Personnel Today Awards 2015 winners: Warwickshire council excel in Employee Relations

Warwickshire County Council collect their trophy from XpertHR's Jonathan Hamer
Warwickshire County Council collect their trophy in 2015

Warwickshire County Council took home the award for Excellence in Employee Relations at the Personnel Today Awards on Monday for its work improving relationships with trade unions. Here we profile its winning entry and those of our runners-up.

WINNER

Warwickshire County Council

About the organisation

Warwickshire is one of the fastest growing commercial regions in the UK, and the County Council is the largest employer in the area, employing 18,000 people with a total spend of more than £670 million.

The challenge

With a greater proliferation of employers in the local area, difficulties in maintaining long-established bargaining arrangements emerged. As academy legislation allows an opt-out of national and local pay and conditions arrangements, there was the fear that things could start to become unstable and likely to result in inequality and unfairness based on an increase in new employee relations difficulties.

What the organisation did

  • Local authority developed a code of practice/behaviours for trade union representation and the management of employee relations.
  • Number and form of consultative forums was reviewed.
  • Process of developing and consulting employment policies moved towards a far greater emphasis being placed on key stakeholders input and then involving the unions once the needs of the customers were clearly understood.
  • Implemented a more streamlined process of policy production, with policies available for use by customers within a month, on average, after consultation commencing.
  • Enabled academies to join the consultation framework.

Benefits and achievements

  • Estimated overall release time costs for the three major teaching unions alone working to the required standard is in the region of £7,500 to £10,000 per representative per school, per trade union organisation.
  • Avoided the scenario of the resolution of low-level issues requiring prolonged negotiation due to the need to wait for availability of a regional officer.
  • Local representatives are more available and have a better understanding of the schools they are supporting their members in, leading to a more positive employee relations atmosphere.
  • The framework provides continuity in collective and/or individual member representation issues as they will continue to be dealt with by county trade union representatives.
  • There is a collective consultation on policies, therefore avoiding costly and time-consuming consultation at a school level on each and every policy with the trades union regional official.
  • Local trade union representatives are often able to broker early resolution of potentially high level cases, thereby removing the need to involve regional officers and unnecessary litigation.

Judge’s comments

“The new code delivering a more flexible model of trade union/employer relations in a traditional environment is impressive. The initiative appears to have delivered significant efficiencies and improvements and cultural change.”


RUNNERS-UP

HSBC

About the organisation

Employee relations – our judge

Jocelyn Prudence, ERI

HSBC is one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world. Its international network comprises around 7,500 offices in more than 80 countries and territories in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

The challenge

Feedback from the business and HR revealed that improvement was required in employee relations (ER). It highlighted four key issues: a complex ER team structure; ineffective partnership between ER, HR generalists and business sponsors; complex and cumbersome policies; and technical capability gaps.

What the organisation did

  • Put a logically tiered ER structure in place, which provides: a contact centre for 5,000 line managers; specialist ER case-manager support; and heads of ER for the most complex and sensitive activities.
  • Introduced an “ER generalist” role, which was not purely advisory, but also contained a practical element of hands-on case management.
  • Aligned the ER teams to the client groups, allowing closer working relationships to form with business colleagues and HR generalists.
  • Ran a series of ER surgeries to provide hands-on advice and guidance on hot topics or specific issues, allowing a very collaborative session to resolve issues informally.
  • Created an “ER Academy” with targeted development for each group.
  • Designed a professional development programme on the full suite of ER topics, and simplified ER policies after a review.
  • Rebuilt the capacity of the ER team, this included targeting graduates for the contact centre team with a view to delivering a structured career path for HR graduates into the ER specialism.

Benefits and achievements

  • Cleared a backlog of 600 aged cases; resolved a substantial class action; and simplified the consultation process for change programmes.
  • The early intervention offered by ER surgeries is assisting line managers resolve ER issues informally, and there continues to be extremely positive feedback.
  • Following attendance at an ER surgery, line managers have said that they “feel supported rather than monitored”. One said: “This was the first time I felt confident in the advice I was being given, as well as feeling reassured that common sense was being applied.”
  • Academy aims to train 5,000 line managers across the UK on handling core ER issues over the next five years.

