Hammonds HR Director of the Year Award

This award is for an individual HR director who can demonstrate outstanding leadership. The judge is looking for evidence that the HR director has developed an effective HR team and for the contribution they have made both to their own team and to the organisation as a whole.

Angela O’Connor
HR director, The Crown Prosecution Service

No. in team: 7
No. in HR function: 60
No. of employees HR is responsible for: 7,700

About the organisation

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the national public body responsible for prosecu-ting criminal suspects in England and Wales.

The challenge

To transform a failing, outdated and reactive organisation into a representative, responsive, 24/7 service, staffed by highly-motivated, enthusiastic and capable people.

What the HR director did



  • Realigned the HR function so the emphasis is placed on results rather than the process
  • Launched a national recruitment strategy using innovative techniques
  • Introduced the law scholarship scheme to enable admin staff to train as lawyers
  • Undertook a comprehensive review of equality measures and practices aimed at ending the CPS’s poor reputation in this area
  • Launched an e-learning initiative
  • Established a package of flexible working, staff communications and support.

Benefits and achievements



  • Reduced time to recruit from 25 weeks to seven, and cut staff turnover to 5%
  • Won or received nominations for 16 external awards since 2002
  • Transformed the organisation from one being investigated for racial bias to one held up as a model of best practice by the Commission for Racial Equality
  • Successful implementation of CPS Direct, a revolutionary shift-based service that offers around-the-clock CPS cover to the police
  • Positive 2004 staff survey results – more employees think recruitment is fair, open and objective (up 28% from 2002)
  • Streamlined 10 CPS Service Centres into five business units resulting in cost savings of £1.5m a year.

Category judge William Gibbon says: “Particularly impressive is the immense turn-around Angela O’Connor has achieved. The submission demonstrated O’Connor’s achievements in areas such as the introduction of a new shift-based service for the business, her commitment and success in driving the diversity and equality agenda, and her approach to modernising the whole of the HR function with a complete re-branding of all activity.”

Mary Canavan
HR director, The British Library

No. in team: 5
No. in HR function: 31
No. of employees HR is responsible for: 2,400

About the organisation

The British Library is the national library of the UK and is regarded as one of the world’s best libraries. It serves business and industry, researchers, academics and students in the UK and worldwide.

The challenge
To lead a change agenda to create a more open, consultative organisation with an empowered workforce.

What the HR director did



  • Introduced regular meetings between union reps and managers to rebuild trust
  • Launched a colleague opinion survey
  • Developed a strategy for delivering efficiency savings and headcount reductions
  • Implemented a modernised pay and reward strategy which shortened pay spines, and implemented progression and performance pay for all staff
  • Formed a well-being group and developed an agenda for the library as a whole
  • Implemented a performance management process to identify development needs and provision for succession planning.

Benefits and achievements



  • Improved relations between trade unions and management from a volatile situation
  • Headcount reductions of 300 posts since 2000
  • Reduced average number of sick days from 9.47 to 8.17
  • Raised the profile and integrity of HR by getting buy-in from the executive team and the chief executive
  • Won multiple awards for diversity and recruitment advertising.

Category judge William Gibbon says: “Mary Canavan is seen by her chief executive as an essential member of the top team. Since her appointment in 2003, she has led a newly created HR team, together with the business as a whole, through a very challenging change agenda. She has worked hard with the unions to regain their trust and create an open and consultative environment which has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of reform.”

Lesley Cotton
Group HR director, Holmes Place Health Clubs

No. in team: 9
No. in HR function: 9
No. of employees HR is responsible for: 2,100

About the organisation

Holmes Place has been operating a chain of health and fitness clubs since 1980. It has about 220,000 members and more than 60 clubs.

The challenge

To initiate a major change programme, known internally as ‘Reaching the summit’, that engaged everyone across the business to improve customer service and build the brand.

What the HR director did



  • Carried out an audit of all HR practices, assessing each one against the impact of profitability and employee turnover, then allocated an appropriate risk factor
  • Replaced a one-day induction with a five-day welcome programme
  • Launched a series of ‘Standards of Excellence’ workbooks that were designed by work groups drawn from across the business
  • Cascaded the vision for change through a series of large group events
  • Changed the way the organisation recruits so that it is now based on personality traits rather than technical abilities.

Benefits and achievements



  • Reduced staff turnover from 66% to 42%
  • Developed clear career paths for employees
  • Successfully launched a new appraisal and pay system
  • Improved levels of customer service and consistency
  • Received total commitment from the senior team.

Category judge William Gibbon says: “Since joining the company last year, Lesley Cotton has essentially used her business focus to ensure all HR activity positively impacted the bottom line – thereby giving clarity and focus to her team while adding considerable value to the company. Particularly noteworthy is the evidence of cultural change she has driven through with the introduction of the ‘Reaching the summit’ programme.”

Sally Jacobson
Group director, HR, London and Quadrant Housing Group

No. in team: 9
No. in HR function: 9
No. of employees HR is responsible for: 850

About the organisation

London and Quadrant Housing Trust (L&Q) is one of 2,000 housing associations in the UK. Its main purpose is to provide homes for people to rent.

The challenge

As a charitable, publicly-funded organisation there are significant constraints, particularly on the financial side, so Jacobson had to be creative when developing HR initiatives.

What the HR director did



  • Played a pivotal role in mergers and acquisitions
  • Developed innovative ‘welcome packs’  for new starters and overhauled the induction process
  • Championed Investors in People – L&Q was the first housing association to be accredited
  • Developed an over-55s scheme, which helped the housing association to become one of the first ‘Age Positive employer champions’
  • Introduced a choice-based training scheme, where staff can choose a non-work-related training course
  • Developed recognition and reward schemes with transparent guidance
  • Championed the introduction of family-friendly benefits, including childcare vouchers, grandparent leave and career breaks.

Benefits and achievements



  • Reduced staff turnover by 25% to 11% in one of its most difficult recruitment areas
  • Sickness absence is now around 2.2%
  • Won numerous award
  • Increased satisfaction in staff and customer surveys.

Category judge William Gibbon says: “One of Sally Jacobson’s obvious strengths is her ability to contribute to the business through innovation and achievement. Examples of this include the introduction of family-friendly benefits (including grandparent leave) and initiatives around valuing older workers. All of these, and more, have been branded into some great-looking communications literature.”

Hammonds is one of the largest employment law teams in Europe. It has a strong presence in the UK, with a network of international offices in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Hong Kong, as well as a joint venture in Russia.

Category judge: William Gibbon, executive director, HR, Barclays Africa and Middle East Gibbon has worked in this post for two years. Prior to that, he led HR for Barclays Corporate Banking in the UK, Europe and North America. He is a commercially-focused, innovative HR professional whose views are often sought by business schools. He was Personnel Today’s HR director of the year in 2004.

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