Personnel Today Awards 2020: HR Impact Award shortlist

KP Snacks collect their 2019 trophy from XpertHR's Scott Walker and guest host Sally Phillips.

The Personnel Today Awards 2020 winners will be revealed later this month. Each organisation on this highly competitive shortlist provided evidence of speed of reaction, innovative thinking, clear communication, an understanding of business drivers, and measurement of the benefits.

Lloyds Banking Group

The bank is making its biggest ever investment in people to transform culture and the way it works. With 70,00 colleagues across the UK, Lloyds has a diverse workforce that brings competitive advantages.

The group recognised it needed a new approach to performance management and wanted a simplified, collaborative, and inclusive approach that encouraged everyone to continually learn new skills. It needed to be non-hierarchical so every colleague would receive the same training and experience.

The result was Your Best, which was designed and tested with 2,000 colleagues. The process was led by HR but involved working cross-functionally to ensure it was fit for purpose for all. Your Best helps colleagues understand their purpose, gain continual coaching and share two-way feedback through regular check-ins with their manager.

Personnel Today Awards 2020

The Personnel Today Awards are going online this year! Register here and join us in celebrating the winners on 26 November.

Other organisations that had delivered similar changes were researched, which showed the importance of upskilling all colleagues to ensure the process was inclusive and transparent. The bank learned it would take 2-3 years to see the full benefit. The training is designed to be regularly visited throughout the year, rather than a form-filling, box-ticking annual cycle.

Lloyds partnered with MindGym, which uses behavioural science to transform how people think, feel and behave, and ICF Next too, a creative marketing agency.

The results have seen 89% of staff now believe performance management provides a positive experience against 20% in 2018. Managers are spending 60% less time documenting performance, freeing up time for coaching. Check-ins have revealed that 80% of staff know how they’re performing, compared with 35% who’ve had one. It’s considered that the group has embraced personal development to a whole new level.

Longhurst Group

In 2015 the property company moved forward with an ambitious strategic appetite to be market-leading, with an exceptional employer reputation and a highly engaged workforce.

Organisation-wide away days starring guest presenter Kriss Akabusi were great fun but also gained Longhurst valuable insight from colleagues. The resounding message from the listening exercises was that the firm’s legacy structure was causing inconsistencies both operationally and culturally, resulting in inefficiencies and lower than expected productivity.

The feedback helped Longhurst to design and initiate its three-year HR and Learning and Development Strategy shaped by colleagues’ views. The firm restructured and rebranded its HR team to form a strategically aligned People Services department.

This helped it create a people-focused culture, championing HR initiatives that have contributed to increased organisational and individual performance.

To attract the best talent the group recognised it also needed to improve employee experience, so an internal recruitment drive was launched, kick-starting the consultation period for core benefits on offer with an incredible 45 ACAS-trained employee representatives.

This group created an invaluable network across the geographically diverse organisation to ensure every colleague could have their voice heard. The new employer offer was implemented in April 2020. The work done means the group is in a sound position moving forward in the Covid-19 world, enabling it to retain and attract the best talent.


When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, “business as usual” turned on its head and the facilities management giant’s HR function was propelled into action mode.

With 47,500 employees, HR is a critical function. However, Covid has amplified the already fast-pace and drastically increased reliance on technology.

With a substantial blue-collar workforce, Mitie provides services to hospitals, supermarkets, schools, train stations, telecommunications networks and other critical infrastructure across the UK and Ireland. It is providing services to the nightingale hospitals across the country, as well as 10 coronavirus test centres.

The main challenge the HR team faces is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of employees against the backdrop of rapidly changing government guidance and employment law.

To help achieve this, Mitie set up an HR Covid-19 working group to assess and mitigate risk, and to co-ordinate and respond quickly to government advice. Six key areas were considered: procedures, digitalisation of key processes, communication, safety, wellbeing, and recognition.

Among the firm’s achievements was the mobilisation of a team of 177 people at Dragon’s Heart Hospital in Cardiff where it took fewer than four days to recruit everyone – from advertising through to induction, site orientation and starting their shift. Similarly, a 24/7 team of 20 people was mobilised at the nightingale hospital in London in 24 hours and 10 Covid test centres were mobilised overnight with sites being built on Tuesday and 200 staff being deployed by 8am.

The firm says that using the results of its recent pulse survey and employee feedback it will continue to reappraise and strive for innovation.