Judge’s comments

“Very good focus on line manager training. It would be interesting to know if the unions were involved in the initiative.”


Manheim

About the organisation

Manheim is part of Cox Enterprises, a fourth-generation, family-owned business and a leading global communications, media and automotive services company.

The challenge

For seven years, Manheim had an employee forum made up of elected representatives from across the business to represent the views of employees at board level. Although the forum initially generated positive ideas, it gradually deteriorated, losing its initial sense of purpose. It subsequently became difficult to find representatives and managers had to ask an employee to join the team, which lead to a loss of credibility.

What the organisation did

  • In 2014, a newly formulated project team proposed a full relaunch and a new name (“the Employee Culture Team”) because of the link to colleagues and also the business’ key strategic culture goal.
  • Proposed an elected chairman who would: play a leading role in employee induction; hold monthly drop-in “surgeries” for colleagues; attend management meetings to build a relationship with management; and support employee engagement action plans and internal communication on-site.
  • Suggested that employee representatives should be eligible for a £1,000 bonus, £500 of which would be based on increased employee engagement scores and £500 on meeting key performance indicators.
  • Arranged training and development for representatives to improve negotiation and communication skills.
  • Improved quality and consistency of inductions and improved communication when employees join and leave the business.

Benefits and achievements

  • Reducing the number of catalogues printed for manufacturer auctions – saving an estimated £25,000 per annum.
  • Promotion of the company’s peer-to-peer recognition scheme resulted in 20,000 more points awarded in Q1 2015 than in Q1 2014.
  • New employees now get introduced to the business by their representative, who takes them through our induction handbook, shows them a video and introduces them to their colleagues.
  • Manheim’s employee engagement score increased by 8% between 2012 and the end of 2014.
  • Scores for the “acid test” customer service result increased from 7.3 to 7.49 between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015.
  • Feedback on the time it takes to update customer accounts on the system led to an improved process and better service.
  • Average overall rating of Manheim’s induction has gone up from 7/10 to 9/10.

Judge’s comments

“Interesting initiative – particularly the payment to cultural change.”


Royal Mencap Society

About the organisation

Mencap is the UK’s leading learning disability charity, working with people with a learning disability and their families and carers. It also provides help and support through supported living, supported employment, respite services, organised activities, systemic and individual advocacy, and outreach support.

The challenge

Royal Mencap Society has a unique high performing employee relations shared service team (“Ask HR”), which has to deliver high-impact dispute control in a high-risk environment where there are vulnerable adults. The team needs to make significant efficiency savings, while providing valuable information and learning to the business.

What the organisation did

  • Ask HR team resolved disputes on a daily basis with an average case load per team member of between 70 and 100 live cases per month, around 500 a month across the business.
  • Provided valuable information to the business, while resolving disputes and carrying out themed audits, which has secured valuable cultural change.
  • Used a CRM system to record activity, which ensures the right people are aware of any issues across the business.
  • Publicised what the team does through the use of a charter, which provides commitments to the managers of what they could expect from the service and should provide to obtain the best possible benefit.
  • Collaborated with Starr Consulting Group, which has provided the team with clarity on coaching styles and techniques.

Benefits and achievements

  • Increased manager capability in resolving disputes through daily coaching, by offering a range of options to resolve issues, while considering the holistic circumstances of the managers’ journey.
  • Managers and employee relations team feel valued, trusted and invested in.
  • The personal development helped increase engagement and job satisfaction, strengthening further enhanced employee relations.
  • HR data the system produces provided valuable insight into staff and manager behaviours after the first full year of recording, which were exploited within the second year to advance the organisations understanding of its people, policy and behaviours.
  • Managers have successfully defended tribunal actions for unfair dismissal, utilising their ER skills.

Judge’s comments

“Interesting, but difficult to work out what sort of disputes were being resolved.”


TrustFord

About the organisation

TrustFord is the world’s largest, dedicated Ford dealer group. It operates 65 dealership sites across the UK and employs more than 3,000 people. Total turnover exceeds £1 billion and the group sells around 90,000 vehicles per annum. TrustFord is owned by Ford Motor Company but operates as an independent dealer group with its own board of directors and operating strategies.

