Northgate HR Award for Best HR Strategy in line with Business

Award profile

This award recognises HR teams that have demonstrated they have achieved genuine strategic status within their organisations. Entries explained the business strategy and the contribution of HR to meeting objectives. The judge looked at the HR team’s own strategy, how this was devised and implemented, the involvement of senior staff, and the results achieved so far.

Northgate HR

With more than 30 years’ experience, Northgate HR is a leading supplier of HR and payroll solutions and services to more than 2,500 organisations. Northgate HR’s products are developed to provide maximum flexibility and seamless integration, and can cater for the diverse requirements of HR, payroll, benefits and pension management across all market sectors.

Susan Anderson Category judge

Susan Anderson was appointed director of HR policy at the CBI in June 2000, taking responsibility for education and training issues, pay and benefits, employee rights and relations and European social policy. Her international work covers a diverse area. She is a member of the Social Affairs Committee of the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe and the European Employers’ Organisation.

ANC Express

The team: ANC Human Resources

Number in team: 6 Number in HR function: 6 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 1,700

About the organisation

ANC Express is part of the international logistics firm ANC Group. The group employs 4,000 staff operating from 105 locations worldwide. ANC Express is one of the UK’s leading express delivery providers.

The challenge

The challenge for HR director Wendy Dean was to turn her chief executive’s vision into reality. She worked hard with the customer services director to embed the vision of ‘delivering peace of mind’ into the company’s working practices and culture.

What the organisation did

  • Established an action group to drive the project and appointed vision ‘champions’ to filter the message throughout the company.
  • The HR team set up various initiatives including training events, changing the reward scheme, expanding the corporate social responsibility agenda and improving communications. There are now 80 ‘champions’ across the business.

Benefits and achievements

  • An all-time low for customer complaints.
  • Staff turnover reduced by 45% during the past three years.
  • Absence levels have shrunk by 13% since 2003.
  • Profits increased from £1.8m to £5.2m in past three years.
  • Parcel volumes up year-on-year.
  • Recently gained ISO 9001:2000 accreditation.

The judge says: “The ‘developing peace of mind’ initiative places customer requirements at the heart of the business and has influenced ANC’s culture and ways of working. The company can point to impressive reductions in employee turnover and customer complaints, as well as increased profits. Three-quarters of the executive group were recruited from within and almost a third are women.”

La Tasca Restaurants

The team: La Tasca Group

Number in team: 10 Number in HR function: 2 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 2,000

About the organisation

Founded in 1993, La Tasca Group operates the largest ‘casual dining’ Spanish restaurant chain in the UK. La Tasca owns and operates 60 restaurants across the country, plus a further two in the US.

The challenge

The company is decentralised with a flat senior management structure. Restaurant managers report to business managers, who in turn report to the managing director. This means the HR director must work closely with these business managers, influencing them to implement the HR strategy at restaurant level.

What the organisation did

  • The chief executive, managing director and HR director reviewed, evaluated and relaunched the management recruitment process, staff induction, training and development programmes and reward schemes.
  • Launched a managing partner programme, which gives managers more autonomy, flexibility and accountability. It rewards them with an uncapped percentage of monthly restaurant profit.
  • Designed a bespoke e-learning induction programme for new staff.

Benefits and achievements

  • Business culture now “people-focused and operations-driven”.
  • Last year it opened 10 new restaurants, turnover was up by 22.8% and pre-tax profit up by 55.6%.
  • Staff turnover fell by 41% compared to the previous year and management turnover fell by 22%.

The judge says: “La Tasca’s flat management structure creates close co-operation between the HR director and business managers. A business culture that has harnessed employee creativity and innovation has seen company turnover increase by 22% and profits rise by 50%.”

Hertfordshire County Council

The team: County HR team

Number in team: 35 Number in HR function: 230 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 31,000

About the organisation

Hertfordshire County Council is one of the largest local authorities in England. It works with central government and other local organisations to deliver a range of services to more than one million people.

