Reflective Learning Papers

The Human Resources Subject Area welcomes the launch of a series of Reflective Learning Papers on Leadership and People Practice, published by the Business School.

Designed as a collaborative process between academics and practitioners, each paper provides a review of our latest research on contemporary issues, and what this means in practice. It includes a case study and set of reflective questions, designed to encourage and enable the successful application of practice-based learning to business contexts.  

If you want to learn more about our work, or to get involved with the Reflective Papers, please contact or

Series 1 – 2019/20
Paper 1: Published August 2019
Paper 2: Published December 2019
Paper 3: Published May 2020

Leadership, conversational practice and engagement: working with paradoxical tensions

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Indications are that employee engagement is a critical priority for leaders and people professionals, concerned with boosting organisational effectiveness and championing better working lives. In this paper, Helen Francis reflects upon leadership issues arising from People strategies aimed at building employee engagement in an age of austerity. Using a set of reflective questions, she explains that engagement is more tension-filled and therefore less stable than psychologists tend to suggest and goes on to explain what this means in practice. The need is stressed for better communication practices that help workers and managers deal with tensions productively.  

Catherine Thomson then presents a case example of a dialogic leadership intervention within a Housing Association, at a time when the organisation was experiencing poor operational performance, low morale and engagement.


Professor Helen Francis Staff portrait of Helen Francis

Helen Francis is Professor of People and Organisation at Edinburgh Napier Business School and holds an honorary professorships at St Andrews University. She started her career in personnel management and industrial relations, and when she moved into academic practice, she completed a PhD in the role of language and strategic change. She has played key roles in research, teaching and commercial developments in public, private and not-for profit sectors.  Helen has published in a wide range of academic and practitioner journals / textbooks, calling for the pursuit of more 'balanced' HR agendas. As a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, she developed strong links with the Institute and with business communities, building a reputation in executive education and research-based consultancy, and achieved the lifetime award of ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Scottish HR Profession’ in 2013 (HR Network Awards Scotland).

Catherine Thompson Staff portrait of Catherine Thomson

Catherine is founder of the Houston Exchange and has over 20 years’ experience in helping senior leaders align their workforce to deliver company strategy. Working internationally with leading brands across multiple sectors, Catherine’s experience spans the full range of people and organisational challenges including, performance transformation, behavioural change, top team and board development. Her focus now is working with leaders to help boost individual and team performance by focusing on workplace conversations, and the actions and behaviours that flow from them. She has worked in all sectors with UK-wide and international experience. She is accredited by the Kantor Institute to work with the Behavioural Propensities Profile, an instrument for measuring distinctive behaviours that are typically expressed in everyday conversations. Catherine is a co-recipient of the Gold Medal Award for Best Leadership Development Programme awarded by the Training Journal UK.

Leadership in the UK Public Sector: A Renewed Call to Action

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The UK public sector is facing unprecedented challenges, with a growing demand for leaders and leadership to improve the delivery of sustainable public services. In this paper, Kirsteen Grant reflects on how changes in the public sector context are creating leadership challenges through placing the spotlight on a recent UK-wide Workforce Development Survey (WDS) conducted by the Workforce Development Trust in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University (Parry, Grant and Sheehan, 2019). Rachel Williams then presents a case study concerning a leadership development programme within Avon and Somerset Police, geared towards addressing some of these challenges within a policing context.


Dr Kirsteen Grant

Portrait of Kirsteen GrantDr Kirsteen Grant is Associate Professor (Work and Employment) at Edinburgh Napier University. Kirsteen draws on complementary backgrounds in organisational practice and academia. She has worked extensively in areas of strategic change management as well as organisational, professional, leadership and talent development. Her research interests centre on professional, responsible and precarious work; future of work; leadership; talent management; and workplace skills utilisation. Kirsteen has published a number of journal articles, book chapters and practitioner reports, and regularly presents her work at international academic and practitioner conferences. She is the current holder of a research grant from the Carnegie Trust to explore young people’s expectations of work and the contemporary workplace, and to compare these with employers’ expectations of the young workforce. Kirsteen is Editor of the Journal of Management Development ( and is passionate about bridging the gap between academic research and professional practice. She is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Rachel Williams

Chief Superintendent Rachel WilliamsRachel Williams is Chief Superintendent at Avon and Somerset Police where she leads the Operational Support Directorate. Rachel’s spent much of her early career as a Detective in both investigative and covert intelligence roles. She transferred to Avon and Somerset Police in 2012 as a Senior Investigating Officer in the Major Crime (homicide) department, moving next to Head of Public Protection, where she also became the Force and Regional Lead for Rape and Sexual Offences. More recently, Rachel became the Head of Operational Support, becoming an accredited Strategic Firearms Commander and Public Order Commander, and leading the police response to a number of high profile events, including the Glastonbury Festival during 2019.  In 2016 Rachel was chosen to lead the design and implementation of a new Force-wide ‘Aspire’ Leadership strategy, an area of personal interest, which allowed her to develop further her passion to improve leadership across the whole workforce, for the benefit of the public.

Recruitment in the Voluntary Sector: Challenges and Opportunities

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UK voluntary sector organisations are facing intense resourcing challenges in the wake of significant changes taking place in their recruitment context. In this paper, Doug Young reflects on particular challenges being faced by social care organisations in this sector, and potential organisational responses to these. Corinne Morrison-Gillies then presents a case study example of their ‘Get Into Care with CrossReach’ programme, designed to facilitate the employment of young people with challenging backgrounds in her organisation.


Dr Doug Young

 Dr Doug Young is a lecturer in Human Resource Management at Edinburgh Napier University. His teaching interests include employment relations, the organisational context of HRM,  people management, and organisational strategy, from undergraduate to PhD level. His research focuses on employment relations in voluntary sector social care. His PhD thesis focused on the delivery of personalisation and self-directed support in the context of austerity in Scotland, and he has several existing and upcoming journal publications and book chapters on subjects such as the impact of customer norms on employment in social care, teamworking and service provision, and trade union membership and mobilisation in the sector. He has worked on a number of large-scale research projects within the voluntary sector, most notably the Coalition of Care and Support Providers (CCPS) annual HR Benchmarking Report.

Corinne Morrison-Gillies

 Corinne Morrison-Gillies is an experienced, senior HR professional. Her HR experience has been gained across both private & not for profit sectors in an HR career spanning 20 years. Currently Head of HR Operations and People Development and Central Services HR Business Partner for CrossReach, who she has worked for now for 9 years. Corinne combines commerciality with a genuine compassion for people and ensures that her personal values are at the heart of all she does. Corinne was educated at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh and at Napier and Strathclyde Universities.