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May 24th, 2012:

What’s Wrong With DAP?

We’ve been touring the University with our DAP-Alternative roadshow to try to gauge UCU member responses as well as soliciting feedback from staff who might not yet be union members (the meetings were open to all University of Southampton staff) on the proposals to introduce a new ‘reward and recognition’ policy or DAP (Development and Appraisal Process) as it is otherwise known.

Our Provost, Adam Wheeler, and Director of HR, Janice Donaldson, had a series of open meetings to explain their proposals for a new matrix model that they want to use to ‘manage up performance’. Whist these meetings were not part of the formal consultation process (which has to be conducted via UCU as the recognised trades union) they were useful as a briefing about the new plans.

I think it’s probably fair to say that Adam and Janice have been surprised by some of the negative reaction to the DAP ideas. Things came to a head in March when, in response to members concerns and our own concern about the failure to consult the recognised Trades Unions about this important and significant proposed change to our terms and conditions, we called an Emergency Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) to talk to senior managers about DAP. As a result of this meeting the senior management agreed that they would consult with the recognised trades union on this matter and a series of meetings between UCU reps and senior management began on 21 May.

At our UCU general meeting on 28 March we received overwhelming support for a proposal that we should ask our management to halt the DAP project. We put this to Adam and Janice at the meeting on 21st May along with summaries of the earlier feedback we have received.

Our series of meetings at WSA, Highfield, Waterfront, SGH and Avenue gave you the opportunity to air your concerns about the proposals. I thought I would take some space on the blog to describe in-depth three of the concerns expressed by staff at these meetings and in some of the correspondence we have received from members on this issue.

Why don’t they just fix PPDR (the existing performance and development process)?

This theme turned into something of a mantra in our discussions with staff. Rather plaintively you just kept saying ‘why do we have to have yet another new system?’ and perhaps more perceptively ‘what makes them think anyone will do this new system when we failed so abysmally to get buy in for PPDR?’ We gathered stories of staff who had not had a review for 5 years, or had been told they were too junior or senior to need one, and of others who had perfunctory PPDR which began with a heartwarming ‘Let’s get this over with for another year’ and ended with the crunch of the filing cabinet as ‘the form’ disappeared never to be seen again. In contrast there were also some good examples of PPDR working positively – managers who regularly review progress and staff development, work together with staff to set achievable expectations, try to address workload problems overload and seek to create environments where staff can succeed.

We don’t want performance related pay

There continues to be opposition to the increased use of performance related pay. One manager at our meetings said he categorically did not want to be in the position of deciding people’s salaries as he felt that would damage research and teaching teams. The University already has some flexibility to offer enhanced increments, to recognise higher responsibility and pay market supplements to attract staff. Managers can also withhold the annual increment if performance is deemed unsatisfactory. While pay is increasingly important in this economic downturn it is not the only thing that motivates our staff: we are typically motivated more by our science; our research; interacting with students, and so on. Many staff report that their workloads are now too high and are having a detrimental impact on their lives or health and – understandably – they would prefer this problem was addressed before paying a few selected individuals a little more.

Rejection of more complex change

One of the most overwhelming responses from staff as we toured the University was that this was yet more change at a time when everyone is already struggling to adapt to the radically new structures and reduced administrative support. Staff were unconvinced by the 9 matrix which they felt did not address the problems with the promotion system and introduced unhelpful additional layers within existing grade levels. They were worried that unreliable, unvalidated, and subjective measures of performance would be introduced. Staff in the meetings and in correspondence with us report that there continues to be a problem with bullying in the University and that promotion appeared to be dependent on patronage rather than merit in some cases. They were anxious that the proposed DAP system might exacerbate this. The key issue for staff centred on being valued. Many felt that the culture of the University and some of the ‘messages from the top’ (the hundred heavy hitters policy was one frequently mentioned, and the idea that everyone needed to be ‘over capacity’ in the early DAP diagram was another) devalued their contribution. They felt that management practices tended to be disciplinary rather than developmental, and that performance management was based on punishments/sticks rather than incentives/carrots.


We’ve had our first meeting with Adam and Janice yesterday and discussed how we might take this negotiation forward. Adam and Janice have prepared a revised version of the DAP proposals which is currently with the Vice Chancellor and this will go to the University Executive on 29th May. After that UCU will be asked to comment on the proposals and we will be using all the comments you have given us to prepare this response. We have a series of working party meetings scheduled with Janice and Adam and will continue to use our Joint Negotiating Committee to represent staff on this issue. We are grateful to the members who have volunteered to help us with this and will be involving them in the negotiations alongside the executive group. As ever we welcome your comments and views about the DAP proposals so please do keep sending them in.

A personal reflection

One of the things that strikes me about the debate around DAP and performance review is that most staff are in complete agreement with the goal of these processes – in the meetings this was often phrased as ‘of course we want the university to succeed’ or ‘we understand that there are targets that we have to do well against’. (There was much less consensus about the feasibility of getting into the top 50 world ranking (see Eric’s previous blog post about this), but staff genuinely want to do a good job – whatever their level and role). What makes me sad and frustrated is the fact that there continue to be places in this University where staff are not supported to deliver success.

We continue to fail to develop the talents of all our staff. In part this is because of casualization – the regular ‘dismissal’ of some 200 fixed term contract staff means there is little inbuilt incentive to develop a significant proportion of our colleagues. We appear to spend far less on training and development than many comparable institutions (we no longer have a member of staff devoted to developing Early Career researchers and delivering the Research Concordat, for example). Continual change has often had a negative impact on culture and morale – staff feel that they are not valued and their views about the negative effects of reorganisation are not heard. We have broken up the academic team – by separating our professional services and academic roles such that it is increasingly difficult to work effectively in teams, and many of the technologies introduced to replace staff (banner, agresso, managed print) have displaced work rather than reducing workloads as promised. We have failed to share good management practice and remained silent about poor management and the reasons for it.

The University has significant problems with promotion processes and valuing its staff. We know that there is a gender bias in promotion and this perpetuates the gender pay gap (and wastes talent). We do not adequately develop and support our staff to deliver their best. In some places we manage performance well but this is not consistent or universal — we need to improve. A good PPDR system – backed up by supported and well trained managers/appraisers – could address these problems. As someone who has had, and has benefited from, positive and supportive management I know this is possible with the existing PPDR system. Rather than investing in a new DAP system we could channel resources into training and developing our staff, and encouraging positive people management.

We might also want to reframe the questions we ask – what if instead of being in the top 50 our aspiration at University of Southampton was to be the best place to work?


Catherine Pope

UCU Executive Committee