Emeritus Professor Gerald A. Randell FBPsS (1930–2015)

An appreciation.

Gerry Randell was an emeritus professor of the University of Bradford and a Chartered Psychologist whose outstanding professional contribution to the field of occupational psychology, organisational behaviour and human resource management was as a practitioner and consultant. Apart from his significant personal success, he contributed considerably to the achievement of others – countless undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as practising managers and directors in a wide range of organisations in the UK and around the world.  He did this through his individualised consideration, empathy, intellectual stimulation, coaching, and ability to inspire people. Former PhD students of his at Bradford spoke of him as their ‘beloved teacher and great friend’ and as a lasting source of inspiration. Gerry left his mark on them – and, indeed, on us.

At school at Latymer Upper in Hammersmith, Gerry had planned to be a chemist, but during national service in the RAF he became involved in the assessment of recruits using aptitude and other tests, and he decided that psychology would be much more interesting. So it proved to be. He graduated in 1956 from the University of Nottingham with a BSc (Hons) in psychology with zoology and statistics and followed this part-time with an MSc in occupational psychology (1959) and a PhD in psychology (1973) from Birkbeck College, University of London. During his postgraduate studies he worked for LEO Computers as an industrial psychologist and for J Lyons & Company as a research psychologist, then as an assistant lecturer and a lecturer in occupational psychology at Birkbeck. He was appointed Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology at the University of Bradford Management Centre (now the School of Management) in 1967, becoming Professor of Organisational Behaviour in 1985. He retired in 1997 but continued part-time academic and professional work – including PhD supervision, serving as a university external examiner, public speaking and writing – almost up to his death on 6th December 2015 at 85 years of age.

Gerry was Chairman of Council of the Independent Assessment & Research Centre (IARC), based in London (and directed by the late Dr Ken Miller, FBPsS). In this role for some 23 years he helped establish and develop the highly respected services of IARC in the field of psychometric assessment, career guidance and personal development to individual clients as well as corporate clients in the commercial and public sectors.

Perhaps Gerry’s most distinguished and original practical contribution in the field of occupational psychology was his development of the process of effective staff performance appraisal.  He was a pioneer of ‘open’ appraisal and the recognition and use of the behavioural micro-skills involved in this process, which came to be known as the Bradford approach to staff development and leadership. Many of his former students – including ourselves – and consultancy clients have continued to use and develop the concepts, techniques and skills that they learned from him so engagingly. His book, Staff Appraisal, originally published in 1972 by the then Institute of Personnel Management (now the CIPD) and subsequently in three further editions, latterly as Staff Appraisal: A First Step to Effective Leadership, and also translated into Spanish, heralded a revolution in performance management and appraisal.

A second notable innovation of Gerry’s was his refreshing approach to organisational sickness and fitness. His book, Towards Organizational Fitness, co-authored with John Toplis and published in 2014 when he was already 84, has met with glowing reviews by academics and practitioners alike. Gerry’s vision was that there should be broad agreement about how to investigate, diagnose and treat organisational problems such as high labour turnover and low morale and that this should underpin the training of those offering advice. Initial drafts failed to interest publishers, but, by drawing on his academic scholarship and consultancy experience and John’s practitioner experience and ‘war stories’, it eventually saw the light of day.

Gerry served with distinction in several professional roles in the British Psychological Society: as a member of Council, chairman of the Occupational Psychology Section and, more recently in semi-retirement in his seventies, as a member of the panel of examiners for the Society’s Post-Graduate Certificate of Occupational Psychology. In 2010, Gerry was honoured by the British Psychological Society with not one but two Lifetime Achievement Awards: one for his contributions to occupational psychology and another, to his surprise, for his contributions to the practice of applied psychology generally.

Other notable professional contributions by Gerry include serving as an advisor on human resource management to the National University of Singapore and on management development to the Singapore Government; advisor to the Government of Algeria on the teaching of industrial psychology and its development in the nation; assessor for the UK’s Civil Service Selection Board; member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), president of the 20th International Congress of Applied Psychology, and editor of the Association’s journal, the International Review of Applied Psychology.

Gerry was a devoted family man. He and his wife Edna were always being visited by, visiting or taking holiday breaks with his extended family of four daughters, their partners, and two successive generations.  Gerry’s interests included classical music, travel and current affairs. He gave up skiing only in 2011, finally ditching his ski-boots into a bin in Zermatt. He deplored national and international policies and decisions based mainly on politics rather than facts. He regularly watched parliamentary proceedings on television.  He greatly enjoyed good food and fine wine – indeed it appeared to be an important part of the ‘arrangements’ for his consultancy work. Those of us who accompanied him as tutors for client workshops benefited accordingly. At the Bradford Management Centre’s annual Christmas wine-tasting competitions, Gerry invariably won. He was also partial to a pint of real ale, preferably Timothy Taylor’s. 

Gerry always wanted to make things better, be it the layout of the market place in Settle in North Yorkshire, where he lived for his last four years or his skill at croquet, which he started playing only in the summer of 2015. He also had plans to get a bust of George Birkbeck, who had been born to a Quaker family in Settle in 1776, presented to Birkbeck College, London.

Gerry was ever grateful to colleagues and fellow psychologists who, as he said, ‘spoke up for me’; important influences on him in particular were Professor Alec Rodger (Birkbeck), Dr Edgar Anstey (UK Civil Service) and Professor Donald Super (Columbia University, USA). In turn, he spoke up for today’s young members of the psychology profession. He was saddened to see how increasingly difficult it has become – demanding, time-consuming, expensive and anxiety-generating – to be qualified as a professional psychologist, and he wanted to see a better balance between the needs of students and the needs of society.

When all is said and done, what will be remembered most about Gerry Randell professionally, apart from his warm and enduring friendship, is the way he unambiguously, yet gently, helped people to see themselves as others saw them and to see how they could change their behaviour for the good of themselves, their colleagues and the organizations that employed them.  Gerry helped people change their lives for the better. That was his distinguishing professional lifetime achievement. (We intend to keep the memory and ideas of Gerry alive by running a professional skills seminar to review his work and how it might be developed further.)

- Professor Roger Gill, BA, MA, BPhil, PhD, CPsychol, ABPsS, FCIPD, FCMI, FRSA, is Visiting Professor of Leadership Studies at Durham University Business School and formerly Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management and Director of Executive Development Programmes at the University of Strathclyde Business School and Director of the Research Centre for Leadership Studies at the Leadership Trust Foundation, where he is now an Honorary Fellow.

- John Toplis, BSc, CPsychol, ABPsS, MCIPD, was Head of Psychological Services at the Post Office; Head of Consultancy Services , Management Development Advisor, and Head of Training and Development at Royal Mail Anglia; and Director of the Occupational Psychology Unit at Barking College of Technology.  He is currently Chair of the Essex and Ipswich Branch of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.


BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber