Personnel Today Awards 2007 Northgate HR Best HR Strategy in Line with Business

This award recognises HR teams that have achieved genuine strategic status in their organisations. Entries provided evidence of the contribution HR made to meeting business objectives, the working relationships with senior staff, how the team identified priorities, what results were achieved, and the measurement of benefits.

Award judge

Nick Holley is director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Management College. He brings a unique background to his role, combining experience as an Army officer and Merrill Lynch futures broker with 16 years in senior development roles in large global organisations. Holley has implemented large-scale organisational change and leadership and people development programmes.

Award sponsor

Northgate HR is the specialist HR, payroll, pensions and reward division of Northgate Information Solutions. It provides software and outsourcing solutions to small to medium-sized enterprises, large blue-chip organisations and public sector bodies.

Shortlisted teams

Boots The Chemist
The team: Boots HR
Number in team: 235 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 65,000

About the organisation

Boots The Chemists is a health and beauty retailer, and a member of Alliance Boots. There are approximately 1,500 stores in the UK and Irish Republic. It develops and sells its own-brand health and beauty products – a number of which are leaders in their respective markets.

The challenge

The years 2002-04 were a real low point in Boots’ history, with customers, sales and profits all falling. The HR function’s headcount and budget was cut by 60% and it operated without an HR director for two years. As a result, its focus was on the day to day, rather than strategic issues such as staff development and training.

What the organisation did

The HR team developed a People Plan to set a focus for the HR function, which aligned HR closely to the business with clear deliverables, accountabilities and measures, including:

  • placing a manager in every shop to improve performance.
  • introducing high-impact recognition schemes.
  • holding quarterly people forums to actively develop and deploy individuals.
  • building strong relationships with business leaders – including making sure the HR director was a board member.

Benefits and achievements

  • Staff attitude complaints decreased by 29%.
  • Staff turnover fell by 12% (worth £12.7m).
  • Absence improved by 14%.
  • Retention improved by 5.3% (worth £200k).
  • Contributed to £13.8m incremental sales uplift, with £5.8m bottom-line profit.
  • 1.4 million more customers per year – with customer spending increasing by 8%.

The judge says:

“Balancing short- and long-term HR has focused on alignment, simplicity and delivery to lead a business turnaround centred on people, resulting in improved engagement and higher sales and profits.”

Broadway Homelessness & Support

The team: HR
Number in team: 7 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 180

About the organisation

Broadway Homelessness and Support is a London-based homelessness charity, employing 180 staff. It operates the Clearing House, a lettings agency for social housing, and works directly with more than 2,000 homeless and vulnerable people each year in a range of services.

The challenge

To build, market and deliver a high-quality external HR consultancy service to generate income and profile for Broadway as a leader of best practice in the homelessness and charities sector.

What the organisation did

  • Developed HR support to other charities as a means of raising people management standards in the wider homelessness and charitable sector while generating income, and led on the development of the consultancy service.
  • Encouraged and helped customers to develop their own HR strategies.
  • Worked with Broadway managers and board members to promote and deliver HR strategy.

Benefits and achievements

  • Listed in Sunday Times’ 100 Best Small Companies 2007.
  • Reduced client dissatisfaction levels from 17% to 5%, with 75% of clients judging Broadway services as better than similar services elsewhere.
  • 100% satisfaction rate with range and quality of HR services in last internal customer satisfaction survey.
  • Won major contract, ‘Beyond A Helpline’, to provide HR consultancy support to other charities.
  • Winner of HR Excellence Awards’ ‘Best Learning and Development Strategy’, and National Training Award in 2006.

The judge says:

“An HR strategy fully aligned to the business’s objectives was developed in consultation with leaders and staff, but also its homeless clients. By selling services to the sector, HR has become central to Broadway’s strategy, generating income, raising the business’s profile and standards across the sector.”

RS Components

The team: HR
Number in team: 28 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 2,011

About the organisation

RS Components, part of Electrocomponents, is an industrial distributor with more than 2,000 employees. As the UK operating company, it has an executive management team rather than a board of directors.

The challenge

When a strategic review identified the company needed to take action to halt the long-term decline of the UK business, a three-year business plan was developed, with the specific goal of creating a high-performance culture.

