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My SDF Story with Andy Allen

Exterior of university buildingWhere do you work and what is your role?

I work at Harper Adams University, a specialist institution recognised for food production and technology, animal health and wellbeing, and their contribution to global sustainability and the environment. My role as Head of Organisational Development has responsibility for employee engagement, development, wellbeing and performance.

When did you join the SDF?

I attended my first meeting of the Midlands Staff Development Partnership (MSDP) shortly after joining the sector in 2018. I became the MSDP Chair and joined the SDF Council in 2023.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?

The regional networks offer in-person meetings at other universities and opportunities to network with fellow OD professionals. I regularly sit at my desk thinking that I am alone in having a particular problem and I struggle to find the best solution. But when I meet with MSDP colleagues, I usually discover that we’re all navigating the same problems, and we can solve them with the wisdom of the group!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m probably working on many of the same perennial projects as most other SDF members. Early this year we will launch updated PDR, academic promotions and professional services careers arrangements that are aligned with a new University strategy. It is nice to be launching these activities together, with coordination and the clear strategic link.

What does a typical day look like?

Harper Adams University is located on a large farm which supports our teaching and research. My commute is through the Shropshire countryside. When I reach the campus there will be plenty of students in wellies and a tractor here and there. I try to convert meetings into walking meetings to take full advantage of our location, but I inevitably spend a lot of time in the office on calls and working on projects.

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career

Whilst working in Japanese automotive manufacturing in my twenties, I was offered a new opportunity in another sector and so handed in my notice. I met one of our Japanese managers in a corridor and told him that I was leaving. He leant against the wall, which I mistook for him faking shock at my news. But he was just steadying himself whilst he removed his shoe which he used to beat me over the head! This was for my “disloyalty”. I learned a valuable lesson about culture that day. I think that being able to navigate organisational culture and politics is critical to success in OD.

The person who has influenced you the most is

I think that would be my friend and mentor Derek. He has been there for me during some challenging times. He’s the person I have approached when making important decisions. He has helped me immeasurably, but I don’t think he has ever given me advice. An excellent sounding board – and he knows not to take life too seriously.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

According to my personality profile I share my personality type with Jennifer Lawrence, Barack Obama and Ben Affleck. I think I would invite them to see how we get along.

What would your super-power be?

Sitting through long calls on Teams without visibly yawning. Does that count?

What’s your favourite/least favourite food?

My favourite food is probably pizza, but only if it has pineapple. I know this is controversial! My least favourite food. That would be gherkins. Vile.

What’s the worst job you ever had?

I’m fortunate to have had good jobs, but potato grading for a summer whilst awaiting GCSE results was very hard work for not much money! I was also working as a waiter in a nice restaurant in the evenings. Having one job that got my hands filthy and another requiring my hands to be immaculately clean presented a challenge. I tried wearing white gloves in the restaurant for a few shifts, but I looked like an amateur magician!

What thing would improve the quality of your life?

Fewer meetings would be a small change that would make a big difference.