Our judges agreed that Pets at Home Group’s HR team clearly sought ‘change beyond the norm’ and were successfully bringing organisational purpose to life with a variety of initiatives to help pets, communities and the planet. Here we look at the work of the winning HR team and the other shortlisted firms in a tightly contested field
Pets at Home Group
Pets at Home Group has an Our Better World Pledge (OBWP), which guides its approach to improving the world for people, animals and the planet. The pledge is championed by its chief people and culture officer and the people team, who believe it has helped transform outcomes for employees, customers and the environment.
To better involve colleagues in this pledge it created OBWP days, in which staff receive a day’s paid leave to support their communities. In 2022, colleagues donated 9,683 hours of their time, worth more than £260,000 to the business.
Another key commitment is helping break down barriers to rewarding careers. Its work employability programme has welcomed 173 people through the government Kickstart scheme, 60 of whom stayed on permanently, while the company has launched three new apprenticeship standards and invested in bursaries and placement grants that will benefit more than 70 veterinary students. In the 2022 financial year alone, the company recruited 389 registered veterinary nurses, 606 groomers and 92 graduates.
True to its purpose as a business, it offers colleagues a day off when they get a new pet. It also uses pets to explain EDI issues – the “Pets Just See People” campaign enables it to explain diversity and inclusion to customers, colleagues and partners in a relatable and engaging manner.
Finally, satisfying the environmental element of the pledge, the team encourages staff to use public transport or to travel to work together; is eliminating single-use plastics; and is using sustainable uniform providers.
BT’s Small and Medium Enterprises sales organisation was plagued by three challenges: poorly integrated sales channels, misaligned processes, and poorly orchestrated tools and systems.
It recruited a new programme team including a dedicated HR business partner and OD consultant to pioneer a new sales operating model, SalesLab. The team built a small, live sales environment to test new ideas and learn what works well before making changes to its sales channels, as well as a playbook that outlined all the steps in the sales journey.
Several new role types were introduced and new price points and commission structures were brought in in consultation with trade unions.
It insourced one of BT’s local businesses, which allowed it to experiment with new ways of working without the contractual rules usually in place with these independent businesses. However, a key risk was having enough colleagues in place to serve the customer base and TUPE needed to be ready within three weeks.
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On the day of the insourcing announcement, it hosted an event at its new Birmingham office. It also recruited alongside the consultation, using the sales personas to identify preferences and traits likely to succeed in a sales role. Partnering with L&D colleagues, the team designed and delivered a new onboarding journey and ensured all new joiners could sell all SME products following the playbook and sales conversions methods.
Its monthly employee engagement score is consistently high, at 94% at the time of its award entry. The SalesLab has created psychological safety and a space for staff to challenge the status quo.
Contract catering firm Elior employs more than 10,000 people and delivers food to hundreds of sites, including schools, care homes and stadiums. The business has grown quickly through business wins and acquisitions, but employees’ access to training was hampered by its traditional face-to-face approach to L&D.
It saw the pandemic has an opportunity to overhaul personal development and make learning accessible for all employees regardless of their location, tech fluency or commitments.
Its plan focused on four key areas: embracing technology, improving training capability and accessibility, developing competencies and career mapping, and measuring the impact learning has had. This involved the launch of a new on-demand learning platform, THRIVE, which offers learners a personalised experience and the ability for the company to communicate a coaching and mentoring framework. The platform notifies learners about key content each week, allows users to share useful content including TED Talks and podcasts, and encourages staff to engage with learning.
Employees have engaged with the learning platform thousands of times. Almost half of the content is user-generated, showing that staff are keen to learn.
All managers undertake a coaching workshop, while a ‘womentoring’ programme has also been launched, pairing female colleagues with mentors to support their career progression.
THRIVE was also used to move the firm’s chef school online. This has reduced the length of the programme from nine to six months and has saved significant costs on travel and accommodation.
Global Banking School
Global Banking School is a higher education provider that offers banking and finance degrees and masters-level courses. It has plans to increase its workforce 2,000 and have 10 campuses by 2024, which would require an effective talent acquisition team to welcome a high volume of new starters and a range of policies, procedures and processes to support the needs of an internationally dispersed team.
This required a change in culture: it needed to move from a task-driven organisation to one with enhanced capabilities. To do this, in 2021, it began to form an HR team that worked as one and not separate units that focused on their own issues. By the end of April 2022, 13 months into the project, 24 HR staff were supporting six separate divisions of the organisation, spanning campuses across the UK, India, Dubai and Malta.
Between October 2021 and March 2022, 6,051 applications were processed, 1,076 interviews held and 472 offers made. A new ATS and HR system has enabled resources to be used effectively and a high-volume of staff to be employed.
Other successes brought by the HR team include the introduction of a recruitment policy that provides guidance on how to manage requisitions, recruitment processes, internal promotions, and internal job applications. It has also collaborated with the marketing team on a social media recruitment campaign, developed a values video and extended the talent acquisition team to support international requirements.
