Sharing Stories – A Conversation with University of Salford’s Robert Ritchie

In this Talent Tales episode I had the honor to interview Robert Ritchie, Head of Organizational Development at the University of Salford. Robert’s creative superpower is being a “shape shifter” – he can adapt to different situations in order to get things done. Sounds like a regular superhero to me!

The University of Salford has an entrepreneurial culture which lends itself to experiments in innovation and design thinking. The team recently defined ten core behaviors (incl. to be “daring”). This gave employees permission to be creative about the things that they can accomplish and enabled managers to lead towards creating an innovative, modern university.

When it comes to design thinking, Robert and his team have especially embraced empathy to connect with employees as “real humans” and to find out what is important to them. The university also embraces a “prototyping” mindset in that it’s ok to try something and to learn from mistakes, to be curious.

One of Robert’s biggest projects this year has been to launch storytelling opportunities for employees, leaders, and the community including TED Talk-style coffee conversations as well as real-talk environments that “humanize” what academics and professors do. Telling these stories in unusual places is what engages and connects people.

An effective way to sell design thinking internally has been to be able to integrate the process into peoples’ busy schedules instead of significantly adding to their workload. Since launching design thinking into the organization, Robert has seen an increase in engagement as evidenced by employees raising their hands and wanting to get involved in designing relevant solutions for them.


And here are some of Robert’s tips for how to get started with design thinking in HR:

Go in with a beginner’s mind.

Don’t give into all the reasons why you might not be able to get started with design thinking. It’s a method that will improve your HR programs. Just get started, even if you don’t know everything there is to know about the topic.

Have a clear purpose.

You need to be really sure about what you want to accomplish so you can share this with your stakeholders. For example, all of Robert’s efforts are guided by “The Three Cs”: Connection, Community, and Citizenship. If an initiative can’t be aligned to any of these, it won’t make the cut. This connection also helps to tell the story around why you are doing what you are doing.

Don’t give up!

Doing this work requires tons of courage and persistence. Collaborate with the naysayers and enable them to become part of the solution. Expect that it will take time to build relationships and gain permission to ask for stories and insights that can help shape human-centered HR solutions.


Want to find out what an academic in a pub has to do with storytelling? Watch the entire interview on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.