The Association of Colleges’ annual HR conference takes place in Nottingham tomorrow and Wednesday. Richard Banks and Geoffrey Mead look at issues on the minds of college HR officers up and down the country.

Colleges were incorporated on April 1, 1993 — fully 20 years ago.AoC-logo-e94

One might imagine that, over those two decades, the remuneration arrangements of colleges would have changed considerably given different visions and divergent income streams.

Yet, so very often, the only question asked about remuneration is whether to apply that year’s pay recommendation from the Association of Colleges (AoC).

Those recommendations are not addressed to the fundamental question that must be asked of remuneration arrangements — what are they designed to promote and reward?

Remuneration is given in exchange for service, effort and/or achievement.

The nature of an organisation’s remuneration arrangements can have a significant bearing upon the behaviour of those that work for it.

What the remuneration is, why it’s given, and how, all have a bearing on the quality of service provided, the effort remitted, and the achievements realised.

Remuneration has a triple purpose — to secure the necessary resource and skills, to retain and grow that, and to motivate.

Colleges routinely focus their remuneration considerations solely on the issue of quantum. This might have a bearing on recruitment and retention, but does not impact on the third purpose of remuneration — to motivate.

We have incremental scales, composed of closely-spaced points.

Often overlapping with each other, some scales have starting points below the level of the living wage.

We have numerous grades, not necessarily aligned to our structures or ways of working.

We have allowances that are rooted in local authority practice of decades ago, overtime arrangements that encourage inflexibility, and, often, a pay review date that fails to align with the point at which a college understands its next year’s finances.

We have annual leave arrangements that are often inflexible, and thereby cut across customer requirements.

We have outstanding pension arrangements that, while expensive, are under-promoted and under-appreciated.

And we have contracts of employment that have changed little since incorporation, and are willfully restrictive.

These inherited arrangements may possibly act as effective attractors of the requisite numbers of staff, are non-threatening, and are easy to administer.

But do they allow colleges to attract the best? Are they motivational? Do they encourage innovation, and drive and reward performance? The answer to all these questions is, I believe, a resounding no.

This is because we have, largely, not actively designed our remuneration arrangements. Because these send messages they need to be actively constructed to promote achievement of a college’s strategic aims.

Remuneration arrangements form part of the jigsaw of an organisational development approach. It can be difficult to make remuneration motivational, but it’s very easy for poorly-designed, or un-designed, remuneration arrangements to undermine the rest of the jigsaw.

Clumsy adoption of more modern systems is no answer at all. Poorly-thought-through incentive schemes can be dissonant with the desired culture, and can have disastrously unintended consequences.

There is no point building incentive schemes atop shaky foundations of poorly-defined key performance indicators, weak performance management and pedestrian expectations.

Any meaningful review of remuneration arrangements should start from explicit clarity about the purpose of those arrangements.

The fundamental question is not whether any particular year’s AoC recommendation can be afforded, but whether the remuneration system is aligned to what a given college values and is looking to achieve.

It is time to rethink remuneration arrangements in our colleges.

We need to step beyond considerations of whether a fixed percentage uplift can be afforded in any one year.

Instead, we need to consider which remuneration arrangements are required to support achievement of our goals.

Those goals vary from college to college. The one-size-fits-all approach has shrunk in the wash of the last 20 years, and now fits no-one.

 Richard Banks, HR specialist, College Leadership Services, Protocol

See ‘s expert piece here.