Personnel Today Awards 2014 winners: First Great Western excels in Employee Relations

First Great Western collect their award in the 2014 employee relations category
First Great Western collect their award in the 2014 employee relations category.

First Great Western took the 2014 Personnel Today Award for Excellence in Employee Relations at last month’s ceremony in central London. Judges commended the train operating company’s thorough approach to implement a respect and dignity policy. Read FGW’s winning entry below and those of the runners-up on the shortlist.


WINNER: First Great Western

About the organisation

First Great Western’s (FGW) services cover one of the largest and most complex rail networks in the UK, carrying 1.5 million passengers every week on 9,000 services, and calling at 276 stations. It is the only UK rail company to operate high-speed intercity, commuter, regional and sleeper services.

The challenge

In 2011, FGW embarked on an ambitious business plan to deliver improved customer service. In conjunction with the initiation of new trains and station projects, a new HR team was created to build employees’ potential. A review of people-related processes and policies revealed a rise in bullying, harassment and discrimination that needed to be addressed.

What the organisation did:

  • New HR team formed with priority of creating a “Respect and dignity at work” policy entitled “Together we can stamp it out”.
  • Used external organisations, such as Hampshire Fire Service and South West Trains, as benchmarks, as well as seeking external training.
  • Ran a dedicated workshop for around 800 managers to support implementation of new policy and help them deal with issues.
  • Produced hard-hitting DVD with support of managing director, HR director and unions, illustrating unacceptable behaviours.
  • All employees offered opportunity to become a facilitator; selected and trained 20 of these, in addition to 18 external facilitators.

Benefits and achievements

  • A total of 650 managers and 2,500 colleagues have attended “Respect and dignity” workshops.
  • Seventy-two per cent of employees responded positively to the statement: “The company believes it is important that employees are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their position or background” in engagement survey.
  • Number of reported minor allegations has increased, but serious grievances down 66% per annum.
  • Significant reduction in number of employee tribunals per annum.
  • Employee absence related to bullying or harassment decreased, with attendance rising from 93% to 96%.
  • FGW’s franchise extended until 2015.

Judges’ comments

“Thorough approach to tackling the problem.”


RUNNERS-UP

Pentland Brands

About the organisation

Employee Relations – the judges

Stephen Wood, professor of management, University of Leicester
Jocelyn Prudence, director, Employee Relations Institute
Andrew Wareing, chief operating officer, Acas

Pentland is the name behind well-known sports and outdoor brands such as Berghaus, Speedo, Boxfresh and Ellesse. It is also the majority owner of JD Sports Fashion, which operates more than 800 stores across Europe. It is a third-generation, family-owned business.

The challenge

Feedback from new joiners showed that the time lapse between accepting a new job at Pentland and starting work could feel like a long time, leading to around 5% of starters accepting counter offers elsewhere. In addition, the communication of practices and policies in the early weeks was not effective, so needed to be addressed.

What the organisation did

  • Held cross-functional session between HR and marketing on maintaining communication with new hires.
  • Consulted employees to find out what information would be most useful.
  • Devised a book called “Handpicked”, covering the DNA, language and heritage of Pentland for new starters, which:
    • is designed to have minimal effect on the environment to support the corporate social responsibility aims of the business;
    • includes a seed to plant a flower, representing employee’s “new life” at Pentland; and
    • is personally signed by the CEO.

Benefits and achievements

  • Number of new joiners voluntarily leaving the business has reduced by 25% in past year.
  • Disciplinary cases in distribution centre have declined by 19% between 2011 and 2013.
  • Disciplinary cases in shared services teams has reduced by 50% between 2011 and 2013.
  • Number of employees accepting a counter offer has fallen from 5% to less than 1%.
  • Content from “Handpicked” book has helped to populate newly launched HR site on employee portal.

Judges’ comments

“Collaborative and innovative in a multiplicity of ways.”


Nottingham City Council

About the organisation

Nottingham City Council (NCC) is a large unitary authority employing 10,000 staff across a broad spectrum, from back-office support functions to frontline roles.

The challenge

Facing a reduction in funding for the public sector, NCC has made £99 million in savings in the last three years, but is required to save a further £25.5 million in 2014/15. The council needed to find creative ways to reduce costs and increase productivity while still providing the same level of services. One target area for improvement was performance management.

What the organisation did

  • Completely re-wrote the performance management procedure, with definitive timescales for reviews and step-by-step guidance for managers.
  • Added a “fast-track” approach for cases where serious underperformance posed an immediate risk to the business.
  • Extensively consulted with trade unions, HR and managers to ensure new policy met the needs of the business.
  • Used series of workshops to help launch the new process, outlining its vision of a culture where performance management is a natural part of management.
  • Relaunched appraisal process; poor appraisal rating leads to performance management.

Benefits and achievements

  • New performance management process fully embedded: completed three 12-month cycles.
  • Better able to identify poor performance and also high-potential colleagues, who can then access development opportunities.
  • Increase in completion of appraisals from 63% to 86%.
  • Managers’ feel that they are better able to focus on key priorities.
  • Increase of 87.5% seen in performance management cases.
  • A total of 43% of cases progressed to successful conclusion, compared with only 25% prior to implementation of new system.

Judges’ comments

“The changes give a sound platform and it is likely that impact will be more significant in a year or two.”


Vaultex

About the organisation

Established in 2007 from a joint venture between Barclays Bank and HSBC, Vaultex is the UK’s leading cash processor. Vaultex supplies, collects and credits cash for customers such as high street retailers, supermarkets, financial institutions and ATM deployers.

The challenge

Vaultex requires high levels of security and precision from its cash-handling staff. However, a survey revealed that employees sought more clarity about how performance was rewarded and thought that company values were rule-laden and uninspiring. They also expressed a desire to get to know other teams in the business.

What the organisation did

  • First priority was to strengthen HR team so it could work on positive initiatives.
  • At the start of 2013, HR split the processing side of the business into three regions, and added a “region” to represent support functions such as finance operatives and management.
  • Each region supported by HR manager and HR officer.
  • Worked closely with communications team to ensure staff knew about the changes: email access opened to every staff member and intranet used as central hub for information.
  • Implemented a “You said, we did” communication loop so employees could receive updates on their feedback.
  • Held focus groups to develop new set of company values.
  • Introduced new online training system, VOLT, in October 2013.

Benefits and achievements

  • Employee turnover reduced from 30% in 2007 to 7%, below national average of 11.9%.
  • Reduced sickness absence levels from 15% to 3%.
  • Achieved Investors in People Gold status.
  • Majority (98%) of employees believe they can live by the new company values.
  • HR cost savings (in recruitment, reduced sickness) re-invested to offer improved benefits.
  • Quicker response received by HR managers to email queries.
  • National awards ceremony extended to all staff, not just managers and above.

Judges’ comments

“Impressive reduction in turnover and absence through this engagement initiative.”

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