Personnel Today Awards 2014 winners: HR Team of the Year goes to London Overground

London Overground win HR Team of the Year.
London Overground win HR Team of the Year in 2014.

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The HR Team of the Year Award, sponsored by Monster, went to well-deserving winners London Overground Rail Operations. We look at the achievements behind their winning entry and profile the rest of the shortlist.

Winners: London Overground Rail Operations

About the organisation
London Overground Rail Operations Limited (LOROL) operates London Overground rail services on behalf of Transport for London (TfL). Each member of the 14-strong team takes responsibility for key projects alongside their day-to-day roles.

The challenge
In July 2013, LOROL received formal notification from TfL that Driver Only Operation (DOO) was to be extended across the entire Overground network. This is where train doors are operated by the driver and, for LOROL, this meant removing conductor grades from the business (affecting 10% of the employee population). DOO was a “red-line” issue for the RMT Union and a highly contentious industrial relations problem.

What the organisation did

  • Minimises service disruption and negative impact on customers while at the same time supporting employees (affected and unaffected) as a result of the changes. Created positive options for those that were affected.
  • Made no compulsory redundancies and ensured that all conductors would be offered a voluntary redundancy package or redeployment into alternative customer service roles.
  • Remained committed and dedicated to delivering on objectives relating to the development and growth of people and performance, maintaining employee satisfaction, recognising excellent achievement and improving employee safety and wellbeing.
  • Enhanced employee engagement – LOROL’s annual View Point survey helped create and deliver an action plan to improve engagement.
  • Launched “LOROL Extras” (reward and benefits platform) in August 2013 to bring together all LOROL’s employee benefits in one place and enhance the rewards available to the entire employee population.
  • Introduced LOROL’s manager-led employee recognition scheme, Thanks to You, in November 2013, which enabled managers to spontaneously and instantly recognise and reward employees who go the extra mile.
  • Encouraged learning and development – launched “Leading LOROL”, a management development programme designed to challenge and guide managers.

Benefits and achievements

  • For TfL, successful implementation of DOO will save £5 million.
  • During the project, LOROL maintained high satisfaction levels across the company (91.5%) and in the Autumn 2013 National Passenger Survey, LOROL scored an impressive 89%.
  • Seven in ten conductors redeployed were within the business and just 26% took voluntary redundancy. Cost saving of not having to recruit new talent for the vacancies the redeployed conductors filled is in the region of £134,000.
  • Almost nine in ten (88.8%) employees completed the View Point engagement survey giving LOROL an engagement score of 93%.
  • All of LOROL’s managers have attended Leading LOROL and the business has invested in 3600 classroom-based training days for employees in the last year.
  • Attendance management is above 97% and voluntary employee turnover is just 2%.
  • Six in ten employees have registered with LOROL Extras and between July 2013 and February 2014 they spent £177,000 on the site.

Judges’ comments
“A big challenge, solutions considered impact on staff, big financial benefits.”


ATS Euromaster

About the organisation
ATS Euromaster is a nationwide tyre company with 345 centres across the UK. Despite the impact of the economic situation and an unexpected downturn in the truck market, it is currently on track to make a small profit by the end of 2014.

HR Team of the Year – the judges

Alan Warner, director, Albany OD
Robert Aldrich, former group HR director, Nationwide Building Society
David Amos, healthcare, human resources and public services management consultant

The challenge
Five years ago, the organisation was charged with reversing a long record of financial instability – at its lowest point the business recorded a loss of £27 million. The appointment of a new HR director was a catalyst not only for the HR function to challenge the status quo, but for the whole organisation to develop a renewed strategic focus.

What the organisation did

  • Provided line managers with the right tools to be self-reliant and able to encourage their teams to perform and achieve business and management strategies.
  • Worked collaboratively with the group operations director to identify people-related issues affecting centre performance. Implemented a corrective action for improvement plan that has resulted in a number of loss-making centres becoming profitable for the first time in five years.
  • Working closely with finance, HR put a clearly defined action plan in place to improve the performance of centre operation managers and area operation managers.
  • Initiated a much-needed staff shake-up, as some long-serving employees had a total disregard for the company’s values and had no desire to move forward.
  • Designed and rolled out “SMILE – Putting our customers first”. The team played a strategic role in this bespoke programme, attended by everyone in the business, from tyre technicians to directors.
  • Ensured that the right people are in the right jobs. The team now has direct involvement in the appointment process for key vacancies and runs workshops to help line managers improve their recruitment and selection skills.
  • Designed and launched a new performance management process called “Managing the ATS Way”. The informal but productive approach uses specific employee and line manager guidance packs to ensure both parties have clarity on what is expected of them.
  • Rolled out “Optimise”, a bespoke five-day managing and developing people programme for all line managers within the business.

