The people team at Pets at Home Group was named HR Team of the Year for 2021 in recognition of their work in delivering a successful restructure. We look at their winning entry and those of our runners-up.
Pets at Home Group
Over the past three years, the Pets at Home business has transformed from being a retailer and separate veterinary business to being a single petcare business. The HR team was central to this process.
Two divisional people teams were brought together as one to launch a new people strategy, which was delivered against a complex backdrop of Covid-19 pressures. The people strategy encapsulated the message “better together”, which the newly united people team role-modelled to demonstrate the positive outcome this would have for the wider business.
The team worked closely with stakeholders to refine its approach, listening to their feedback and making changes were things weren’t where they should be. To enhance team capability, it introduced an integrated HR system and embedded basic HR infrastructure to support everything from D&I to job levelling.
A dedicated team was set up to manage the firm’s approach to furlough and new tech was used to audit processes, documents and communication during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The team has made a series of commitments: ensuring people have the right space, tools and support frameworks across every team and location; supporting those who need to work flexibly or on a part-time basis; embedding the shift to ’virtual-first’, unless wellbeing, productivity, agility and efficiency would be affected; and being bold, ambitious and adaptable via a model that’s built on trust, empowerment and flexibility.
Judges were impressed by the way the team drove a significant business transformation and restructure, describing its work as “remarkable”.
Aspen Healthcare, which operates eight private healthcare facilities, was in March 2020 asked by the NHS to assign its entire workforce to the Covid-19 pandemic response. This extraordinary effort would not have been possible without the work of its HR team, which itself battled staff illness and vacancies.
The HR team helped engage staff in the work they would have to do with the NHS, many of whom were worried about their own health and the health of their families. It provided daily emotional support, face-to-face if needed, and helped to build emotional resilience.
To support the organisation’s hiring needs, it delivered virtual recruitment events for clinical staff and introduced virtual interviews for the first time. It continued to recruit at the same levels despite the disruption, and championed support for the local NHS Covid response through promoting and recruiting over 100 volunteers for the Nightingale hospitals and releasing 38 clinical staff to work in local NHS hospitals.
It achieved more than £1 million in efficiency gains via a company-wide workforce review and reengineered job roles to support the NHS Covid response to avoid unnecessary costs.The HR function remained agile and responsive, coordinating information around self-isolation and distilling government guidance to employees. The function went completely paperless during this time and developed new policies including a hybrid working model.
Bank of Ireland
Although predominantly based in the Republic of Ireland, a quarter of people employed by the Bank of Ireland are in the UK.
In 2017, colleague engagement was measured at just 49%, and culture was measured at only 55% positive. Under a new chief people officer, Matt Elliott, it set out a plan to transform the culture, develop people, improve diversity and inclusion, improve organisation capability, provide new ways of working and introduce new benefits.
The company’s purpose and values were brought to life through a multi-year effort involving values workshops attended by all managers, communications centred around values, and a new annual recognition approach encouraging colleagues to recognise and celebrate each other’s contributions. A new digital learning platform was also introduced which adapted learning suggestions for users, in order to help meet future skills needs.
Colleague groups have led five themes of diversity activity, supported by HR. Talent acceleration programmes have been delivered for gender and ethnicity progression.
New technology and “team charters” have been brought in to support new ways of working and provide staff with flexibility. Benefits were reviewed and pay fairness was assessed, with changes made to the provision of maternity pay and leave for IVF introduced.
The group engagement index has risen from 49% in 2017 to 67%. Nearly three-quarters of employees are now self-directed active learners, against an industry benchmark of 50%, with an average of 23,000 visits per month to the learning platform.
Marks & Spencer
The line manager advisory service (LMAS) provides support on topics including employment relations and company policy for 5,000 frontline managers across Marks & Spencer. It is formed of two teams: a policy advisor team consisting of 14 staff who act as the first point of contact for all cases, and a team of 14 case managers who provide end-to-end support for more complex cases including gross misconduct and management of the Acas early conciliation process.
In 2019, a restructure saw LMAS scaled down from having three hubs to just one base in Salford with a reduced headcount. This meant that a number of policy advisors or case manages could be advising the same manager throughout the duration of the case, which resulted in a lack of strategy being agreed at the beginning of a case journey and lack of consistency in advice across the team.
The leadership team created a vision that took the case managers off the phone lines to concentrate on true end to end case management, so that a single case manager would deal with managers directly and support them step by step through to resolution, enabling a strategy to be agreed at the start of the process. This also required a significant amount of upskilling.
The day after lockdown was announced, the team took 1,000 calls from line managers the highest in the team’s history.
