Personnel Today Awards 2004

This award looks for training interventions that have significantly benefited the business or organisation, particularly if the trainers involved have developed new approaches. The judge looked for evidence of improved performance and gains in employee skills and capabilities.

Category judge: Eric Burrows

As a director of consultancy at The Work Foundation, Eric Burrows has worked with companies such as the BBC, Tesco and Morgan Stanley. He has a background in international strategy, marketing and change management at companies such as Ford, Avon and Shell Consumer Products. Eric has also been a board director at Kinsley Lord and a managing partner with Towers Perrin in the US and UK.

Category sponsor: Xchanging

Xchanging delivers a world-class, integrated and seamless managed service for all your HR needs. Through targeted investment in people, process, technology, procurement and a unique service methodology, it radically improves non-core HR activities, taking the administrative headache away from line managers, employees, HR and procurement professionals.

Shortlisted teams

Avis Rent a Car

The team: Avis UK Personnel and Training team

No. in team: 14

No. in HR function: 18

No. of employees HR is responsible for: 1,204

About the organisation

Avis Rent a Car is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Avis Europe plc, with an annual turnover of £128m. It services more than 750,000 customers a year from 110 locations across the UK.

What the organisation did

– Produced detailed job profiles for all operations roles  – station managers, station supervisors and rental agents – to ensure both new employees and long serving staff had a full grasp of their role

– Introduced a formal assessment process design to assess all employees against these new profiles

– Increased on-the-job training opportunities to overcome reliance on the formal four-year training proposition

– Issued a full development plan to every employee.

Benefits and achievements

– Staff turnover during the first six months of employment has dropped from 50 per cent to 20 per cent, because new starters are less worried about the complexity of roles

– Forty-one employees – 25 per cent of frontline staff  – have been promoted to senior rental sales agent, in many cases a first promotion in 20 years

– Individuals looking for promotion can ensure they are getting the skills they need before, rather than after, they change roles

– The assessment structure is transparent and allows success for those who work the hardest. Long-serving employees, who were initially uncomfortable with the new process, wish it had been in place earlier in their careers.

Eric Burrows says:

“Avis certainly tried harder in reinventing job profiling, assessment and training across the whole UK network. The initiative grappled successfully with entrenched systems and ingrained behaviours through detailed analysis, thoughtful attention to the motivation of different employee groups and executional excellence.”


The team: GNER Training and Development

No. in team: 7

No. in HR function: 68

No. of employees HR is responsible for: 3,382

About the organisation

GNER provides intercity train services across the UKÕs east coast mainline linking England and Scotland, along a route stretching almost 1,000 miles. The company employs 320 drivers and carries more than 15 million passengers a year.

What the organisation did

– Concerns about driver training raised by the Cullen enquiry into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash led GNER to overhaul its driver training programme

– It replaced its classroom and observation-based programmes with an in-depth course comprising 55 per cent on-the-job training

– New trainees take part in a variety of jobs carried out at locations such as Kings Cross where there is access to trains on platforms for demonstration

– One week is based solely at a maintenance depot, for access to trains at ground and track level. This is combined with simulation training, animated PowerPoint presentations, one-to-one demonstrations and group learning. DVDs have also been developed to assist with route learning.

Benefits and achievements

– Of a total of 320 new drivers in the past three years, 48 have been trainees Ð replacing the industry-wide practice of poaching drivers from rival operators

– GNER has maintained an excellent Signal Passed at Danger record

– Driver performance has improved, according to the regular competence assessments that trainees must pass within target dates

– Delays have been reduced because the training has helped with fault-finding.

Eric Burrows says:

“In grappling with a high profile issue, the business took an approach which looked for best practice within and outside the rail industry. As a

result, GNER has increased its recruitment and retention, reduced delays, and most importantly, enhanced passenger safety.”

Thomas Cook Tour Operations

The team: Learning & Development

No. in team: 24

No. in HR: 64

No. of employees HR is responsible for: 10,000

About the organisation

Thomas Cook UK & Ireland is one of the UK’s largest travel companies, employing around 11,000 staff. The company’s principal operations include 616 high street shops selling travel and foreign exchange, 121 separate bureaux de change, seven Thomas Cook travel warehouses, four call centres, Thomas Cook TV and

What the organisation did

– Introduced a new induction programme for overseas in-resort representatives, in an effort to improve levels of customer service

– The eight-day residential course, which takes place at a hotel in Stockport, is designed to ensure it represents real life in-resort

– Using the hotel’s stage and audio-visual equipment, delegates are asked to design and deliver a cabaret sketch to the other 120 trainees

– Delegates have to ensure the kitchens pass health and safety checks and practice delivering welcome and departure transfer speeches while on coaches, hired by the learning and development team.

Benefits and achievements

– The learning and development team inducted 600 people over five sessions, in a four-month period

– The customer service rating Ð sourced from customer feedback forms Ð increased by 11 points, putting Thomas Cook ahead of all the other big tour operators

– The company also achieved a reduction in its complaint ratio Ð saving £2.68m in compensation payment.

Eric Burrows says:

“As a business under pressure in the wake of 9/11, Thomas Cook needed to take a competitive leap by improving the service offered by its overseas reps. An innovative programme has achieved this taking the company to the top of industry benchmarks, reducing complaints and saving substantial expenses.”


The team: Management Development team

No. in team: 14

No. in HR (Academy) function: 100

No. of employees HR (Academy) is responsible for: 130,000

About the organisation

Part of the world’s largest retailer (Walmart Stores) since 1998, Asda is the UK’s second largest food retailer. The company runs 265 Asda stores and four George high street stores. Asda has 130,000 employees, 93,000 of whom own a stake in the company through its CSOP and Sharesave schemes.

What the organisation did

– Adapted and modified a Walmart in-depth training programme for staff and managers to help stores reduce shrinkage (unaccounted loss through theft, error and unrecorded waste)

– ‘High Shrink School’ training includes in-store learning and a dedicated four-day pro-gramme for managers, based in a classroom environment, with an opening and closing assessment (the latter with a pass mark of 80 per cent)

– The programmes, delivered by experienced tutors, have a maximum six delegates per course

– Feedback is collated throughout the programme with a structured feedback form and a spontaneous ‘feelings graph’.

Benefits and achievements

– In 2003, 27 stores, comprising 55 delegates, attended a total of nine High Shrink School programmes

– In the following inventory period, Asda achieved a saving of £2.9m  – almost three times the original aim

– Improved the ratio of shrinkage to sales, falling from 1.3 per cent to 0.88 per cent

– All delegates successfully passed the closing test, achieving an average score of 89 per cent. The average opening score was 58 per cent.

Eric Burrows says:

“Asda’s High Shrink School is a business-critical initiative to reduce stock loss across its business. By adapting and significantly enhancing an existing programme, the team doubled the targeted savings and loss ratio reduction, and exported their learning to Asda’s US parent.”



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