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Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd - Good Practice in planning, publicity and assessment - 2019

Key learning outcomes

  • Taking time to plan the round – the Commissioner published a thematic review in 2018 which examined succession planning in appointment rounds.  This review identified that taking time to plan a round, ideally involving early consideration of the longer term strategic needs of the board, will assist in succession planning and a successful outcome for the round.

  • Use of social media and personal contact through personal and professional networks to encourage greater numbers of applicants.  Our applicant research shows that 1st time applicants and women (along with some other groups) are more likely to find out about appointment opportunities through social media and / or personal contact than the overall applicant pool.  Therefore, panels wishing to attract these applicants should consider using these channels to promote the opportunities.  (It may be worth pointing out that promoting the opportunity through personal contact does not give any applicant an advantage through the process but merely involves highlighting the opportunity with targeted individuals and encouraging them to apply.)

  • Keeping the criteria required for the role to a minimum and use of a board paper exercise are good practice provisions for helping to mitigate bias within the appointments process.  The Commissioner has published guidance on mitigating unconscious and other forms of bias during appointments rounds and a guide to assessment and recording assessments which help to assist panels in ensuring that they are using the best possible techniques and approaches to assessment.


Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) is a public body wholly owned by Scottish Ministers.  The Company operates and manages eleven Airports in the Highlands and Islands and Dundee Airport.  These Airports provide economic and social benefits to their communities, helping them to stay connected.  None of the airports operate on a solely commercial basis, with the Scottish Government providing a subsidy to HIAL via Transport Scotland, to close the gap between commercial revenue and operating costs.  Historically, the aviation industry is heavily male dominated and therefore, alongside consideration of all aspects of diversity, a specific focus on attracting women to apply was needed.


Shortly before this round, there had been a round seeking to appoint a new chair.  It also features as a good practice case study on the website.  The members round (seeking four new members) got underway once the new chair was in position and able to join the panel.  The panel were particularly keen to ensure that the process attracted more women to apply, given the gender underrepresentation on the board and the fact that it is a heavily male dominated industry.

As with the chair round, the panel ensured that plenty of time was devoted to full planning for the round, including holding an early engagement meeting.  This allowed proper consideration of what the requirements for the roles were, including distinct skills sets required.  Due to the early planning, when the panel identified four distinct skill sets for three posts, they had time to approach the minister to request if an additional post could be added.  This request was approved which allowed publicising the positions to be made very clear and straightforward with each post requiring one of the skillsets.  Early discussions between panel members also allowed full discussion on what a successful outcome for the round would look like (based on a combination of skills, diversity and attraction strategy) which helped the panel to work well as a team towards that shared goal. Innovative ways to attract applicants were also discussed and agreed.

Applicants were required to evidence only two criteria on the application form, with other criteria left for assessment at interview stage. This was done with the specific aim of avoiding applicants being put off by having a lengthy application to make and allowing them to easily identify if they have the specific relevant skills, knowledge and/or experience.  It was intended that separating out the distinct roles would help candidates, who may not have felt that they had sufficient general non-executive experience, to realise that they had specific relevant competencies to offer.


A strong social media marketing campaign was launched.  Two sectoral publications were also utilised which had not been used previously.   The new body chair took a personal interest in actively promoting the positions, both through social media channels and her own personal and professional networks.  The time available to apply for the opportunities was longer than is usual as the positions were advertised during the summer months.


Finally, applicants were assessed using a board paper exercise and interview.  The board paper exercise was used to assess how the candidate would perform at board meetings and was considered to be effective in establishing how they might operate as a board member in practice.


The panel agreed that a combination of taking time to plan the appointment round carefully and identify the specific individual skillset required for each of the four unique posts, combined with an enhanced social media marketing campaign and direct promotion of the opportunities to potential applicants were the key to successfully concluding this appointment round.  They also agreed that strong administrative support from the public appointments team had assisted in the round running smoothly.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP announced the appointment of Isabel Todenhoefer, Loraine Strachan,Christopher Holliday and Eric Hollandersto the Board of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) on 28th November 2019.

More Information

More detailed information on any of the materials referred to in this report is available from Ian Bruce, Public Appointments Manager, Ethical Standards Commissioner.
Tel: 0131 347 3897 

You can find out who was appointed by following this link to the press release.