Interview: John Kempton

The head of human resources at the Institute of Cancer Research says the charity's appraisals scheme encourages staff to consider the impact of their own actions on the organisation.

John Kempton
John Kempton

Over the past eight months, the Institute of Cancer Research, which carries out research into and treats people with the disease, has tested a new approach to appraisals. Instead of assessing employees on their competencies, the charity has been asking them to rate their personal contributions to 'domains' - areas of the charity's work such as research, patient care and fundraising - and asking them what they need to improve their contribution to these areas.

According to John Kempton, head of human resources at the ICR, the charity's existing appraisals scheme was not inspiring enthusiasm among staff. "It was very generic," he says. "We were getting information back that was hard to collate, and there was a certain level of non-engagement, of having to push people to take part. People could not see the value of it. There was a sense of people saying 'Why is HR asking us to do this?'"

The ICR has about 1,000 employees, 600 of whom are scientists. The charity started by asking its scientists what they would like to talk about in their appraisals, and based the new model on their feedback. They came up with nine 'domains', some specific to their work and others that concerned the organisation as a whole.

Kempton says the new system encourages employees to think about the impact of their own actions on the organisation and its objectives. "I am really against HR just sitting in a box," he says. "This is about caring about the organisation, not only your job. We are asking them the key things they need to work better and what they are doing in their jobs to make the business work better."

The charity was careful to portray the new scheme not as an HR project but as something that would help to improve the performance of the organisation. "Our appraisals scheme starts from the business need and asks how HR practice can support that," says Kempton. "We're not saying 'we need a new appraisals scheme'. We're saying we need to know how we can better help the organisation to deliver its mission. The scheme supports the business need."

Staff have responded positively to the scheme, he says. "People have said it is the first appraisal they've had where they see the relevance to their job and how what they are doing makes a difference to the business," Kempton says. "The previous system was about generic boxes and general performance. This gives them a clearer structure and the staff have found it a lot easier."

The charity is moving the system online in 2012 and intends to develop new sets of domains with staff working in other areas of the organisation, starting with the corporate services team.

"We'll ask specific questions about their jobs and whether what they are doing supports the overall organisational strategy," says Kempton. "By asking for that specific information, we are creating a great opportunity for cross-organisational analysis.

"It is a meaningful conversation and also informs our planning. It identifies opportunities - what do the staff require, what does the business require and where is the overlap?"

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