Personnel Today Awards 2014 winners: HR Professional of the Year goes to Alison Bell

Alison Bell wins HR Professional of the Year
Alison Bell wins HR Professional of the Year

Monster - Find BetterAlison Bell, London Overground Rail Operations, saw off strong competition to take home HR Professional of the Year. We profile the winner of the award, sponsored by Monster, and the others in the shortlist.

WINNER: Alison Bell, London Overground Rail Operations (LOLOR)

About the organisation
LOROL is the train operating company responsible for running the London overground network, under a concession agreement with Transport for London (TfL). Together, their vision is to “develop our railway together, proudly connecting communities around London”.

HR Professional of the Year – the judges

Angela O’Connor, CEO, The HR Lounge

Tanith Dodge, director of HR, Marks & Spencer

The challenge
In 2013, LOROL was awarded a two-year extension of its contract to run London Overground, but this needed to be done through driver-only operation (DOO), meaning a significant restructure across the business was needed.

What Alison did

  • Project managed the HR team through the restructure, assisting with redeployment and voluntary redundancy of conductors.
  • Managed sickness absence to ensure employees felt valued and safe, and able to cope with workload.
  • Commissioned and helped to roll out a new employee assistance programme in 2013, as well as organising flu jabs and MOT clinics.
  • Managed introduction of new reward and benefits platform, LOROL Extras, bringing all employee benefits into one place.
  • Had a vital role in managing employee relations issues, including a new improvement project which affected some staff.
  • Coached line managers and helped them to manage performance.
  • Supported the implementation of a new payroll and HR system.

Benefits and achievements

  • Savings of almost £20,000 achieved through new reward portal.
  • Attendance remains above 97%, and voluntary employee turnover is just 2%.
  • LOROL has highest attendance rate of any rail company.
  • Received LOROL’s “Shining Stars” award for best manager.
  • LOROL managing director Peter Austin said: “She is hard-working and diligent and epitomises a can-do approach, which is a core LOROL value.”

Judges’ comments
“Broad breadth of experience covering all aspects of HR. Strategic thinking and commercially savvy.”


Barry Coleman, Virgin Money

About the organisation
Virgin Money is a UK-based bank and financial services company founded by Sir Richard Branson in March 1995. At the beginning of 2012, it acquired Northern Rock in a deal worth up to £1 billion. Its ambition is to make “everyone better off” (EBO).

The challenge
Following the acquisition of Northern Rock in 2012, there has been a period of considerable change and integration at Virgin Money. As employee relations manager, Barry helped to drive this change and embed the bank’s EBO values, at the same time as supporting its growth goals.

What Barry did

  • Stepped up to leadership team when manager went on secondment.
  • Worked closely with HR business partners implementing the change programme, for example by helping to introduce new target operating model.
  • Developed and launched the company’s health and wellbeing strategy.
  • Designed and led Virgin Money’s diversity and inclusion agenda.
  • Ran the “People Risk Board”, which ensures employees work within the bank’s risk agenda and adhere to its value of “Be Safe”.
  • Had a core role in developing partnership with Unite union, and ensuring union relations are positive and constructive.
  • Upskilled HR staff in advice and led team in dealing with problems through the lens of the company’s values.

Benefits and achievements

  • HR team’s work has enabled Virgin Money to complete the integration of Northern Rock and return to profit.
  • Ninety-six percent of colleagues believe they always treat customers fairly, according to its employee engagement survey.
  • Ninety-three percent of staff are proud to work for Virgin Money.
  • Company’s net promoter score has risen from -2 points to +11.

Judges’ comments

“[He] stepped up into a vacancy, led with upskilling HR. I would have liked to see more in the way of specific results and links to business objectives.”

Dave Buglass, Tesco Bank

About the organisation
Tesco Bank has transformed from a fledgling start-up on a brownfield site in Newcastle to an established bank with more than 7 million customer accounts and 4,500 employees.

The challenge
With trust in banking at an all-time low, Tesco Bank wanted to reward its customers for their loyalty. It needed its people to behave differently to keep pace with customers and their expectations. L&D needed to be more strategic, and the culture needed to become more collaborative and commercial.

What Dave did

  • Centralised resources and budget to create learning shared service model – including an academy and support for the full employee lifecycle.
  • Rolled out Leaders at Tesco leadership skills programme.
  • Developed an online, personalised learning academy, encouraging staff to learn via the 70:20:10 approach.
  • Helped to deliver a blend of people initiatives, such as targeted recruitment, to ensure launch of Personal Current Accounts was on target.
  • Committed to continuing professional development of his own team, including weekly team update, industry benchmarking and mentoring.

Benefits and achievements

  • Nine senior leaders out of 10 now use all five leadership skills more effectively in their work.
  • Has seen more than 4,500 registered users for Academy Online, with 90% repeating their use.
  • Commercial team now achieving £475,000 more with fewer resources, thanks to learning shared services model.
  • More customer accounts than ever, up 7.6% at end of 2013.
  • Decrease in customer complaints – down by 56%
  • Customer net-promoter scores have risen from 41% to 46%.
  • Therese Procter, personnel director, said: “Dave is influential, progressive and emotionally intelligent.