NatWest Group

The group’s people strategy (introduced in 2017) was aligned to deliver its purpose (at that time Serving Customers Well) and business strategy (Engaged Employees), and had digital HR at its’ foundations, to provide colleagues the same digital experience as our customers. Digitising the core HR platform has, the firm says, been its biggest ever strategic investment in HR. A crucial stage in its journey to implementing Workday in November 2019, was to create a single, integrated job framework to leverage full functionality of the multi-million pound investment, and change the way the organisation describes, organises and manages jobs.

The bank had previously used a group-wide job framework, but complexity and inconsistent data proved too big a challenge. As the businesses grew (to nearly 200,000 colleagues) through mergers and acquisitions, leaders designed jobs in isolation with little central oversight. This caused discrepancies. It was decided that a single, innovative job framework would fix this problem.

A small team was tasked with designing and delivering the framework against NatWest’s people strategy. The blueprint for this was agreed at executive level, giving top-down endorsement. Once agreed, the timescale from conception to delivery was 16 months. NatWest set out a comprehensive project plan, interlinked within the overall delivery of Workday – deadlines were strict.

Because the job framework would impact all colleagues, the company formed a representative network of HR and business colleagues (primarily at mid managerial level) in a working group. The initial focus was to review, challenge and input into our blueprint.

Since its launch in November 2019, better workforce management has been achieved through an accurate and consistent understanding of NatWest’s jobs, who does them and what capabilities are required – for the first time. Some 44 job families have been arranged in eight job family groups, and 4,392 jobs in the organisation (of all types and across all grades, customer businesses and functions), simplified from circa 12,000 job profiles previously.

This has created a more dynamic organisation able to deploy the right people, in the right place and at the right time – which was critical in the response to Covid-19 – and the capability to benchmark jobs effectively to the external market and validate fair pay is offered for every job.

NHS England and Improvement

As the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold across the world, the chief people officer of the NHS, Prerana Issar, with the people directorate within NHS England and Improvement set up a workforce cell to help the wider NHS plan and respond to the specific needs of staff across the NHS system. Part of the cell’s work was to support the physical, emotional and practical needs of the staff exposed to the increasing demands of the pandemic.

The approach taken was underpinned with how other incidents of this nature took their toll on staff and included single incident responses through to the larger and longer impact on staff ranging from the gulf war through to the Ebola virus responses. This knowledge helped the organisation to develop a framework to guide its interventions, broken down into three phases of work: “prepare”, “active” and “recovery”.

The organisation formed nine steams of work and quickly re-deployed its internal teams to support this work; the ability to make a difference through the work and be connected to the clear purpose of our NHS has also benefitted the teams working in this area.

The usual organisational barriers were ignored and colleagues joined from Public Health England and Health Education England to provide excellence in data capture, evaluation and supporting the development of screening tools for the next steps of recovery planning.

To date NHS England and Improvement has seen over 3,000 calls to the helpline, 1,400 text conversations, 120,000 downloads of the app and 135,000 visitors to the website. Having access to this data has helped it understand what staff need now, how it can tailor and adapt its model of support and what its next steps need to be.

Staff will not necessarily feel comfortable to reach out for help, the public regard them as “heroes” and they need support to recognise their own needs. The mental health offer will include an outreach and contact centre for all staff, a website for employees to ‘self-screen’ their mental health and to get the support staff need at a place they feel comfortable with.

The wider impact has been to support the understanding and confidence of HR and OD teams across the country. As one HR director noted, “this is like a pair of arms being put around me and I can see whether I am doing the right thing locally”.

Saffron Housing Trust

This is a not-for-profit social landlord that provides more than 6,000 homes and supported accommodation across Norfolk and Suffolk. It also offers specialist homes for older and vulnerable adults and are committed to providing new homes to help those in housing need who cannot afford to rent or buy in the open market.

Following a high- profile downgrade from the industry regulator (Regulator for Social Housing), Saffron experienced a period between 2016 and 2018 of significant under performance, regulatory intervention and a depleted culture that led to apathy, negativity and a loss of pride in Saffron. Customers, stakeholders, regulators and internal teams lost confidence in the business and a pattern of low morale, poor performance and weak engagement was evident. An experienced director of HR – Catherine Hodds – was appointed, along with a new executive team and a transformation strategy was developed.

Given the scale of change required across all areas an ambitious HR transformative strategy was set in motion.

