Objective outlook

Introducing business-linked objectives to help staff understand where they fitted
in also helped to reduce sickness absence at CERT. David Craik reports

Case study: Cert Group

The business

The CERT Group’s primary focus is providing bonded warehousing – approved by
HM Customs for customers to store goods and defer the VAT and Customs duty –
and the distribution of fine wines and spirits. Based in Hertfordshire, it
employs 500 people. Due to the seasonal nature of its business, this increases
by a further 200 during the peak periods between July and December.

The challenge

Clive Harper joined CERT three years ago as its group HR development
manager. He felt some HR policies were making it difficult for staff to
recognise the value of their contributions to the business. The appraisal
system was in disrepair with workers seeing it as an HR chore and feeling

The quality of the appraisals varied with no consistent approach. Sometimes
appraisals were no more than issuing a pre-completed form for signature by the
appraisee. The appraiser then imposed vague objectives on staff. Some managers
were more conscientious, but the system did not give them the scope to capture
useful information.

Harper believed the key to change lay in improving performance management,
with line managers being engaged in the HR process.

The solution

Harper undertook research into performance management by looking at best
practice in the industry. He identified that work-life balance was an element
of performance management often overlooked in performance reviews.

The CERT Group applied to the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI)
‘Worklife Balance Challenge Fund’, and received £45,000. CERT didn’t see the
money directly. It approved the expenditure at each project stage, with the
funds going straight to Mercer HR, the consultants it appointed as part of the
DTI funding arrangement.

Harper believed improving work-life balance went hand-in-hand with improving
performance management. Staff surveys showed their main priorities were family
life and leisure time, with work somewhere down the list. This contributed to
many one-day absences. Harper felt CERT could combine its personal development
review (PDR) and work-life balance approach, and the DTI took this as a

With the money in place, Harper looked again at the failings of the previous
system. He wanted to focus on behavioural capabilities. A one-year pilot for 50
staff began in January 2001 and a new PDR emerged.

Now staff have objectives that link results to business gains. They are
issued with role profiles to aid PDR discussions, which now last 60 minutes,
compared with the previous 15 minutes.

Harper believes the profiles go beyond listing key responsibilities and
elements of a role, as they show what the business needs and provide a good
foundation for the annual review process, with a compulsory interim review at
six months.

To support the PDR and the role profiling, a capability framework was
created consisting of six core and two role-specific capabilities:

– Making it happen

– Sharing information and informing others

– Customer focus and service excellence

– Developing ourselves and others

– Continuous improvement

– Thinking ahead/taking decisions

– Growing the business

– Knowing our business.

Training on the new PDRs was delivered in-house using the company’s CERT College,
and workshops were held for all those involved.

The outcome

CERT is aiming for a 12 per cent reduction in one-day sickness absences. At
present, there has been a 2.4 per cent reduction. The pilot areas have seen an
11 per cent rise in the number of staff perceiving that CERT is committed to
work-life balance, and there has been a 4 per cent improvement in staff

Internal and external communications have also improved. CERT has invested in
an intranet system which offers employees access to the PDR documentation and
role profiles, as well as guidance and the capability framework.

The employee perspective

Keith Pearce, Rework supervisor at CERT’s Rotherham Service Centre, says:
"The PDR clarifies what staff should be doing. They no longer see
something they do as ‘just part of their job’. However, sometimes the process
seems a little long-winded. A system of ‘one size fits all’ is maybe too

Patrick McCann, senior supervisor, says: "Through the work-life balance
we have changed shift patterns and improved the workplace environment with the
introduction of rest areas and vending machines."

Learning points for HR

– Someone enthusiastic must champion
the programme and confront the cynicism of managers who believe that HR is only
good at producing paper and policies

– Overcome the feeling that you are giving line managers more
work to do. Make them realise that HR can encourage business growth

– Identify a number of local champions. Don’t get precious and
fear decentralisation

– Always plan the project budget carefully with your finance
team and consultants

– Plan regular and open consultation. Don’t assume all line
managers want change

– Conversely, some managers, who might be described as ‘HR
enthusiasts’, may get too excited and run ahead of your project

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