The challenge

TrustFord identified an increasing number of newcomers leaving within the first six months of employment, resulting in ineffective continuity of business and high recruitment costs. The way employees were introduced to the business was fragmented and inconsistent; as they typically started on a Monday, inductions were often delayed. Additionally, a lack of consistent training around company brand values was identified and newcomers felt detached from the business.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a centralised induction programme, which meant every new employee would receive a solid understanding of the company ethos and brand identity.
  • Launched the Induction Academy in October 2014, following strategic planning from senior members of the HR team.
  • Introduced a full immersion residential on-boarding course, where all new employees receive comprehensive training on the business and its culture.
  • Course covers company history, employee benefits, risk assessment, marketing, health and safety, and a welcome message from CEO Steve Hood.
  • Supported the HR team’s commentary with specialised insight from colleagues representing teams across the company.
  • Employees requiring dedicated training, such as sales executives, technicians and aftersales specialists, remain at the academy to be coached by experts in their specific discipline.
  • Provided personalised plans, which include training courses, monthly meetings with their line manager and other useful reminders.
  • Arranged for recruitment and HR processes to become more centralised, this ensures newcomers are set up properly, paid on time and that the transition into their new role is as smooth as possible.

Benefits and achievements

  • During the first six months, 338 employees attended the induction academy.
  • Annual staff turnover is down from 26.99% in April 2014, to 21.24% in April 2015. In its first quarter, the academy had already achieved the company target of 22% staff turnover.
  • Recruitment costs are significantly down. From January to April 2014, TrustFord spent £288,000, while for the same period in 2015, even factoring in academy costs, nearly half this was spent.
  • There are no current tribunals, an impressive feat in a company consisting of 65 dealerships, four distribution sites and a head office.
  • As well as having a positive effect on attendees, the academy has also impacted the entire company, revolutionising processes and generally making life easier.

Judge’s comments

“The induction academy is an impressive initiative and has delivered results.”


Vaultex

About the organisation

Vaultex is the UK’s leading cash processing company, processing 40% of the UK’s cash requirement. The business is a challenging combination of factory operations and logistics, combined with highly complex treasury, financial, IT, security and consulting activities. Vaultex employs more than 2,000 people across multiple sites in the UK‎.

The challenge

In order to ensure a multi-skilled, flexible and productive workforce, it was determined that all cash processors should be proficient in at least three competencies. The role can be repetitive and involves a significant amount of movement and manual handling. There were several individuals with underlying/ongoing musculoskeletal conditions and the HR team needed to ensure that these employees were dealt with sensitively ensuring compliance with current legislation.

What the organisation did

  • Devised a competency matrix, mapping all cash processors to their current competencies. This highlighted any gaps where there was need for additional training and development.
  • Ensured that the HR team engaged with all stakeholders, in addition to gaining endorsement from the trade union – giving it confidence that the motivation was to ensure job enrichment, taking away some of the monotony of the role and ultimately reducing processing errors.
  • The L&D team worked with the sites to define the training requirements and the assessment of each of the competency elements in order to ensure a measurable output.
  • Using the matrix as a tool, the HR team categorised the requirements into refresher or new training.
  • The refresher training was carried out by a buddy or mentor and successful attainment of the competency was agreed following measurable demonstration.
  • In some cases, where individuals were still unable to meet the competencies, the HR team sought guidance from the occupational health provider.
  • The ER and L&D teams worked together to support individuals and make them aware of what was required to meet their objectives.

Benefits and achievements

  • Resulted in 99.44% of all cash processors being proficient in three or more competencies.
  • A fully competent workforce ensured that the business has the opportunity to introduce a qualitative succession planning model.
  • Gained the endorsement of the trade union.
  • Increased percentage of internally promoted employees versus external hires at a cashier and supervisor level.
  • The implementation of a bespoke online performance management tool enabled the sites to track performance and address any ongoing training requirements.
  • Increased engagement within those sites where multi-skilling and productivity rates are higher.
  • Programme has helped develop Vaultex’s employee population by providing its people with additional skills and competencies, improving both engagement and productivity.

Judge’s comments

“Good initiative, but I would like to know how improvements, ie productivity, were measured.”

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