Personnel Today Awards 2009: Award for Innovation in Recruitment and Retention

This award recognises effective approaches to the selection, recruitment and retention of employees at all levels from school leaver and graduate to senior positions. The judges looked for successful examples of developing and motivating staff and for innovative ways to attract the right applicants to the organisation. Relevant to this category are new methods of recruiting, measuring and assessing capability and performance, career management, succession planning and competency testing.


Kevin Green
Chief executive
Recruitment and Employment Confederation




Emma Parry
Senior research fellow
Cranfield School of Management




The sponsor

Hays Human Resources has unrivalled experience and expertise in recruiting HR professionals across all sectors, including learning, development and talent management. Its in-depth knowledge of the HR industry means it fully understands the different types of opportunities in this specialist market and can therefore match the right person to the right opportunity effectively.



The team: Resourcing team
Number in team: 15

About the organisation

Asda is one of the UK’s fastest-growing retailers, employing more than 170,000 people in around 400 stores.

The challenge

Seven years ago, Asda used a paper recruitment process for 22,000 applications for graduate and management positions. The process was resource-hungry and too many candidates were invited for assessment.

What the organisation did

  • Launched a web-based solution in three phases

  • Created a management application pack incorporating online pre-selection process

  • The ‘websifter’ includes an online assessment and applicant tracking system

  • Launched the ‘supersifter’ – a year-long project resulting in Web 2.0 features, job alerts, and a careers website.

Benefits and achievements

  • Cost per hire reduced by 88%, delivering an annual saving of £2.64m

  • Reduction of 70% in the number of candidates put through costly assessment centres

  • £60,000 saving in press advertising

  • Reduced staff workload and improved candidate experience.

Judge’s comments

Kevin Green says: “The challenge in 2008 was clearly built upon an ongoing continuous improvement approach. The benefits achieved by reducing cost per hire with an annual saving of £2.6m were excellent.”



The team: HR services recruitment
Number in team: 55
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 37,000

About the organisation

Aviva is the largest insurance group in the UK, formerly known as Norwich Union.

The challenge

To launch a strengths-based recruitment strategy and fill 1,121 vacancies at the lowest cost-per-hire possible.

What the organisation did

  • Developed a new approach with the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology to recruit people based on their innate strengths

  • Worked with HR communications agency to bring the strategy to life: each site had its own specific media strategy

  • Used phone and face-to-face interviews, with managers trained in new skills to conduct these

  • Used management information to track areas that were recruiting well and those that were not.

Benefits and achievements

  • Recruited all vacancies that existed across seven locations

  • Cost-per-hire came in at £577, beating a target of £950

  • Managers were enthusiastic about the new approach with a more credible interview process

  • Inductions completed in less time, and time to performance in the new role improved.

Judge’s comments

Emma Parry says: “The use of a strengths-based approach to recruitment is very innovative and has produced good benefits.”


The Learning Trust

The team: Human resources
Number in team: 34
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 1,000 staff and 3,000 teachers and school-based staff

About the organisation

The Learning Trust is a not-for-profit company responsible for running education services for the London Borough of Hackney. It is responsible for more than 27,000 children in 74 schools.

The challenge

After advertising twice for five positions at a school, with no applications, and unwilling to rely on temporary staff, the trust decided to take a radical approach.

What the organisation did

  • Let the pupils advertise for teachers by producing a film about the school, what it has to offer and what they wanted – a first in the education sector

  • First such organisation in the UK to use social media as a recruitment tool.

Benefits and achievements

  • YouTube video resulted in 50 high-calibre applications

  • All five positions at the school were filled within two weeks of the video airing

  • BBC featured the story, further raising the school’s profile

  • The school has saved on average £1,250 a week in supply teacher costs

  • Now working with other education authorities.

Judge’s comments

Emma Parry says: “I was very impressed with both the innovation displayed here and the results achieved; the use of social media and a video of children advertising their school.”


Lloyds Pharmacy

The team: Human resources
Number in team: 26
Number of staff responsible for: 17,000

About the organisation

Lloyds is a community pharmacy and retail chain, operating more than 1,700 pharmacies across the UK.

The challenge

Lloyds wanted to reduce the number of locum pharmacists it used and cut its vacancy rate of 10%.

What the organisation did

  • Created an in-house recruitment team, with recruitment supported by high-impact advertising campaign

  • Separate campaign developed to attract graduates, with the creation of a virtual pharmacy

  • Aligned candidates to values via online profiling tool

  • Introduced talent managers into the business; continued to deliver high levels of training.

Benefits and achievements

  • Vacancy rate cut by 50%

  • Overall recruitment costs reduced by 37% and less reliance on locums

  • Talent managers helped to retain members of staff who were thinking of leaving

  • Staff survey showed engagement was at its highest ever and 3% above industry average.

Judge’s comments

Kevin Green says: “The challenge was well defined; a 10% vacancy rate and using locums extensively. The plan was clearly articulated and very innovative and integrated, and a number of different strands of activity were undertaken.”



The team: Learning and development
Number in team: 51
Number of staff responsible for: 150,000

About the organisation

Sainsbury’s Supermarkets is the UK’s longest-standing major food retailing chain, having opened its first store in 1869.

The challenge

In June 2006, Sainsbury’s was one of the first employers to sign up to the government’s skills pledge. In February 2008, it was reported that only 50% of Sainsbury’s staff had Level 1 numeracy and literacy – a significant skills gap.

What the organisation did

  • Overhauled all of its existing specialist recruitment, skills training programmes and partnerships by uniting them under one umbrella

  • The ‘You Can’ scheme offers a training and qualifications package involving government, charities and local employment agencies

  • Created bespoke apprenticeships covering specific retail areas.

Benefits and achievements

  • 1,048 employees have entered ‘You Can’ from Jobcentre Plus and partners

  • Recruitment cost savings of nearly £4.9m

  • 225 apprentices employed with 70% achievement rate

  • 170 ex-offenders have been given employment; the programme has a 90% retention rate

  • 1,000 staff working towards job-related qualifications.

Judge’s comments

Emma Parry says: “This was a fairly innovative piece of work, particularly in targeting usually disadvantaged groups and raising skill levels.”

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