Benefits and achievements

  • Despite the recession, the company has recorded a £27 million improvement in financial performance and is now on track to make a small profit by the end of 2014.
  • The SMILE initiative, aimed at giving ATS Euromaster the competitive edge it needs to achieve sustainable profitability, has been a huge success and sales have already increased by 27% in some areas.
  • Employees feel that they have a greater understanding of “big-picture” issues; they have engaged with the company more than ever before (in some areas, employee engagement score is as high as 94%).

Judges’ comments
“Business-like focus on the crucial role of line managers and their impact on HR performance – a notable use of initiatives to promote line-management skills.”


About the organisation
Barclays UK Retail and Business Banks are experts in understanding customer needs. They help millions of customers with their finances and employ over 24,000 people. They hire more than 4,000 people per year, and receive more than 85,000 applications over a range of roles, including contact centres, retail branches and head office. The resourcing team has 29 employees alone.

The challenge
A few years ago, a BBC “whistleblower” programme identified legal, risk and compliance issues with Barclays’ hiring process. Branches could not hire the people they needed to and some had to close. Stakeholder feedback was also poor. Barclays’ strategy was clear – to ensure it hired the very best people that supported the banks’ long-term retail strategy and had staff that the business was pleased with. More than that, it wanted to ensure candidates were not only the best at interview, but stayed with the bank longer, had fewer days off and performed better.

What the organisation did

  • Created virtual teams of suppliers to create flexibility and scalability.
  • Launched a new careers website, which provides a real insight into Barclays’ culture, values and specific role requirements.
  • Introduced occupational personality questionnaires as part of the interview process for senior and specialist hires, ensuring that the organisation fully understands its candidates.
  • Partnered with an app developer to develop a mobile jobs app.
  • Worked through many processes and governance procedures to create “Avature”; a candidate management tool that captures talent pools and communicates to top talent.
  • Realigned the resourcing team, and created dedicated teams for senior hiring, compliance, performance, recruitment process outsourcing management, attraction and resourcing partnering – who all worked together and with the business to deliver its strategy.

Benefits and achievements

  • Direct hiring has increased to 84% from 67% with a £14 million resourcing cost saving.
  • Currently averaging 15 applications per vacancy, compared with 37 in 2012.
  • Number of interviews has reduced by around 33% and cost per hire has reduced by 30%.
  • Careers website averages 100,000 hits per month.
  • Improved conversion ratios, with successful job offers as low as one in two in some areas, compared with one in eight previously.
  • Avature talent pools generated 239 hires; and there have been 31,170 job app downloads.

Judges’ comments
“Impressive reformation of a poor resourcing service, with industry-leading results, especially on the efficiency and satisfaction of the core recruitment service.”


About the organisation
Biffa Group Ltd is a waste management company headquartered in High Wycombe. It provides collection, landfill, recycling and special waste services to local authorities and industrial and commercial clients across the UK.

The challenge
Since the company’s restructure in 2010, Biffa’s HR team has played a pivotal role in getting the company back on track. HR director Jane Pateman was appointed (where there had previously been noone) and along with CEO Ian Wakelin, she introduced values to the business – a vision, strategy and direction to help turn the company around. They had to start from scratch to convince senior management of the benefits, best practice, and evidence to support the aim of developing a people-centred strategy.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a people-focused pillar to the business plan, so that “Building Pride in Biffa” became a theme that cascaded through the company. Entirely employee focused, its goal is to actively engage Biffa’s people in understanding business challenges, to develop their capabilities and motivate them.
  • Created a positive culture, harnessing the will to win. Bringing internal communications within the HR team, the team engineered a huge amount of face-to-face contact and supported this with training, management development, reward strategies and performance management processes.
  • Introduced a blog with CEO Ian Wakelin, with quarterly business updates. HR wanted to make sure that Biffa’s staff hear about what is happening in the company directly.
  • The HR Customer Charter states the organisation is one team, and this attitude has enabled HR to gain traction among an initially sceptical workforce.
  • Drove cost-efficiency initiatives, including bringing recruitment in-house, setting up new pension arrangements, introducing a salary saver on pensions and integrating acquisitions.
  • Aligned HR to the business with a small HR team dedicated to each operating division, delivering a business partnership approach.
  • Created dedicated “People Plans” for each operational division, reflecting a solid understanding of the functions, nuances and challenges faced by different teams.

Benefits and achievements

  • From a position four years ago where there was a small, reactive, disillusioned HR team, with no strategy, no leadership and morale at an all-time low, Biffa now has a business-aligned and pro-active team, with shared convictions.
  • Employee engagement score has increased by 10 percentage points, a massive 25% improvement, with participation at 85% across the whole company.
  • Company is performing to target across all divisions. HR alone has delivered almost £3 million gross savings (annualised).

