HR Hornets’ Nest winners: the big buzz

First came the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, then came Personnel Today’s HR Hornets’ Nest – the chance for HR professionals to show they can come up with brilliant creative ideas as well as promote people management skills.

Jointly hosted by Personnel Today and professional services firm Pricewaterhouse- Coopers (PwC), the competition gave entrants the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts and win a prize of £3,000.

Each entrant submitted an idea to the judging panel in 500 words or less, and the best teams were invited to present their idea to a mock ‘board’, held in Birmingham.

This included Carole Crossley, vice-president of HR international mobility at BP, Michael Rendell, HR services leader at PwC, Dawn Spalding, Personnel Today’s group editor, and Fiona Cooke, business development manager at PwC.

“The award was intended as a light-hearted way of getting people to focus on the grass roots of the HR profession where so much of the real thinking and practical application of skills goes on,” says Rendell. “It’s also a showcase for new and creative ideas within the HR profession.

“There is much talk about today’s changing and dynamic work environment, and we wanted to start exploring how organisations are approaching the evolution of their HR practices to meet these challenges.”

Here, we profile the top three ideas that impressed our HR ‘hornets’ the most.

WINNER: The Orders of St John Care Trust
PROJECT: Recruitment DVD starring real staff

In the winning team from the Orders of St John Care Trust, the judges saw an organisation which had used lateral thinking to make its recruitment system more effective – as well as injecting some flair and style into a process which can be staid and predictable.

The trust employs more than 3,500 people who look after elderly residents in around 70 care homes. Average turnover in the sector as a whole is high – 25%, according to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. At 19.6%, the trust’s turnover rate is lower than this, but managers wanted to reduce it even further. They hit on a novel way of giving potential applicants a ‘warts and all’ view of what it is like to work for the organisation.

As part of a “realistic and balanced” job preview, they produced a DVD in which 12 care staff talked about the highs and lows of the job.

“Unlike many other organisations, we were committed to using real members of staff rather than actors,” says HR adviser Joanne Brown. “This enabled us to involve many more people at all levels, by promoting a ‘star for a day’ opportunity, inviting members of staff to audition to appear in the film to portray their role.”

Apart from the obvious target of finding staff to appear in the DVD, this whole process acted as a great morale-booster, says Brown. “We think ‘telling it like it is’ is a unique way of getting the right staff to apply for this challenging but rewarding work, and also a lively way to approach recruitment,” she says. It’s a degree of honesty that she thinks other organisations would find useful.

Now the trust wants to expand into making DVDs showing that caring can be a rewarding second career, particularly for men. Currently, only 10% of its employees are male, compared to 20% of residents.

Case studies already in mind include a former welder and a former RAF warrant officer who now work as carers for the organisation.

“The winning entry stood out because of the strong business purpose behind the idea,” says PWC’s Michael Rendell. “Recruits have a much more realistic appreciation of what the job involves and are thus more likely to stay.

“There are some good lessons that can be applied more widely – particularly the power of realism when trying to attract today’s much better informed and demanding generation of employees.”

RUNNER UP: The Catholic High School, Chester
PROJECT: Healthy eating for staff and pupils

Second prize was awarded to Steve Gauller), strategic business manager at The Catholic High School in Chester, for his nutritional programme for employees.

The school’s 1,000 pupils receive strong messages about healthy living from their teachers. Pupils are served with a healthy diet which ensures that they have a constant release of energy throughout the day, eating plenty of fruit and fresh vegetables. A daily breakfast club serves low GI foods such as wholemeal bread and porridge to provide a slow release of energy.

Now Gauller has extended this message about healthy diets to the 150 staff in the school. He believes this approach is innovative because the school is taking a holistic attitude to healthy eating. Staff are not only being offered a diet as healthy as the one provided for the school children, Gauller and his colleagues are also keen to make the whole experience of eating as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.

“The scheme initially involved bringing the catering function in-house,” he says. “We reviewed our suppliers and increased the amount of daily, fresh deliveries.” The school menu has now been rebranded ‘Food for Thought’, and has been changed to be brought into line with national nutritional guidelines.

“Health and fitness broadens the initial aim of improving mental performance, but this will also support energy levels for physical activities while providing sustenance for those who cycle or walk to school,” stresses Gauller, who himself cycles more than 100 miles a week.

The next phase is to improve the décor and change the furniture. “If we had won some prize money I would have gone for a web-based facility to offer individual nutritional, health and fitness advice aimed specifically at school pupils and staff.

“As a school, we are performing slightly better than the county average, and through improved awareness of the effect of nutrition and the provision of improved catering services, I hope to support and increase that improvement.”

Carole Crossley, vice-president, HR International Mobility at BP says: “The Catholic High School was a close runner- up and made it a tough decision for us as judges.

“Gauller spoke passionately about the importance of good nutrition and its impact on optimising the performance of pupils and staff. He had packaged theory and web-based learning in an innovative way, including aspects such as new menus and food choices. His creative approach could be applied both small and large organisations alike.”

THIRD PRIZE: Elmbridge Borough Council
PROJECT: Leadership challenge programme

Elmbridge is one of the largest boroughs in Surrey. A recent council staff survey found that there was a lack of strong leadership at all levels.

Fiona Hnatow, personnel and special projects manager, developed the idea of improving leadership in a cost-effective yet fun way by using a local outdoor facility as a training venue. She also chose to run the training programme herself, rather than hiring an expensive training company.

The event – the EBC Leadership Challenge – was open to all staff. Each group was split into five teams of five people from different departments. The programme included a pre-course questionnaire to identify leadership style, a half day of directed learning on leadership, and one day’s activity work at the centre. Staff were given challenges such as tackling an assault course, playing a giant ball game, orienteering, tent-building, and rifle shooting. After this, they gave a presentation to the chief executive and key senior managers, explaining what had been learned.

“As a council, we have to be very mindful of expenditure and possible press coverage of any event,” says Hnatow. “As a result, I led the event myself, with the support of a trainer at a cost of £1,200.” Additional costs included the hire of a hut for a day at the centre, plus instructors for rifle shooting. The total cost was £2,000, which works out at just £80 per participant.

“This is hugely cost effective for us, and has important benefits because large numbers of staff were able to take part,” she says. Once a pilot takes place, the council would like the programme to be rolled out to other councils within Surrey and beyond, led by Elmbridge as a model.

“The idea is unique in that it uses facilities in our borough that are not used for this type of activity and offers leadership training to all levels of staff, not just those who are leaders already,” says Hnatow. “We are trying to promote more self-development, and encourage staff to take more responsibility for their own learning, and I believe that this initiative covers both.”

Fiona Cooke at PWC says: “Elmbridge Borough Council came up with a great idea that was both inexpensive to run and saleable to other councils around the UK.

“By encouraging people to self-select for leadership training, the council has been able to unlock pockets of talent, enabling staff to develop new skills and move into new roles. This approach is also benefiting the council by improving staff retention and resource deployment.”

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