Over the past year M&S has seen the number of claims go to an employment tribunal reduce by 52%. The team’s work has boosted the profile of the wider HR team within the company and has helped the business be better prepared for people challenges.
The HR team at retail group N Brown, which encompasses brands including JD Williams and Jacamo, has created a culture where employees exhibit creativity and innovation and are empowered to make things happen by understanding their responsibilities and taking accountability for achieving the purpose of their roles.
It developed a new employer value proposition in collaboration with 1,200 colleagues who completed an online survey and participated in 22 workshops across all business areas. Organisational design has also been revamped, moving from a hierarchical “command and control” model to one of empowerment and accountability. Several roles in areas such as data science and risk have been centralised and total headcount has been streamlined by 13%.
Continuous assessments have been introduced, with employees collectively working towards 3,928 performance objectives and 960 personal objectives, and for the first time a bonus scheme has been introduced, which drives a “one team” mentality.
Feedback is collated through various streams including surveys, employee networks and informal coffee sessions with the executive team.
Its employee engagement index score has moved from 68% to 74% and its employee net promoter score moved from -10 to +7 . Check ins and feedback opportunities have increased, with a total of 14,218 check is recorded over the past 12 months – a whopping 393% increase on the previous year. Its annual colleague survey undertaken in February 2021 recorded an improvement across all key metrics.
Obelisk Networks UK
The HR team at engineering services company Obelisk Networks UK supports 261 direct employees and 140 contracting partners in areas, and is responsible for all HR tasks, learning and development and marketing and communications.
The team of six works tirelessly to help the firm address industry-wide challenges including skills shortages, the poaching of skilled staff, and innovation through technology, notwithstanding the additional pressures imposed during the pandemic. With a workforce based across the UK, Ireland and South Africa, communication is an area the team has strived to improve.
Key achievements in 2020 included the development new website to boost the firm’s reputation as an employer of choice; revamping its company values and behaviours, with input from employees; setting up partnerships with contracting companies in Romania, Poland and Pakistan to allow the firm to access technical skills that are hard to come by in the UK; the introduction of a new mental health and wellbeing policy; the development of a new bespoke performance management system; the introduction of a continuous feedback system; and a new graduate recruitment partnership with Weston College.
More than 25% of the firm’s workforce have worked at the company for more than 10 years and 94% recommend Obelisk as an employer of choice. The HR team established the Employee Consultation Committee to facilitate two-way communication between staff and management. Some of the successful employee engagement suggestions that have been implemented include a birthday day off after three years’ service, social events throughout the year and extra days’ annual leave to reward loyalty.
Peninsula provides employment law and health and safety consultancy services. In 2020 its main focus was on delivering a “super service”, which would run through every facet of the organisation, from the way colleagues interact with each other and the encouragement of ideas.
During the pandemic it transitioned 200 HR experts across UK to home working with no loss of service to clients, maintaining its offer of 24 hour availability. More colleagues also needed to be trained to provide phone support, and it developed an online masterclass in employment law to help staff advise clients on new arrangements including furlough.
Staff were supported through a challenging period with an intense focus on wellbeing, mental health and physical wellness. This included the provision of online fitness classes, a health and wellbeing app and lunchtime wellbeing sessions. Managers checked in with every team member daily to maintain contact during an isolating time.
It created “4-Steps to a Super HR Call” to focus on super service, with training being provided to all employees and incorporated into its new starter induction programme. The year culminated in Peninsula’s annual awards to recognise those that went above and beyond in the most challenging circumstances.
The company saw its Trustpilot star rating increase to 4.9/5.0 and its Feefo rating rose to 4.8/5.0.
Student Roost provides student accommodation across the UK and has grown to more than 575 staff since it was established in 2017.
The firm has grown quickly, but has kept people at the heart of its strategy. In 2018/19 it launched Project Bloom (Build and Land Our Operating Model) – a full review of operations and roles in its properties. It wanted to move away from the traditional 9-5 reception team, with security at night, and provide a genuine 24/7 customer service to residents. This involved consultation on shift changes, removing security roles and replacing them with Night Owl (customer service adviser) positions, standardising maintenance roles and job titles. This required training in many cases.
The HR team has also itself recently been restructured. In addition to a new head of people, the firm now has a people partner for each area of the UK and a new people apprentice. This new structure encourages internal development for people team members.
With the higher education and student accommodation sector significantly affected by the pandemic, it made a commitment that no team member would be financially impacted. All absence relating to Covid was paid at full pay and many property staff were able to support the head office team from home rather than going on furlough.
It also has a “Best Start Ever” induction process, which Student Roost says has contributed to a 7% fall in turnover.
The last staff survey saw 83% of team members stating they felt proud to work for Student Roost.