What the organisation did

  • The HR team delivered the company’s first ever HR strategy to focus on creating a high-performance culture. The executive management team integrated the people strategy into the business plan and became its internal champions.
  • HR worked to a tight plan to deliver the strategy, which was split into four sections: organisation design resource and succession planning remuneration and skills capabilities. Personal objectives were linked to HR strategic objectives.
  • HR combined the strategy with internal communications to ensure employees were informed about strategic matters by senior leadership, as requested.

Benefits and achievements

  • Delivered a substantial year-on-year increase in the contribution per employee.
  • Played a central part in the company’s turnaround, from a 3% year-on-year decline to 2% growth.
  • Cut nearly £1m in costs while reducing attrition from 18.7% to 14.5%, and retaining 95% of top talent.
  • Won local ‘Employer of the Year’ award.

The judge says:

“RS Components’ first ever HR strategy has been at the heart of a successful turnaround. Success is based on staff involvement, two-way communications, clear objectives, prioritisation and follow through, and the integration of measurable people-related goals into line management objectives.”

Stagecoach South Western (South West Trains)

The team: HR
Number in team: 70 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 5,269

About the organisation

Stagecoach is a major rail operator employing more than 5,000 staff. The group operates South Western, the UK’s biggest commuter rail franchise, which incorporates the South West Trains and Island Line networks. It also operates the Sheffield Supertram system. Its joint venture, Virgin Rail Group, operates two long-distance rail franchises.

The challenge

During 2000-02, the company was at war with unions, and managers feared talking directly with staff. Only 25% of workers completed its ‘Tell Us’ staff surveys, strikes were costing the company £18m, and just 64% of customers were satisfied. It decided to move from being a task-driven organisation to a customer-focused business.

What the organisation did

  • Restructured HR to broaden expertise and focus on a new employee-centred HR strategy, introducing new HR policies, action plans and performance measures.- Engaged 10% of staff with its new Vision, Values and Behaviour programme, so managers could lead on employee-centred strategies.
  • HR worked closely with directors to engage staff, including aligning company values with customer service and developing the ‘Thank You’ recognition programme.

Benefits and achievements

  • 73% of staff now complete ‘Tell Us’ surveys.
  • Achieved Investors in People status.
  • Won Rail Business of the Year 2006.
  • Achieved 82% customer satisfaction.
  • No days lost to industrial action from 2002-06.

The judge says:

“From a history of industrial conflict, HR has rebuilt trust and a customer service ethos. Staff have been involved in defining the HR strategy, which has resulted in improvements in key people measures including attendance and advocacy, increased customer satisfaction and, ultimately, franchise retention.”

Sussex Enterprise

The team: HR

Number in team: 3 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 140

About the organisation

Sussex Enterprise is the fourth largest chamber of commerce in the UK. It supports and represents businesses in Sussex, and has more than 2,500 member companies.

The challenge

The business had been through vast changes over seven years, and had lost a major contract worth £24m (60% of its turnover). The challenge was to diversify its income base to ensure it was protected against future govern­mental change, by developing new commercial services.

What the organisation did

  • HR introduced a robust HR strategy to iron out how its processes and procedures worked, and streamlining those processes to be more efficient. The strategy outlined how the HR function contributed to business objectives.
  • The team implemented an HR database to collect relevant data, run staff surveys and develop an employee engagement index.
  • The HR head ensured she achieved a place on the board to take responsibility for business strategy, and in return the board provided volunteers to help the HR team implement the HR strategy.

Benefits and achievements

  • Vastly improved return on investment (£4.5m contract delivering £70m increase in profits).
  • Developed a set of profitable commercial products.
  • Increased customer base from 13,000 in 2003 to 28,000 in 2007, and achieved 90% customer satisfaction rate over the past five years.

The judge says:

“The business imperative to diversify has been translated into a people strategy that focuses on flexibility and productivity. Getting the fundamentals right, working with line managers to motivate and develop people, and then placing HR at the heart of strategic decision-making has earned HR a place on the board with responsibility for business strategy.”

For more information on the Personnel Today Awards go to www.personneltodayawards.com 

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