Personnel Today Awards 2014 winners: Jonathan Cowey is HR newcomer of the year

Jonathan Cowey receives his 2014 trophy from Monster's Richard Hebbron
Jonathan Cowey receives his 2014 trophy from Monster's Richard Hebbron

Monster - Find BetterA leadership and talent development consultant at Virgin Money, Jonathan Cowey, has received the 2014 Personnel Today Award for the HR Newcomer of the Year, sponsored by Monster. Here we highlight Jonathan’s winning entry in the category, which recognises HR professionals that have quickly made an impact in their organisation, as well as the other shortlisted HR newcomers.

WINNER: Jonathan Cowey, leadership and talent development consultant, 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”.

HR newcomer of the year: the judges

Vance Kearney, vice president of human resources, Oracle

Bruce Warman, director, Centre for Economics and Business Research

The challenge

After the acquisition of Northern Rock in 2012, the company underwent an intense period of integration and change. The HR team was at the centre, playing a key role in returning the bank to profitability and in developing a more customer-centric culture.

What Jonathan did

  • Designed tools to enable managers to make decisions and have conversations with staff about bonuses and pay awards, and link these to performance.
  • Took a lead role in planning and rolling out communications when terms and conditions were harmonised in April 2013.
  • Played a key part in designing and delivering an integrated performance management approach (previously there had been different systems for each business).
  • Helped build skills through the design and delivery of “Learning Lounge” and social media communications.
  • Researched and helped implement new development paths for all jobs.

Benefits and achievements

  • A more flexible working model, achieved through review of T&Cs, has helped return to profitability.
  • Reduction in overtime costs through harmonisation of terms and skills development.
  • Mortgage processing time halved from 30 to 15 days.
  • Successful integration of Northern Rock and further acquisitions completed; assets have grown from £1.8 billion to £24.6 billion.
  • “He constantly exceeds expectations and is becoming a key influencer within the wider business areas.”

Judges’ comments

“Entirely business centred upon delivering real business outcomes from people actions. This is what HR is or should be all about.”


RUNNERS-UP

Melanie Stacey, graduate manager, Merlin Entertainments

About the organisation

Merlin Entertainments has more than 100 global attractions, spread across 22 countries and four continents. It includes Sea Life, Madame Tussauds and Legoland. Last year the company floated on the London Stock Exchange.

The challenge

Merlin Entertainments is opening new attractions at a rate of seven per year. This means that there needs to be a supply of high-calibre people to support rapid business growth, and a strong pipeline of leadership talent. One way to achieve this was to reinvigorate its graduate programme.

What Melanie did

  • Managed “Accelerate” programme globally, from branding and advertising to holding assessment centres and personally selecting candidates.
  • Chose candidates for placements around the world.
  • Ran development events throughout the programme.
  • Supported graduates beyond the 18-month programme through to senior leadership positions, developing career paths for general management and marketing.
  • Delivered webinars to keep alumni graduate population engaged.
  • Recruited first-ever graduates for Japan, Malaysia and Australia.

Benefits and achievements

  • Increased engagement score for graduate population from 91% to 95%.
  • Six graduates have taken up senior leadership positions.
  • Turnover for graduates reduced from 25% to 5%.
  • Highest-ever number of applications, at 4,000 globally.
  • Voted by graduates as number one graduate employer in its sector in 2014.
  • “Melanie has visibly gained confidence and has developed a well-respected reputation among our senior leaders and acts as a positive role model for our graduates.”

Judges’ comments

“Impressive graduate program backed up with clear outcomes and measurements. Excellent work in a global environment.”


Rachel Bushby, head of early careers programmes, Tesco

About the organisation

Tesco is one of the world’s largest retailers, employing more than 500,000 people globally. It operates in 12 countries, and has more than 3,300 stores in the UK.

The challenge

When Rachel joined Tesco three years ago as a recruitment manager for online and digital marketing professionals, all hiring was done via agencies. There was a need to create more cost-effective business solutions and increase the amount of direct hiring.

