Justin Johnson, HR director at catering firm Elior UK, was named HR Director of the Year by our judges for his work in developing a loyal team and improving engagement scores at a challenging time for the organisation.
Justin Johnson, Elior UK
Justin Johnson is HR director of Elior UK, one of the UK’s largest contract caterers, employing over 10,000 colleagues delivering food to a diverse client base across 1,200 sites, including care homes, schools, workplaces and stadiums.
He joined as HR manager in 2005, progressing to head of HR operations and people services before being promoted to HR director in 2018. Before becoming HRD he remodelled the HR service desk to improve speed of service on transactional matters, allowing HR business partners to focus on more value-added activities.
More recently, Justin introduced Business Partner consultancy training across HR and L&D to further enhance capability in this area. He has developed a strategic HR plan alongside Elior’s global five-year business plan, with activities outlined and tangible measures agreed to drive output and engagement.
Other achievements include launching a 10,000 colleague engagement survey, organising a network of mental health first aiders and creating a ‘You Made a Difference’ scheme for colleague recognition. Despite a difficult period for the hospitality industry, happiness scores at Elior have gone up from 69% to 77%, and overall enjoyment at work has increased from 85% to 90%.
Jessica Aldersley, Comply Direct
Comply Direct was established in 2006 as an environmental compliance scheme and Jessica Aldersley joined as sales support coordinator taking on a wide range of responsibilities. As the company grew she expanded her role to become more people-focused, including the onboarding of new staff and effectively retaining talent.
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The company now has 45 employees with significant growth planned over the next five years, so Jess is focused on maintaining its positive culture and ensuring people practices support this growth. So far she has introduced a quarterly performance management programme, competency framework and annual review. She has been pivotal to defining Comply Direct’s organisational purpose, vision and values.
She has since completed her CIPD level 5 and spent some time seconded to a larger organisation to give her insights into its people practices. She has also supported colleagues to build their own qualifications and HR knowledge. Among her other achievements she has: built a CSR framework so employees can undertake volunteering and fundraising; set up a peer-to-peer recognition system; launched an award-winning health and wellbeing programme; built a values-based recruitment process and overseen 360-degree feedback for managers.
Robert Hicks, Reward Gateway
When Robert Hicks became global director in April 2016, Reward Gateway was a 10-year-old business with a small HR function and minimal processes in place. He has since moved the function to one that works cohesively and is aligned with the strategic goals of the business.
Robert has taken ownership of the entire HR framework including rewards, benefits and internal communications, building up a team of 28 who focus on six key areas: learning and development; engagement and internal communications; people operations; talent attraction; diversity and inclusion and HR business partnering. He even introduced an annual HR summit where the team can connect and focus on creating goals for the coming year.
His achievements include: a multi-location Covid response plan; preparing the business for sale to new private equity investors; completing its third employee share programme; launching global Time to Talk days where leaders talk to employees about mental health; new work modes to enable flexible and hybrid working and a recognition marketplace. He is recognised as a “trusted friend and ally to our people”, according to colleagues.
Karen Nightingall, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital
Karen Nightingall joined Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital as Chief People Officer at the height of the pandemic, despite coming from a non-NHS background. Burnout and capacity challenges were impacting on wellbeing and morale, and she became the rock of stability for the Organisation and HR Team during this difficult period.
She launched the Trust’s People Plan in 2021 in response to the wider NHS People Plan, comprising four key objectives: to look after people through quality health and wellbeing support; to improve a sense of belonging in the NHS with zero tolerance for discrimination; to promote new ways of working and innovating in delivering care; and focusing on how the Trust recruits, retains and trains people, including welcoming back former employees.
Karen has led a cultural transformation at LHCH with the development of its ‘Be Civil Be Kind’ campaign which has been adopted by other trusts, organising board development sessions in civility and why it is important. She led the roll-out of coronavirus testing for employees, helping to identify asymptomatic employees and reduce transmission. One colleague said: “I admire her vision and personal attributes so much that not only has she been a mentor and coach to me over the years, but she is also a fabulous manager to work for.”
Helen Redfern, Kier
Helen Redfern was appointed Group HR director in 2019 and she has since transformed the HR function at the construction company. She developed a new people strategy with four pillars of success: culture and organisation, diversity and inclusion; talent acquisition; development and retention; and reward and recognition. A development programme called Performance Centred Leadership includes bi-annual review and career development plans for all employees, leading to 1,200 promotions across the group since 2020.
Helen was also the driving force behind Kier’s first group-wide D&I audit. The audit confirmed that, like many in the industry, some employees were experiencing microaggressions in the workplace, disguised as banter, and that in the past Kier had not done enough on inclusion. A D&I roadmap sets out the key milestones the company wants to achieve over the next five years. Expect Respect is a campaign designed to educate employees on inclusive language and encouraging them to call out discriminatory behaviour.
Helen introduced a number of family-friendly policies, including increasing maternity leave from 20 weeks on full pay to 26 weeks, and quadrupled paid paternity leave from two weeks to eight. Most recently, she launched the Empower programme, designed to support employees from underrepresented groups at Kier to achieve their career goals, by addressing the specific challenges and barriers to career progression that they may face in the workplace.