Within 13 months the company has hired 800 new staff and developed new L&D, engagement and operations functions. It runs an employee awards programme, employee celebration day and has launched a new engagement platform.
NatWest Group’s Challenge programme is helping to redefine opportunities and use its people’s skills to change the organisation for the better. The programme’s mantra is: “It doesn’t matter about where you’ve come from, it’s about where we’re going,” and it aims to harness the power of diverse teams to develop creative solutions to challenges the bank faces, as well as empower future talent.
Challenge teams consist of reskilled colleagues, graduates, apprentices, and those on the Code First Girls career-switcher course. They take part in a structured 10-week innovation challenge, including four weeks of learning that ensures they are equipped with the technical and behavioural skills needed to grow their careers. Each team’s idea is then designed with an external agency to produce marketing material on how it would look if it was brought to life. Finally, the teams pitch their idea to over 40 senior leads, while the final round of judging sees them present to executives in a Dragon’s Den-style environment.
The 2021/22 cohort’s winning idea was ‘Find Good’ – a central hub for volunteering opportunities. This has simplified the previous process, making it easier and less time-consuming for staff to find volunteering schemes that they can use their annual volunteering leave entitlement towards.
In 2021, 80% of Challenge participants said learning sessions gave them the skills needed to bring their ideas to life and 77% agreed or strongly agreed that the experience helped them bring new skills to their current role.
South Western Railway
South Western Railway has had a challenging few years, including multiple strikes in 2017, the Covid-19 pandemic, and budget cuts in almost every area, leading to low employee morale. It needed to improve passenger satisfaction, workplace culture and reignite employees’ passion for their jobs.
Although the HR team had a limited budget, it was able to help transform a number of areas. One of these was a compulsory leadership development programme for its 850 leaders, featuring a series of workshops and a six-week leadership challenge that included a different daily activity to help improve leadership competencies. This is in addition to a female leadership development programme, delivered in conjunction with First Group, to help support women wishing to progress in the business.
Health and wellbeing has been a major part of the HR team’s strategy too. Wellbeing pods have been introduced at stations for employees to seek anonymous support, including referrals to its EAP and chaplain service. There has also been a wide range of wellbeing activities, including a walking challenge, the installation of health kiosks for staff to check their weight and blood pressure, and the creation of wellbeing gardens that employees are encouraged to maintain and use.
Seventy-eight per cent of employees now feel their manager treats them fairly and with respect, 13 points above the sector average, and in 2020/21 employee turnover was just 5.56% – well below the national average.
Investment in its people has also helped improve passenger satisfaction, with its latest survey results revealing high scores of 73%.
TALIS Management Holding
TALIS, which provides valves and water hydrants, has a small HR team of just 3.5 FTE staff, based in Wales. This team successfully managed the company’s Covid-19 response across 17 countries and helped keep its 1,100 employees safe.
The team was able to quickly develop action plans, conduct risk assessments, issue company and travel guidance and log Covid-19 cases soon after the issue became known. Each communication or process was tailored to each business entity and country.
The HR team helped ensure each locality had the equipment they needed, acting as a central resource for the company. For example, the business in France struggled to obtain sanitation products for staff, so the HR team identified and sourced these from other entities. Face masks from China were also shipped over to the UK. This ensured that employees were protected and the business was able to continue to operate and deliver products to the water industry.
To ensure everyone was up to date, the team developed intranet pages, posters and videos with the latest guidance, all in local languages. Learning was also prioritised with a learning week that focused on data protection while many were working from home.
The company’s sickness absence rate remained low throughout the pandemic, while deliveries continued to be made on time. Through being able to operate smoothly during the turbulent period, TALIS’s sales and profit grew. Feedback from employees was extremely positive, with staff praising the company’s improved team spirit, “we” feeling, and quick reaction to the pandemic.
William Hill is determined to make its organisation one where colleagues can progress in their careers and where they are supported to learn and grow. Consequently, it has added ‘build’ to the HR team’s strategic pillars, and encourages employees to focus on three areas: develop your skillset; develop your capability; and build from within.
Working groups were set up to determine how to make the Build approach most relevant and tailor it to different audiences – these involved people from across the organisation, not just the people function. Extensive research into what would enable colleagues to develop in “their way” was conducted, and a group of colleagues – the Build SteerCo – was formed to take ownership of the initiative and drive action.
All staff are encouraged to take 15 minutes each day – or “Build15” – for learning and development. This could be by listening to a podcast, asking for feedback, reading an article or taking time out to reflect and plan. It also hosts Building Excellence events which cover a variety of topics, and there is a dedicated Build category within its LMS, making it easy for colleagues to access content that enables them to “develop their way”.
The Build dashboard gives the Build SteerCo oversight of any areas that need improvement on. This is populated via questions about mentoring, tools and line manager support gathered from its employee surveys, as well as data on training hours, engagement with learning activities and internal promotions.
Since its launch, total learning hours have increased by more than half. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, including comments about the variety of opportunities available and being “seen” as future leaders within the organisation.
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