And the winner is…

Like the film industry, HR has its own version of the Oscars and Baftas. Among the highest accolades available is the top spot in the Sunday Times‘ annual survey of UK employers.

This year Nationwide Building Society was named the UK’s Best Big Company to Work For, beating other household names such as Asda, Mothercare and Cadbury Schweppes.

Writing about the award, the Sunday Times said: “Scruples come first for the staff of Nationwide. Respect for customers and each other are the bricks and mortar of this mutual building society.

“Creating a happy, motivated front line where the smiles are genuine rather than mere customer service is how Nationwide sets itself apart.”

For our people

Jeremy del Strother, personnel director, is proud of the contribution his department made to the award but feels winning is down to all staff. “I’m delighted to get the award – it is for our people.”

Although recognition of his department’s achievement has come this year, a strategy to win the trust of staff has long been in place.

“It started further back. We have worked very hard in having an HR strategy that fits the business and give us a sense of common purpose. We have no shareholders, there is nobody else to think of other than the customers, so people within the business are motivated.”

Key to developing the strategy was knowing what the employees think of the company, he said. “I think an important element has been our relentless measure of employee opinion, satisfaction and commitment.”

Pride in their work

Once this was established, Nationwide went on to develop a set of corporate values it calls Pride. This is a commitment to: Put members first, Rise to the challenge, Inspire confidence, Deliver best value and Exceed expectations.

The Pride strategy was instigated by the society’s chief executive, Philip Williamson, who came through the branch network, del Strother said.

“He noticed that while some branches performed out of their socks, other did less well and on the face of it there was no difference between them. The passion of the people was the only difference.”

However, the society’s values are not a strict set of rules all staff have to live by, he said. 

“What we are trying to do is provide people with a guideline. We make sure the values do not sound hollow to our people.”

Business logic

Yet behind the human aspects of the values lies some sound business logic, he said.

Nationwide has a project called Genome which links employee commitment with membership satisfaction, which in turn relates to business performance.

“We know behaviours and attitudes that have a direct link with membership satisfaction and business performance, but it is a hugely complex algorithm,” del Strother said.

The Society has also worked out factors that contribute to employee satisfaction. 

Although pay is a substantial part, staff were more concerned about how they compare with  their peers, than an absolute level, del Strother said.

Nationwide has been in the top 25 every year since the awards began, moving up the charts on each occasion and last year finishing in 18th place.

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