Picture perfect: Odeon & UCI on winning HR Team of the Year

Odeon and UCI Cinemas celebrate winning HR Team of the Year
Odeon and UCI Cinemas celebrate winning HR Team of the Year

Odeon & UCI Cinemas were victorious in the HR Team of the Year category at last year’s Personnel Today Awards. There have been some major business developments since winning the award, and HR has been at the forefront of leading these changes.

It has been a dramatic few months for Odeon & UCI Cinemas.

In November 2016, US chain AMC Entertainment finalised its acquisition of the company, and just weeks later announced it was going to acquire Nordic Cinema, the largest cinema chain in the northern region of Europe, extending its reach to another seven countries.

Kathryn Pritchard, group chief people officer, has been tasked with overseeing this complex, three-way integration. “To be given this responsibility is a real privilege,” she says, “our CEO [Adam Aron] believes integration is the number one priority for the business.”

At the same time, Pritchard’s team, which won the HR Team of the Year category at last year’s Personnel Today Awards, has been consolidating the impact of its existing HR initiatives and introducing a few more for good measure.

The judges praised the company for the way in which its work to engage and develop colleagues had a measurable impact on the business. Revenue grew by 20% in 2015, and the company extended its market share in Europe.

More recently, it has made it into the top decile in McKinsey’s Organisational Health Index, up from the top quartile in 2016, and has demonstrated double the rate of improvement of most companies involved in the benchmark. “To do that in a sale year felt really good,” says Pritchard.

Colleague journey

One of the key drivers of the successful turnaround at Odeon is its commitment to developing employees. “We have a clear colleague journey, it’s what we’ve become known for,” she adds.

“We look at the ways people learn at work – for example from their peers – rather than saying ‘these are my skills’. Skills are only about 20% of what you need – the rest is curiosity, having the right conversations, helping people to learn. Our approach is far more organic.”

And if employees do need to pick up specific skills, they can access videos made by colleagues on the company’s “O-Tube” channel, rather than trying to learn from a manual.

Other training streams include a women in leadership programme, a customer service programme and Experience Heroes – an initiative that champions employees who create an especially positive customer experience.

Internal progression is also important. Around one in seven people were promoted internally during the year leading up to entering the awards, and this has had an impact on succession planning.

“I’ve been asked about our bench strength, our succession planning. But the reason we don’t have as many successors is we’ve just promoted so many people,” explains Pritchard. “Nine out of 11 of us [executive team] have new roles and responsibilities, and that’s working at every level of the organisation.”

Thankfully, Odeon’s employer brand is attracting higher quality candidates than ever – one hard-to-fill role that had historically attracted no applications gained more than 250 when it was advertised more recently.

Brand values

“Our brand recognition has really helped us to find better people and to find them quicker, and encourage top talent to come and join us,” she adds. As the group becomes bigger and more complex, this will be increasingly important.

Reinforcing its brand values both externally and internally is crucial to this. Odeon held an event this year where it decorated different teams’ rooms to look like music festivals.

The idea was that employees would be immersed in a festival atmosphere but would “live” the vision and values of the company in a practical way – for example looking at queuing strategies or thinking about the cleanliness of the toilets.

The judges said Odeon had a “very impressive approach to connecting HR activities with improved outcomes for the company”, and initiatives such as this bring this to life.

Managing integration and change on this level is a tough HR challenge, but one this team should have no trouble in achieving.

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