Network Homes’ HR team claimed victory in the Excellence in Public Service HR category at the Personnel Today Awards 2019 for their focus on “doing the basics brilliantly”, despite the challenges they faced following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Here, we profile their winning entry alongside some of the great initiatives that were shortlisted in this category.
Network Homes is a charitable housing association that provides housing for vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
When the Grenfell Tower tragedy happened in June 2017, the organisation went into “crisis management mode”. It had tower blocks clad in the same flammable material as Grenfell and built by the same contractor, so its response to ensure the housing it provides was safe became its sole focus.
It had to reduce spending to fund remedial works, which involved putting the brakes on its people development programme and a 5% reduction in headcount following a restructure. Therefore, 2018 became a pivotal year for its HR team, which dedicated itself to helping Network focus on public service – it wanted to regain a sense of impetus and pace towards a shared goal of engaging its people in building an organisation with a reputation for first-class customer service.
Its mantra became “doing the basics brilliantly”. Without the budget to invest in new employee initiatives, it focused on the tools and techniques to make it easy for people to do their job well.
It worked with employee representative groups to ensure the employee voice was heard; introduced the concept of “90 days of massive action” to focus on re-letting empty homes, complaints handling and repairs servicing; introducing more flexible working practices; training sessions and “train ad trainers” for staff; and customer-focused action learning programmes.
Despite a challenging backdrop, it reduced average sickness absence from 11 days n August 2015 to 2.7 in March 2019; unlocked £1.2 million in efficiency savings by reviewing HR operations; and a 15% increase in staff satisfaction since 2015.
Bradford Metropolitan District Council
Bradford Metropolitan District Council covers one of the most populous districts in the UK. Outdated practices meant it was not always able to get the best from its workers, which could put public services in jeopardy.
Repeated absence and disengagement became widespread at the council. Furthermore, overstretched employees were struggling with their wellbeing, which was affecting their productivity and efficiency.
In July 2017 it launched “The Big Project” – a workforce transformation project that sought to ensure everyone had the capacity, capability and commitment to do more than just their role. It wanted to reduce sickness absence and time handling discipline and grievance processes.
The wellbeing component of the initiative, which has been developed with consultancy AdviserPlus, involved a management development programme with a focus on employee relations and interventions for employees which are tailored to their seniority, experience, responsibility, capability and concerns.
An e-learning module was developed around the council’s policies and objectives for welfare, giving managers examples of people management procedures through case studies and Q&As. Workshops covered leadership skills, performance management, difficult conversations and mental health.
An online mental health toolkit was also introduced, which aimed to help managers notice early signs of a mental health concern in an employee and help them offer sensitive support.
It has since seen reduced short-term absence rates and reductions in the time it takes to process disciplinary and grievance cases.
Formed in 2014 from a disparate group of care homes, brighterkind wanted to transform its culture and give its team a new identity, with a focus on talent development and a “positive and fun” working environment.
It asked employees about what the organisation’s core values should be and settled on: Choose to be happy; Sort it; Make every moment matter; Keep it simple; Do it from the heart.
Its head of culture and development recruited 200 UK-wide volunteer cultural ambassadors, which it called “Pacesetters” to role model the new values. They delivered fun activities around the new values in 30-minute sessions, suggest new ideas to energise teams, deliver training and reframe negative signage.
It launched its culture awards to reward the Pacesetters who had embellished training with their own ideas, for example writing poems and songs, painting pictures and baking “values” cakes.
Pacesetters put forward ideas from their colleagues, for example the introduction of an electronic, anonymous annual team survey (the previous one was paper-based) and a ‘team member of the month’ award for each region. Winners of awards received prizes of up to £1,000 at a gala dinner event.
All mandatory learning moved from e-learning to face-to-face at employees’ request and some employees took on paid training roles.
Its employee net promoter score has increased by 23% in just two years and reports from regulatory bodies indicate that staff believe the organisation has a happy atmosphere and empowered team members.
The Civil Service Fast Stream
The Civil Service welcomes around 1,000 new graduate recruits via Fast Stream every year, drawn from over 50,000 applicants.
Three years ago, incremental changes were made to the Fast Stream learning offer, but a major overhaul was made for the 2018 intake to update the programme, address feedback and enable individuals to reach their full potential. Feedback suggested that the induction event had become impersonal, while some of its learning activities no longer seemed fit for purpose.
The residential induction event was renamed Fast Stream Base Camp. Learners who were previously accommodated in single conference sessions are now split across 10 “home rooms” in more manageable groups. Learners attend sessions on topics including public policy, resilience and wellbeing and presenting and influencing; and are able to attend keynote speeches from senior civil servants.
To ensure the momentum generated by Base Camp is maintained throughout the Fast Stream programme, the remainder of the curriculum was also overhauled. It now focuses on improving Fast Streamers’ personal effectiveness (subjects including emotional intelligence, assertiveness and unconscious bias), functional skills (such as policy framing and project delivery) and leadership skills. These have replaced courses on finance in government and working more digitally, which were no longer suitable.
Over 90% of graduates who gave feedback felt Base Camp inspired them to do their best in their new job; they belonged to a Fast Stream community; and they were motivated to achieve the Civil Service’s objectives. Over 97% felt it helped them to have an impact in their new job.
Companies House set out to develop high performing teams, develop skills and offer meaningful and interesting work against a backdrop of an organisation-wide transformation programme to address inflexibility and internal focus. It hoped to improve the employee experience by meeting several aims, from reducing absence to increasing workers’ connection with the organisation.
Its Flourish engagement strategy has aligned work streams and makes a commitment to create the right conditions and culture so that employees can thrive. The strategy is built on three themes: building capability, health and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion.
To build capability, more than 900 employees have attended 133 learning events over the past six months. Sixty future leaders undertook a management development programme and a staff network of 23 coaches have delivered over 260 hours of coaching to improve manager and employee interactions. It has also introduced a leadership development programme for its executive board.
Under the health and wellbeing pillar of its strategy, Companies House is running classes from yoga to karate, and one colleague has been sponsored to lead a “Couch to 5K” running programme. Mental health is also supported through an Employee Assistance Programme, on-site occupational health resource and face-to-face counselling. More than 338 counselling sessions have been delivered.
It describes diversity and inclusion as a “golden thread” throughout the organisation. Four employee networks – carers, LGBTQ+, disability and a women’s network – have been formed and diversity declaration rates, which were historically low, have increased by more than 40%.
As a result, Companies House has seen attrition fall to just 5%; average employee absence drop from 7.5 to 5.88 days and a 52% reduction in the number of days lost due to mental health-related absence.