be to try to do it by PowerPoint; ‘..We’ll put up slides to talk about our vision, our values, the culture we want, what we expect from people, and what people can expect from us…’ But you can’t get hold of it or measure the culture now and what the culture will be like in the future – those are important things if you truly want to make an effective and sustainable change.

In fact, culture and behaviours are a key part of strategic workforce planning because you need to know what the culture is you’re aiming for, where your culture is now, and be able to track where you are on the path to achieving that culture.’

As an HR leader in 2019, what key skills do you think are important for people to develop?

‘First of all you need commercial skills; you need to understand the organisation you’re working in, what makes it tick and what it’s aiming to achieve. And then from that, you can start to think about what the people implications are, and what people interventions need to be made. So it’s working from the ‘Outside-In.’

At its heart, an Outside-In approach is about how the sector, economy and society are going to influence an organisation. So agility is the key. Even if you were to understand the organisation today and what it is aiming for, that’s not necessarily enough because you also need to think about how you can help the organisation to respond and adapt to things that it can’t plan for.’

What career advice would you give to someone who is starting their career who wants to follow in your footsteps?

“By all means have an ultimate goal in mind, but try to do things that you enjoy along the way. Thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy do take care of your security, but once you know that that’s okay, go out and do something you get personal satisfaction from and enjoy.’

Dean has been Company Director of People Capital Ltd since July 2018 and has spent the last eight years in the Higher Education sector as HR Director for different universities, and as a member and Vice Chair of various committees.

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about your career or would like to understand how Human can support you in growing your team, please get in touch today.


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HR leadership with Dean Morley, HR Director and Founder of People Capital Ltd. Working from the ‘Outside-In’; first understand the organisation, then look at the people.