How RebusHR wrapped up Baco’s HR function

was called in to support the day-to-day HR operations of packaging company Baco
Consumer Products after two rapid sales of the company left its own small HR
department hopelessly under resourced. 
Nic Paton reports

To an outsider, the world of packaging and foil or transparent wraps may not
appear to be a roller coaster ride of thrills and spills. But for Jane Quy, HR
director for Baco Consumer Products – the name behind the Bacofoil brand among
others – the past three to four years have been just that.

In that time the company, based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, has been sold
twice. First it was bought by US firm Reynolds Metals which, in turn, in 2000,
was acquired by US firm Alcoa, the largest aluminium company in the world.

With only two administration staff to support her, Quy found herself
managing the HR needs of 500 employees split between two factory sites.
Unsurprisingly, an evaluation carried out by Alcoa soon after its takeover
discovered the company was under-resourced in HR and something needed to be
done – and fast.

However, adding to the sparse headcount in the HR department was simply not
an option, says Quy. Quite apart from the cost of hiring a new face, there was
no spare desk. And, however good the person hired it would inevitably be six
months before they were fully up to speed – time Quy did not have to spare.

The solution is a good example of how a small firm with limited resources,
can use outsourcing to relieve the burden on its hard-pressed HR department and
cut costs, while at the same time bringing tangible added value to the

"I was just about managing to get the operational side of the function
done, but I was not doing very well on, or rarely getting to, the strategic
needs. Then I had a phone call out of the blue from Rebus which suggested to me
that outsourcing might be an option," recalls Quy.

Outsourcing specialist RebusHR was established 35 years ago and includes a
raft of blue-chip companies among its roster of clients, including Manchester
United, Sainsbury’s, Consignia and CGNU.

From that first contact with Baco in September 2000, a two-year £30,000
contract was swiftly thrashed out, which went operational just two months
later. "I was able to justify the cost against the amount of legal fees
that had been paid out the year before," says Quy.

"At that time the HR function was nurse, fireman and police. It was a
gatekeeper and that is not how it should be. Rarely a day went by when a
manager was not in my office with a problem or an employee in tears. I could
see nothing but tribunals ahead of us."

RebusHR carried out an audit of the company’s HR processes and functions and
quickly identified what was needed. The first priority was to tackle the basic policies
and procedures.

The company, says Marika Hall, Rebus’ account manager for Baco and senior
personnel consultant at the firm, had no comprehensive handbook in place. There
were no standardised policies or procedures that managers could work within.

"Previously managers did not have guidance and would call Jane, but if
she was tied up, they would go ahead anyway," she explains.

Guidance was drawn up on a wide range of issues, from grievance and
disciplinary procedures to absenteeism and this was distributed to managers as
a handbook. Two RebusHR consultants lead the work with Baco, although they
remain employed by RebusHR.

They are backed by a helpline that managers can call any time to sort out
queries or to gain advice. The company could also have bought in a RebusHR IT
system but decided its own system was up to the job.

Hall explains that RebusHR is essentially now responsible for everything in
terms of HR that happens on an operational, day-to-day basis within the
organisation or where managers need help or guidance.

This could be anything from dealing with a grievance or managing someone
back to work to dealing with a long-term absence.

"If there is a problem on the shopfloor, they will not ring Jane, they
will ring us at RebusHR. If we are not available, then they can ring the
helpdesk," says Hall.

One of the hurdles was gaining the trust of managers working in a small,
highly competitive field. It took the best part of six months for managers
within the company to recognise they could go to RebusHR first with a problem,
and for them to feel they could trust its judgment.

Managers were worried about excluding the in-house HR team or simply felt
Quy needed to be involved, admits Quy. This initially led to overlap, with
managers sometimes approaching RebusHR but still following it up with Quy, but
this has since settled down. "In the last six months, there has been much
more of a swing towards managers making direct contact or being referred on by
me," says Quy.

Quy will speak most days on the phone to Hall or her colleague. Normally
there is also someone available on site one or two days a week. And there are
regular update meetings every two weeks. "You can often find yourself
quite isolated in HR. Having other HR people there to bounce ideas around has
been a plus. It helps you to build up your own confidence," admits Quy,
who adds the set-up effectively gives her an informal HR network to tap into.
Such a resource can be an invaluable asset for the hard-pressed HR

Now the bread and butter HR processes have been dealt with, RebusHR is
turning its attention to other "life cycle" issues within the
organisation, such as mentoring systems and benchmarking. Other areas will
include recruitment and appraisal processes – what Hall terms "driving
proactive areas of HR rather than reactive" that an organisation can
attend to once it knows it has its HR foundations in place.

"Since RebusHR came on board, we have not had any claims made against
us, touch wood," adds Quy. She estimates that, in just one year, the
company has saved £20,000 through its contract with RebusHR.

"The message is very much ‘contact us when you are thinking about what
you want to do, before it becomes a problem, not once you have a
problem,’" she adds.

Should a claim be made that comes about as the result of actions taken on
advice or guidance from RebusHR, the outsourcing company will cover the costs
of any action.

"One of the big advantages of outsourcing is that you transfer the
responsibility. We give best practice advice, whereas if it were their own HR
employee and they gave wrong advice, then they take the consequences,"
says Hall.

For many smaller organisations such as Baco, HR is often perceived by
management as something to be frightened of, a bit of an unknown, she adds. But
Baco’s experience shows outsourcing need not be solely for the large or blue
chip organisations. Smaller firms can benefit just as much, as long as they are
prepared to make the leap.

"I guess there will come a time when we shall totally have to override
the advice that we have been given, but that hopefully will be the exception
rather than the rule," says Quy.

"For me, the main benefit is we have put all the aspects of the HR
function that are generic into the hands of the experts. With the breadth of
the HR remit these days, it is often impossible to be an expert in all the
areas that you are required to be.

"This has released me to be able to think. I am now starting to have
time to consider the longer-term HR strategic issues instead of being
constantly dragged back in to the ‘day-to-day’ problems."

RebusHR involvement cuts tribunal risks

– Baco Consumer Products employs 500
people split between two factories

– The HR department consists of just three people, director
Jane Quy and two assistants

– The main benefit of Baco’s outsourcing agreement with RebusHR
has been a complete reduction in the spiralling cost of tribunal cases against
the firm

– Since being appointed, there have been no cases brought by
disgruntled employees and the contract has saved the firm an estimated £20,000

– Rebus has also standardised procedures, put in place a
company-wide HR handbook and freed Quy to look at the wider, strategic issues
facing the company

– Looking further ahead, RebusHR is beginning to work with Baco
on the next tier of HR issues, particularly recruitment and appraisal processes

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