Personnel Today Awards 2008: HR Director of the Year

This award is for individual HR directors who demonstrate outstanding leadership. Entries explained the contribution made to both their own team and to the organisation as a whole. Candidates demonstrated they had developed an effective team and presented evidence of their contribution to the business. Past winners have submitted internal testimonials and those from customers to back up their entries.

Sponsor

Ceridian is a leading HR service provider, globally serving more than 25 million employees. The company has more than 40 years’ experience in payroll and outsourced HR services, including employee assistance programmes, flexible benefits and HR consulting.

Judge

Sharon Benson is HR director of Trinity-Chiesi Pharmaceuticals, the sales and marketing affiliate of Chiesi Pharmaceutici, a European pharmaceutical company. Her work earned her the HR Director of the Year award in 2007. With limited resources and budget, she delivered increased performance levels and significantly reduced staff turnover. Having gained management buy-in, a number of the initiatives she introduced in the UK have since been adopted in Italy and at affiliate companies across Europe.

Shortlist

David Fairhurst, McDonald’s Restaurants

Number in team: 10 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 67,000

About the entrant

David Fairhurst is senior vice-president, chief people officer (Northern Europe) at McDonald’s – one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

The challenge

A negative perception of McDonald’s as a brand, due to its association with unhealthy food and the obesity debate, as well as the struggle to shake off the ‘McJob’ tag coined to describe an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects.

What the director did

  • Assembled a ‘reputation team’ tasked with transforming perceptions of McDonald’s as an employer, reclaiming the phrase McJob and boosting employee motivation and morale
  • Developed an integrated programme of initiatives, communications and events, drawing on expertise from marketing, PR, advertising, HR and learning and development
  • Demonstrated strong leadership and clear programme objectives
  • Briefed government skills minister and other MPs on company’s work experience record.

Benefits and achievements

  • Increase of 16 points in McDonald’s UK Brand Index Corporate Score – the biggest sector rise of any of the UK companies monitored
  • 14% rise in the number of staff who answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Are you proud to work here?’
  • HR now more aligned with business strategy with Fairhurst promoted to more senior role
  • Ranked top HR Power Player for second consecutive year in Personnel Today’s annual list. Also secured honours from other publications and recognition from sector bodies.

The judge says:

“Through the introduction of his reputation team, Fairhurst developed an integrated programme of initiatives, communications and events. His efforts have been instrumental in raising the profile and changing the perception of the McDonald’s employer brand – reporting a 14% rise to 82% of the number of employees claiming to be proud to work there. This is a huge achievement in view of the negative press that had previously been associated with the brand.”

Helen Giles, Broadway Homelessness & Support

Number in team: 8 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 170

About the entrant

Helen Giles is HR director at Broadway Homelessness & Support, a charity providing a range of services supporting homeless people.

The challenge

Giles has developed a progressive HR strategy that has been recognised externally and seen as a model of best practice in the sector. She recognised that people management standards needed to be raised in other charities and across the sector, which was an opportunity to generate income for Broadway.

What the director did

  • Designed and delivered the ‘Beyond A Helpline’ scheme, a ground-breaking HR service for 10 other homelessness agencies, over the course of two years. An independent evaluation of the scheme pointed to the transformational effect on these organisations’ performance brought about as a result of the HR practices and support delivered by Giles and her team.
  • Was invited by the government to design and deliver ‘Leading Places of Change’ – the first ever postgraduate management development programme and qualification specifically for the sector.

Benefits and achievements

  • 100% satisfaction in internal customer satisfaction survey of Broadway’s managers
  • Sickness absence rate of 2.3% against sector average of 4.2%
  • Broadway listed in Sunday Times’ 100 Best Small Companies for past three years
  • Broadway highest scorer on employee engagement measures in syndicated staff survey of 14 homeless charities: 79% compared to sector average of 65%
  • HR team’s external consultancy activities now generate £250,000 a year
  • Awarded MBE in 2008 New Year’s Honours list.

The judge says:

“Giles’s achievements are outstanding as she has made a positive impact not only on her own business, but other charities which have also benefited from her HR interventions. Operating in a sector with vulnerable clients, Giles has ensured that quality of people is at the forefront of her strategic goals. Her innovation has ensured that revenue has been generated to fund future HR initiatives and reinvested for the benefit of not only Broadway, but the sector as a whole.”

Leatham Green, East Sussex County Council

Number in team: 163 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 17,000

About the entrant

Leatham Green is director of personnel and training at East Sussex County Council, one of the UK’s largest local authorities.