The challenge

The council’s five-year people strategy had objectives that framed the work of HR, including becoming an employer of choice, to develop people better, influence organisational change and value diversity.

What the organisation did

  • Launched the first fully outsourced resourcing solution in the public sector.
  • Modernised the pay and performance scheme for 140 senior managers, with all measured against improvement targets.
  • Undertook an equal pay audit, launched strategies on work-life balance, healthier lifestyles and carers.
  • Introduced an extensive flexible voluntary benefits package.

Benefits and achievements

  • HR reduced staff turnover from 18% to 13.3%.
  • Its resourcing solution delivered £3m savings, with a further £3m projected over the next five years.
  • It has modernised e-recruitment and improved success rates for ads from 78% to 95%.
  • Salary sacrifice schemes delivered £20,000 savings in 2005, which have been reinvested in other benefits programmes.
  • Reduced cost and improved the quality of temporary agency staff.

The judge says: “Hertfordshire linked its five-year people strategy to its corporate plan and contributes directly to organisational improvement. The HR team set a coherent vision and motivated and empowered staff, with clear leadership from the top.”

The British Library

The team: HR management team

Number in team: 6 Number in HR function: 30 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 2,300

About the organisation

The British Library is the UK’s national library. It serves business and industry, researchers, academics and students in the UK and worldwide.

The challenge

The challenges facing libraries in the digital age are particularly acute. It has traditionally existed to collect information, enable access to knowledge and be the ‘national memory’. This legacy made HR reform complex and difficult: there was a suspicion of change, a strongly unionised environment, with HR lacking professionalism.

What the organisation did

  • Developed a people strategy to restructure and professionalise HR and blend traditional skills with new values and competencies.
  • Huge investment in staff development, including programmes for all in performance management, leadership for 400 managers and senior leadership for the top 50 managers.
  • Massive investment in new technology, including HR database and online recruitment.

Benefits and achievements

  • Reviewed and restructured more than 50% of the workforce, making reductions of 400 posts since 2000.
  • Achieved £2.7m savings per year directly from HR budgets and activities.
  • Sick days reduced from annual average of 10.1 in March 2003 to 7.1 in March 2006. This has saved £410,000.
  • New pay strategy negotiated with unions.
  • Introduced new set of HR policies through consultation with staff representatives.

The judge says: “The British Library’s HR team has demonstrated a real contribution to business performance, with efficiency savings of £2.7m per year. Teamwork is a real strength, and its commitment to diversity in the workplace is impressive.”

The AA

The team: The AA senior HR team

Number in team: 9 Number in HR function: 30 Number of employees HR is responsible for: 6,750

About the organisation

The AA is a motoring services organisation offering insurance, breakdown cover, loans, advice and a driving school. It has more than 15 million members in the UK. In 2004, Centrica sold the company to European private equity firms CVC and Permira.

The challenge

The company’s new owners brought a new business strategy and formidable targets to maintain its position as number one in the marketplace. The strategy included a focus on the profitable core business, operational efficiency by achieving lower costs, and using the brand to drive sales and market share.

What the organisation did

  • Developed a two-year HR programme and led a budget review with the finance department.
  • Ran workshops for managers on how to manage the people aspects of restructuring.
  • Carefully managed subsequent office closures, sales of businesses and staff transfers, as well as reorganising management structures.

Benefits and achievements

  • HR team negotiated a recognition agreement with a new trade union.
  • Replaced several key management posts with executives who had the right experience.
  • Almost 20% of breakdown calls are now answered by homeworkers, contributing to considerable cost savings.
  • After a review of transactional services, HR made savings of 25% across all areas.

The judge says: “The AA’s HR strategy was designed to dovetail with its business strategy and ensure focus on the company’s key goals. HR supported the new management team business in rebuilding and restructuring. Profits have grown, and added-value per employee has increased by 40%.”

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