What Rachel did

  • Developed employee referral programme.
  • Built brand perception through social media, plus partnerships with digital publications to attract top talent.
  • As lead recruitment manager for Tesco.com, built up the in-house resourcing team to save on agency spend.
  • Developed SMS service for candidates.
  • Had an integral role in UK People Plan, a culture change programme.
  • Now working on opportunities for young people, including becoming a member of Bright Futures advisory board.

Benefits and achievements

  • Almost 400 hires in 12 months for Tesco.com.
  • Direct recruitment driven up to 82%, at cost per hire of under £800.
  • Referral programme led to 17% of hires coming via this route.
  • Six out of seven in Rachel’s team have been placed on accelerated development programmes, five have been promoted.
  • Nominated for and completed “Women in Leadership” programme, offered to a selection of women.

Judges’ comments

“Attracting and developing young people is a major challenge for organisations and a vital social and demographic issue. Impressive programme.”


Rachel Maher, learning and development partner, Pentland Brands

About the organisation

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

The challenge

Although Pentland was successfully running two leadership programmes for middle and senior managers, it did not have a leadership programme for talented future leaders. The company wanted to more to demonstrate its commitment to developing and retaining future leaders and improve its talent pipeline.

What Rachel did

  • Engaged HR community, executive team and wider business with idea of running a three-month “Future Leaders Programme” (FLP).
  • Created nomination process for managers to select potential stars of the future; selected 12 people to become first FLP cohort.
  • Identified and selected external supplier to partner with, helping to design and deliver the programme.
  • Programme included community projects, coaching, improvisation theatre and real-life business projects.

Benefits and achievements

  • All participants said the programme was hugely valuable, and all have seen their behaviour change as a result.
  • Three-quarters of participants have either been promoted or moved into different roles; all are still working for Pentland.
  • Thanks to success of first programme FLP now running for a second time, this time to a global audience.
  • Rachel now also manages Emerging Leaders Programme for more senior/experienced leaders in the business.
  • “As a manager, the FLP programme seems to have been both challenging and rewarding, pushing the delegates to reflect on their own personal leadership style.”

Judges’ comments

“The programme was well-communicated, had a great impact on the running of the business and is now viewed as a strategically important process.”


Saqib (Aki) Akram, HR systems and information manager, 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 inter-city, commuter, regional and sleeper services.

The challenge

In 2011, FGW created a new HR team to enhance and develop employees’ capabilities, and to improve customer service and performance. One of the fundamental requirements to achieve this was to implement an integrated HR system, providing a “single source of truth” on HR metrics and information.

What Aki did

  • Identified the various providers of isolated systems in the organisation and gauged requirements for the new system.
  • Worked with FGW and FirstGroup’s IT departments to look at any future plans and understand technical constraints.
  • Gained input from end-users of management information, both in HR and business line managers, challenging “wish lists” where appropriate.
  • Created HR scorecard and simple process to collect data relating to KPIs.
  • Produced business case to introduce real-time information screens in depots and mess rooms within the training environment.

Benefits and achievements

  • HR can now report on key measures via the HR scorecard, which has been welcomed at executive level.
  • More than 600 new people onboarded onto system during 2013/14.
  • Learning environment significantly upgraded, increasing the effectiveness of training.
  • Full implementation of integrated HR system on target for this financial year.
  • “Aki is a true HR professional who is always positive and proactive and gets the job done.”

Judges’ comments

“The foundation of great HR lies in understanding the data and utilising IT skills. These initiatives are fundamental in building real HR capability.”


Vanessa Corsie, recruitment manager, EDF

About the organisation

EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies, supplying electricity and gas to around 5.5 million residential and business customers. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the EDF Group, generating around one-fifth of the UK’s electricity, and employing around 15,000 people.

The challenge

In 2010, EDF embarked on a two-year project to review and transform the way HR supported the business. A new recruitment model was introduced in 2011, representing a huge culture change for the business, with ambitious goals of recruiting more than 8,000 people into the company by 2015.