The challenge

Green was appointed in 2006 and tasked by the leader of the council with creating an HR function that would support the transformational agenda of the council. Green was also responsible for creating an HR shared service centre, improving sickness absence, reducing direct running costs, better usage of technology, and building a more engaged HR team.

What the director did

  • Engaged key decision-makers and customers in developing a clear vision for HR, placing customer service at the heart of what it does.
  • Commissioned a study to review and benchmark customer perceptions
  • Established an HR management board for key customers
  • Transformed HR administration service through technology
  • Created a dedicated attendance management team
  • Established the first public sector HR academy in partnership with Roffey Park.

Benefits and achievements

  • Savings totalling almost £700,000 in 2007 in reduced absence costs and HR business efficiencies
  • Introduced a new employer brand for the council
  • Recruitment advertising savings, reduced paper transactions by 50%, and attracted more applications from younger people
  • Reduced customer complaints and improved industrial relations climate
  • Realigned HR policies to deliver business transformation.

The judge says:

“Through an effective HR strategy supported by the board, Green led a number of initiatives to engage his people and improve their service offering. This resulted in significant cost savings of almost £700,000. The key to his success was building, engaging and motivating the HR team. As a result, it has reduced absence, demonstrated innovation in recruitment advertising, raised the profile of the HR service desk, and won a National Training Award.”

Fiona Irvine, First ScotRail

Number in team: 35 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 4,200

About the entrant

Fiona Irvine is HR director at train operator First ScotRail, which provides 95% of train services in Scotland.

The challenge

The organisation is a highly unionised environment, resulting in lengthy consultations about staff issues. There was also an entrenched culture where change was not readily embraced and where people considered customers ‘got in the way’. First ScotRail was also an organisation with poor employee health, low investment in staff, lack of performance management and lengthy recruitment processes of up to 90 days.

What the director did

  • Developed a people strategy with input from managers and four trade unions
  • Introduced an online recruitment system and streamlined processes. Targeted campaigns to increase the number of female candidates
  • Launched a performance development and competency framework
  • Established a learning centre to provide non-vocational development to staff and their families
  • Introduced various employee benefits and recognition schemes, as well as ‘wellbeing weeks’ to manage health issues.

Benefits and achievements

  • Recruitment reduced to 35 days with 120,000 applications received online
  • Absence reduced from 6.9% to 4.1%
  • Female driver applications up 10%
  • 4,000 management development days delivered and 13,000 core training days (up 50%)
  • Customer satisfaction, train punctuality and reliability have all improved. Three-year extension to franchise awarded.

The judge says:

“Since her arrival at First ScotRail in March 2006, Irvine – with input from key stakeholders, including four different unions – has made a significant impact on the business. Her results, such as reduced recruitment timelines, enhanced customer satisfaction, and increasing profits by more than £1m, are impressive.”

Sue Varley, DHL Exel Supply Chain

Number in team: 160 Number of staff the team is responsible for: 35,000

About the entrant

Sue Varley is HR director of the retail and consumer division of DHL Exel Supply Chain, which provides logistics services to high-street retailers.

The challenge

DHL became the market leader in 2005 when it acquired Exel, which itself had recently bought another major distribution firm Tibbett & Britten. Since then, Varley has tackled a number of significant people and business challenges, including integrating the different businesses into DHL, including an internal restructuring programme, and dealing with the needs of a workforce that grew by 28,000 in three years.

What the director did

  • Key HR roles created and 24 HR processes were implemented across 350 sites
  • An integration organisation was created, with HR managers co-ordinating the process
  • General Manager Academy launched and tailored NVQ programmes developed for staff
  • Weak areas of workforce representation addressed, particularly among women and ethnic minorities
  • ‘One company’ induction scheme launched.

Benefits and achievements

  • Exel integration scheduled to take three years in real terms 90% delivered within just 18 months
  • 95% retention of ‘critical’ staff
  • All major clients retained with under-performing businesses turned into profit centres
  • More than £1.2m saved in first 12 months with HR team members joining senior management groups charged with eliminating inefficiencies.

The judge says:

“During what was a significant integration programme, Varley ensured regular involvement and communication with all employees. Importantly, this enabled DHL Exel Supply Chain to retain 95% of critical staff, as well as enhancing HR’s profile and reputation. Varley’s dedication to the programme resulted in the ‘One company’ goal being achieved 18 months ahead of schedule, and further strengthened the firm’s ability to be the first-choice provider to its clients.”

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