Judges’ comments
“Clearly very significant improvement in the capability of the HR department, with very impressive financial outcomes as a result of this step-change.”


About the organisation
HomeServe plc is a home emergency repairs business. It was created as a joint venture with South Staffordshire Water in 1993, with an investment of £100,000. The home emergency business grew quickly and within 10 years accounted for two-thirds of the company’s profits. In 2004, South Staffordshire Water plc demerged from the Group and the company changed its name to HomeServe plc. The organisation continues to grow in all its markets.

The challenge
The organisation was faced with the largest regulatory fine in British retail financial services history for mis-selling insurance policies between 2005 and 2011. It needed to completely turn the business around by putting the customer at the heart of its thinking. On 31 October 2011, HomeServe Membership Ltd ceased sale of all products to both new and existing customers for a period of time while the company reviewed the product suite and the way in which products were marketed and sold to customers.

What the organisation did

  • Created and implemented a customer charter, which defined the key principles by which the company now operates.
  • Established and implemented an effective training and competence scheme for colleagues.
  • Initiated a complete overhaul of the senior management team.
  • Re-established and defined customer-facing roles.
  • Designed and implemented a career progression framework for all main roles in the contact centre
  • Re-established fixed and variable pay arrangements based on external benchmarks and regulatory guidance.
  • Set up a new individual contribution scheme to replace inappropriate legacy commission arrangements.
  • Implemented “Great Conversations”, focused on soft skill call delivery to customers.
  • All critical elements above were split into work streams, which were led by HR. Each stream had a mix of operational and compliance experts and stakeholders in the group to ensure that the solutions fitted the operation, were compliant, and had organisational alignment.

Benefits and achievements

  • Gained around 200,000 new customers (on target).
  • Retention rate of 82% (2% above target).
  • Stabilised total customers at 2.1 million.
  • Had a successful Financial Conduct Authority visit.
  • Engagement has now stabilised, and is growing.

Judges’ comments
“Hugely challenging situation from which the HR team had to rebuild and deliver, with excellent results for the business.”

Nationwide Building Society

About the organisation
Nationwide is the world’s largest building society and one of the UK’s largest savings and mortgages providers. It also offers current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans to its 15 million members.

The challenge
Against the backdrop of a challenging cost environment, increasing competition and regulatory scrutiny, the distribution HR business partnering team has worked tirelessly to deliver multiple key initiatives across Nationwide’s distribution channels, which include the branch network, direct sales and intermediary sales, in order to deliver Nationwide’s corporate goal of being the public’s first choice for financial services.

What the organisation did

  • Undertook a comprehensive review of performance plans and incentive arrangements that swept away traditional target and incentive payments resulting in high-quality customer outcomes.
  • Worked diligently with HR Centres of Excellence to ensure the delivery of mandatory activities within a nine-month timeframe. Activities included recruitment and training of more than 500 new mortgage consultants, rigorous up-skilling of more than 1,000 existing employees and supported 225 employees to obtain the industry recognised CeMap qualifications.
  • Managed redeployment of more than 85% of impacted employees after Branch Network review and closure programme resulted in the closure of 37 branches.
  • Strengthened managerial talent pipeline as a result of the team having designed and implemented bespoke learning and development solutions to grow talent.
  • Created a new retail strategy underpinned by a robust people strategy. The strategy includes the groundbreaking remote adviser concept, known as “Nationwide Now’”, which is an innovative solution to meet changing customer needs and is a key enabler for the Society’s focus on digital.
  • Promoted personal development through regular events and having a successful buddying system that provides ongoing support and challenge to each other.

Benefits and achievements

  • The team’s coordinated productivity and cost-efficiency initiatives across the branch network led to organisational savings in excess of £3.5 million.
  • Employee engagement and enablement scores within both retail and distribution have risen again and are now more than 80% favourable, which is at least 7% higher than the high-performing financial services norm.
  • The Society’s underlying profit has increased by 155% in the last six months alone. Nationwide was also placed in the Times Top 25 Best Companies – ranking first out of all the financial services providers.

Judges’ comments
“Very powerful example of how a relatively small HR team (compared to workforce size) can implement major change during organisational upheaval.”

Village Urban Resorts & De Vere Hotels

About the organisation
Village Urban Resorts & De Vere Hotels has 33 locations, including 25 Village Urban Resorts and eight De Vere Hotels. The group has an annual turnover of £220 million converting to £60 million profit. It employs around 5,000 people.

The challenge
The people development team was formed at the end of 2012 by the new people development director with the remit of delivering the V Happy People Plan (VHPP). Previously there had not been a HR strategy and therefore much of what had been done was transactional and disjointed. People engagement was low at 71% and service standards were impacted. With a business objective of growing the business and boosting financial revenue through a strategy of “customer intimacy”, a new approach was needed with employee engagement identified as a key commercial driver.