What Vanessa did

  • Hired and managed a high-performing team in hard-to-source engineering and technology recruitment market.
  • Showed frontline leadership in getting line managers and HR business partners to understand and communicate the new recruitment model.
  • Helped to develop EDF’s new employer brand, in a bid to improve candidate attraction.
  • Created innovative ways of sourcing candidates, shifting the company from a “push” approach (posting adverts) to proactively “pulling in” candidates.
  • Developed performance metrics, measuring recruiters on qualitative as well as quantitative performance.

Benefits and achievements

  • Completely changed recruitment landscape at EDF, despite no previous in-house experience.
  • Brought average cost per hire down from £4,000 to £827 in less than two years.
  • Promoted to operational recruitment manager in 2013.
  • Now manages 14 people and accountable for all permanent and fixed-term recruitment at EDF (around 1,500 hires per year).
  • “I can see Vanessa going very far in her career. One day, we will see her emerge as the thought leader in an HR or talent role in one of the large international companies.”

Judges’ comments

“Modernising recruitment is huge challenge, the results speak for themselves.”


Victoria Fryer, HR business partner – resourcing, Barclays

About the organisation

Barclays UK Retail and Business Bank helps millions of customers with their finances and employs over 24,000 people. The division hires more than 4,000 people per year, and receives more than 85,000 applications for a range of roles, across contact centres, retail branches and head office.

The challenge

A BBC “whistleblower” programme identified legal, risk and compliance issues with hiring, leading to a number of branch closures where managers could not find the people they needed. Barclays needed to ensure it brought on board the best people, retained them, and supported them to perform better.

What Victoria did

  • Created a new careers website, providing more of an insight into its employer culture than the previous, retail-focused site.
  • Worked through governance and compliance issues.
  • Launched socially intelligent recruiting strategy to ensure the bank captured the best passive candidates.
  • Worked with assessment provider and occupational psychologist to ensure selection methods for high-volume roles were suitable.
  • Completed recruitment projects with alumni, on diversity, with ex-military talent.
  • Worked with mobile developers to create a mobile jobs app.
  • Launched bank-wide social media strategy to engage with potential applicants.

Benefits and achievements

  • Victoria has been promoted three times: from coordinator in 2011 to successful resourcing business partner.
  • Direct hiring increased to 84%, up from 67% previously.
  • Saved £14 million on resourcing costs; cost-per-hire reduced by 30%.
  • Now averaged 15 applications per vacancy, compared with 37 in 2012.
  • Number of interviews reduced by around one-third.
  • Improved conversion ratios – successful job offers as low as one in two in some areas.
  • Careers website averages 100,000 hits per month.
  • “Victoria is a true role model for anyone wanting to embark in a career in HR, earning her stripes, working up the ladder.”

Judges’ comments

“Much of her work involved getting people and teams on board and was extremely adept at that. Many key metrics improved significantly as a result of her work.”


Scott Hossack, HR adviser, STV (formerly of SPSA)

About the organisation

Scott’s entry for the awards concerns his previous work for the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), established in 2012, to ensure the continuous improvement of policing in Scotland.

The challenge

While at the SPSA, Scott was involved in a major change programme as part of the HR workstream helping to reform Forensic Services. This would involve the introduction of two high-volume processing units and the restructuring of around 400 roles.

What Scott did

  • Worked closely with HR business partner and senior managers, attending weekly trade union consultation on restructuring.
  • Appointed as key point of contact for communication strategy during the selection process.
  • Dealt with challenges from heads of functions on employee selection, despite limited HR resources.
  • Created cost impact analysis of employee selection process, identified issues and came up with options to solve them.
  • Ensured key data was included in wider feedback on the change to the Scottish Government.

Benefits and achievements

  • Success of Forensic Modernisation has provided organisation with reduced operating cost.
  • Faster results produced in solving day-to-day crimes.
  • Flow of work has been redesigned around new service centres.
  • Process efficiencies can be applied to improve level of customer service.

Judges’ comments

“Scott was instrumental in achieving the creation of a National Forensic Service for the Scottish Police Service, involving 400 people. This was a key strategic priority for the Service.”

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