As the challenges were far reaching – multi department, level and audience – Positive Futures -#proudtobesaffron was developed as the mantra to enable everyone to see how small steps towards the big goals could make a big difference. This also created a sense of “in it together” as the HR team set about its extreme challenge. A transformation team was established comprised of teams and champions from across the whole organisation.

The transformation has been characterised by a series of creative interventions that have been embedded at all levels and have been visible in the business and financial performance, customer and stakeholder feedback as well as by externally moderated bodies such as the Regulator and IIP assessor. It is testament to the determination and flexibility of the HR team, that impact has been so far reaching and multi-faceted.

The development, implementation and embedding of the Positive Future – #proudtobesaffron has been inclusive (all teams, customers and stakeholders). The impact has been measured through robust, transparent, externally validated metrics (vital signs dashboard, IIP assessor, Regulator for Social Housing) and the priorities that the organisation wanted to achieve have been exceeded.

South Western Railway

First/MTR were awarded the franchise for South Western Railway in 2017 and found a broken culture with strikes, rock-bottom engagement scores, transient senior leadership, no clear vision or values and a talent pipeline that was quickly drying up. A major overhaul was needed rapidly.

The Great People Delivering Great Journeys programme was designed with the aim of attracting and retaining talent, increasing employee engagement, and increasing passenger satisfaction and revenue. It entailed an overhaul of everything from L&D strategy to wellbeing and recruitment.

To achieve this an array of actions were undertaken including setting up employee engagement surveys/focus groups, reviewing KPIs, and HR joining the frontline to understand the pressures colleagues faced. New values were also introduced and embedded through the likes of employee excellence awards, performance reviews, one-to-one sessions with managers.

The introduction of a formal L&D strategy was seen as a crucial component of better quality management and attracting the best talent.

A digital recruitment platform (eArcu) was introduced to speed up recruitment and improve the candidate experience, enabling SWR to double the number of drivers and increase headcount by 9%. In addition a new onboarding process was established, the largest apprenticeship scheme in the sector and a traineeship scheme.

There have been dramatic improvements in sickness and absence rates, engagement, and talent attraction and retentions as a result of the changes made. And despite a challenging business environment, SWR’s latest independent customer satisfaction survey reveals an overall satisfaction score of 74%, helping drive business growth with a 5.6% revenue increase in 2019.

Telford & Wrekin Council

This unitary, all-purpose council in Shropshire serves a population of 175,000, has a net budget of £120m and a centrally employed workforce of circa 2,000 FTE-equivalent, 46% of whom are part-time workers.

When an email from the director of finance and HR with the subject line “Big Task!” pinged into the HR manager’s inbox on the afternoon of 18 March it was the start of a challenge many organisations would have to meet during the Covid-19 pandemic. How to continue to deliver excellent and effective services while minimising costs, maximising impact and keeping everyone safe and well?

The ‘Big Task’ was for HR to work with managers to rapidly and effectively engage and redeploy staff to support priority services, the local community, the local hospital and local care providers.

HR’s challenge was to devise a system agile enough to react swiftly to ever changing demands and government advice, cost effectively meeting the needs of local residents and businesses while keeping staff, residents and customers safe. It also wanted to give staff meaningful roles that would stretch and inspire them.

An Employee Taskforce was launched on 24 March with a register that enabled staff to make a difference. This register enabled the council to match suitable employees to critical duties and to reassure staff that training and support would be provided so employees felt safe and confident to support front line services.

HR compiled a comprehensive register capturing employees’ ability to work in the community and/or work from home together with relevant previous experience and skills.

Future Leaders, a group of employees who had recently completed the council’s in-house leadership development programme, were asked to step up to manage Taskforce projects. This provided an additional resource and real time leadership experience for them.

If the council could not meet the demand from our employees or community volunteers, it worked with managers to find alternative solutions, for example its business support team worked with local businesses to provide catering for hospital staff and the council worked with our contractors to provide transport and staff to deliver emergency food parcels to residents “shielding” or “self-isolating” with no other support available to them.

At its peak more than 300 employees, including HR staff, were redeployed to other duties. Some of the successes of the approach included: Telford and Wrekin being in the top 10 councils nationally in paying out £28m of grants to businesses; delivering 52,000 free schools meals from day one of the emergency before the government put longer term measures in place; contacting all shielded and other vulnerable residents with over 12,000 initial welfare calls being made and over 1,000 regular keep-in-touch calls.

This approach has enabled the council to redeploy resources and minimise potential additional staffing costs. It helped maintain the morale of the workforce and gave development opportunities to many employees.

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