In a customer-centric economy, businesses increasingly seek competitive edge through the quality of their management and staff. This has been understood by Lex Service, which three years ago moved to transform itself from an automotive dealer into a transport services provider, combining retail with fleet management and support activities such as roadside assistance. Recognising that HR would have a major role to play, the company upgraded the function, giving it a seat on the board for the first time.
Led by group HR director Debbie Howard, the department focused on influencing the strategic agenda and developing the strength of the brand. It helped plan and integrate major acquisitions such as the RAC and introduced a leadership culture with a stronger customer awareness.
Details of the new strategic direction were shared with a cross-section of staff, who were then asked to describe the leadership behaviours that would either reinforce or impede it. This provided a common set of management competencies which are now applied to all HR activities including recruitment, induction, performance management and succession.
Lex also introduced rigorous assessment centres for its recruitment at all levels, with board directors as well as junior managers required to go through a half-day simulation role. That has boosted the quality of recruitment and encourages a higher level of manager, Howard says. “Many service providers say people are their best asset,” she comments. “Our aim is to help the organisation deliver to that and make it more than just a cliche.”
She adds, “The strategy, first and foremost, is to be crystal clear about where the organisation is going, what kind of business we want to be in and who our customers are. We also needed to understand the kind of skills sets we need to get there.”
A central aim has been to encourage HR teams to focus their efforts on areas where they can add value. This was achieved by outsourcing functions such as payroll and employee helplines, focusing instead on coaching activities and providing business partnership. Each individual in the department was asked to analyse where they were spending their time and what they needed to do to shift the emphasis.
One important innovation has been in the area of delivery, with a virtual business university providing every employee with access to on-line learning. “It is very tailored to Lex’s needs as we developed it ourselves, and that has had significant influence,” Howard says.
The success of HR’s role is evident at the bottom line in a strong improvement on profit and shareholder value. The level of employee satisfaction has also risen – turnover is significantly down and internal promotions have increased more than threefold. Two major brands, RAC and Lex, have been developed and the balance sheet is sufficiently cash-rich to fund further organic and acquisitive growth.
Company fact file
Team Lex Service HR team
Team leader Debbie Howard, group HR director
Number in HR team 120
Number of employees responsible for 12,500
Main achievements Set up competencies and assessment centres to recruit more customer-oriented management. Increased employee satisfaction by between a third and two-thirds. Cut staff turnover from 23 per cent to 15 per cent and raised level of internal promotions more than threefold to 68 per cent
Priorities for next 12 months To consolidate gains and build the loyalty of staff and customers in order to deliver excellent returns to shareholders