Judges’ comments
“Very innovative approach to digital with some impressive results.”

Jane Linnell, ATS Euromaster

About the organisation

ATS Euromaster is a nationwide tyre company with 345 centres across the UK. It operates a specialist fast-fit and tyre service to fleet and retail customers.

The challenge
Five years ago, ATS Euromaster was charged with reversing a long record of financial instability – at its lowest point the business recorded a loss of £27 million. As group internal communications manager, Jane was tasked with coming up with a communications strategy to help drive a change in the company’s style and culture.

What Jane did

  • With a budget of just £70,000, Jane built powerful alliances with a wide network of people across the business to come up with a plan that would suit each group.
  • Ran a series of local focus groups, attended by almost 200 people.
  • Developed an interactive, cartoon-style road map to explain the turnaround plan.
  • Ensured that each employee received a face-to-face briefing from their line manager.
  • Supported communication by quarterly update DVDs, a new intranet site with interactive feedback section, and a revamped company magazine.
  • Feedback revealed that many staff did not feel valued or appreciated, and trust in senior managers was low. Jane ran focus groups to discuss the results in more detail, and individual departments set up engagement groups.
  • Introduced and implemented new company values, communicating how they would fit into ATS’s ambition to return to profit.

Benefits and achievements

  • Company engagement score has increased by 7% year on year for the past five years.
  • It will return to profit this year.
  • Trust in senior management has increased 39% over the past two years.
  • Following its success in the UK, Jane was asked to roll out a Europe-wide survey into engagement.
  • Yves Chapot, European managing director, said: “Jane is one of the best HR professionals that we have in Europe.”

Judges’ comments
“Many in HR would find the challenges daunting, but this was down to earth. Practical ideas backed up with results.”

Richard Luckman, Sandwell Council

About the organisation
Sandwell is a metropolitan borough in the West Midlands. It comprises the six towns of Rowley Regis, Oldbury, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich. Sandwell council is a large council with a workforce of more than 11,000.

The challenge
Like many councils, Sandwell has faced the challenge of improving employee engagement after minimal pay awards and a lack of promotion prospects. Richard has led a number of projects aimed at increasing engagement and productivity, as well as clarifying the council’s culture and values.

What Richard did

  • Helped implement a mobile solution for social workers to use in the field and to rationalize office space.
  • Led a team that rationalised the council’s HR policies into six key areas, and communicated this change to managers.
  • Designed, developed and implemented employee discount scheme so staff could make the most of their reward package.
  • Took a leadership role in negotiating with an external HR provider, enabling the smooth transition of 300 staff back into the council.
  • Delivered workforce aspects of a major improvement plan for children’s services department.

Benefits and achievements

  • Reduced vacancies in the children’s services department by around 50%, with equivalent reductions in use of agency staff.
  • Positive impact on local economy through employees using discount scheme.
  • Appraisal completion levels have risen from 57% to more than 90% within 18 months.
  • Reduction in sickness absence from 11.37 days per employee to 8.12 (2008-2013).
  • Direct cost saving of more than £1 million from using portable IT solution.
  • Managers report high levels of engagement and understanding of new HR policies.

Judges’ comments
“Really liked how he developed relations with third party and used an innovative approach with cost solutions. I like how he has translated problems into clear strategy and practical solutions.”

Jon West, Jaguar Land Rover

About the organisation
Jaguar Land Rover is the UK’s largest automotive manufacturing business, built around Land Rover, a leading manufacturer of premium all-wheel drive vehicles and Jaguar, one of the world’s premier luxury sports saloon and sports car marques. It is owned by Tata Motors Ltd.

The challenge

Over the past five years, Jaguar Land Rover has experienced huge domestic and international success, but this placed demands on its recruitment and talent functions to attract, identify and select the best people in a competitive sector. Jon has restructured his team to adapt to the changing needs of the business and towards a business partnering model.

What Jon did

  • Developed innovative and targeted learning programmes to support large-scale recruitment.
  • Supported the development of skills for new model programmes, new plants and continued global expansion.
  • Ensured that smaller businesses in the value chain can support JLR’s increasing growth – including lobbying with skills bodies and informing skills strategy.
  • Supported multiple key global projects, including China expansion.
  • Used a blended approach rather than “one size fits all”, encompassing multiple media platforms and flexible learning opportunities.
  • Engaged Adrian Moorhouse from Lane 4 consultancy as personal coach, helping him to adapt his style and manage needs of multiple stakeholders.

Benefits and achievements

  • More than 5,500 employees have undertaken the Operator Apprenticeship, and secured government funding to expand suite of programmes.
  • All group leaders have been recruited internally.
  • Estimated 20% reduction in assessor time thanks to review of delivery methods. Cost saving of around £300 per delegate.
  • Total saving across learning and development estimated at around £70,000, based on the 2013/14 delivery plan of around 200 delegates.
  • Bethany Evans, head of learning and development, said: “He has the vision, insight, and drive to motivate others, to innovate creating opportunities for others to retrain or re-skill and embark on careers in our sector.”

Judges’ comments
“Highly commendable. Great example of supporting multiple key projects.”

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