What the organisation did

  • Developed engagement strategy and employer brand so all aspects of the plan are instantly recognisable. Wanted people to identify with the brand and its service standards.
  • Employer branding logo says, V Happy People = V Happy Customers. This philosophy is at the core of all the organisation does.
  • Directors delivered a launch to the hotel managers who then ran sessions with their teams. Apart from communicating the VHPP, the session also launched a customer service incentive called “Going the Extra Inch”. Employees are empowered to give small complimentary things away or to give extra service to create V Happy Customers.
  • Introduced VIP (very informed person) employee communication forum, thorough supporting documents were issued and the hotel VIP champions were trained in their new responsibility and were tasked with setting up a team.
  • Designed national competitions to test nominated individuals in the delivery of exceptional service and brand standards. These were created for housekeeping, spa, reception, chefs, restaurant, bar and health and fitness.
  • Identified top talent who underwent mentoring, career profiling and formal training. Career days held in all hotels promoting NVQs.
  • Created a V Happy People engagement website to promote our engagement initiatives (

Benefits and achievements

  • Almost all (98%) employees received a performance review since launching the V Happy People project.
  • Engagement surveys run three times a year and participation has increased from 71% to 86%.
  • More than nine in ten (94%) teams are proud to work for De Vere and 88% would recommend it as a great place to work.
  • Officially recognised with the awarding of a Caterer and Hotelkeeper “Best Places to Work in Hospitality” award – given only to the Top 30 in hospitality and decided by employees alone. De Vere came first in the large employer category.
  • Twenty-four rising stars have been identified in past year: eight are now general managers; three deputy general managers; and one sales manager.
  • Recruitment spend decreased by 80%, saving £400,000 and providing a £340k return on investment. Almost nine in 10 (89%) top performers have been retained through early identification of “risk of leaving”.
  • High engagement with new internal communications hub – average time spent on site per employee equals 4.15 minutes. There have been 115,908 site visits in the first year.
  • Labour turnover decreased to 24%; very low compared with competitors
  • Increased customer expenditure, because teams are motivated to upsell.

Judges’ comments
“Really interesting and imaginative approach to motivating and rewarding staff, with excellent results in recruitment and improvements in customer satisfaction – much for other employers to learn from in a practical way.”

Virgin Money

About the organisation
Founded by Sir Richard Branson in March 1995, Virgin Money (VM)  is a UK-based bank and financial services company. At the beginning of 2012, it acquired Northern Rock in a deal worth up to £1 billion.

The challenge
When Virgin Money acquired Northern Rock (NR) in 2012, in a deal worth up to £1 billion, it took a big step in its journey to make banking better. Further acquisitions (credit cards from MBNA and mortgages from UKAR) complemented the NR deal. The company has therefore been through a period of integration, while also managing further asset acquisitions and building an overall customer offering and improved customer service. The result has been rapid and complex business change.

What the organisation did

  • Designed and delivered new and consistent approach to performance management across the business.
  • Implemented new pay architecture, ensuring the reward package was both competitive and transparent
  • Withdrew historic bonus schemes and introduced a single new approach to bonus focused on encouraging the right behaviours and the achievement of company goals.
  • Migrated HR information system to Oracle HR, improving the colleague experience of transacting with HR and helping the environment. Work tasks can now be managed online and payslips electronically delivered.
  • Launched careers website to attract the best talent which had more than 233,000 visits, received 600 requests to register and more than 4,000 job applications. More than 50 appointments resulted, saving more than £345,000 in recruitment costs.
  • Over 500 colleagues spent their first two days on a “Virgin Money Arrivals Event” learning about the brand, and culture.
  • Launched flexible benefits over two cycles in 2013, providing colleagues with the kind of choices it aims to offer customers. Uptake increased to 73% at the end of 2013.
  • Created “The Hub”, a social media platform, enabling colleagues to build an internal network of contacts, create communities and write blogs resulting in more collaborative, cross-functional working.

Benefits and achievements

  • Improvement in engagement and uplift in capability contributed to the bank’s strong return to profit in 2013 from a loss of two £2 million to a profit of £53 million.
  • Assets grew in 2013 by £2.8 billion to £24.6 billion.
  • Increased capacity with 250 permanent employees hired in 2013. Turnover rate is 6.2% at present, well below industry norm.
  • Staff are committed and motivated, with engagement at 85%, compared with 56% for NR in 2011.
  • More than 800,000 new products were chosen by VM customers in 2013.
  • Reduction in overtime costs through harmonisation and colleague skills development helped shorten mortgage processing time from 30 to 15 days.

Judges’ comments
“Strong application, team have clearly delivered over the last couple of years to help turn business around.”

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