PT Awards 2013 winners: Nicola Burrows is HR Professional of the Year

Nicola Burrows collects the HR Professional of the Year trophy
Nicola Burrows receives her award for HR Professional of the Year in 2013

 

Nicola Burrows, HR manager at ATS Euromaster, was crowned HR Professional of the Year at the Personnel Today Awards this week. Sponsored by Monster, the award is designed to recognise an outstanding HR manager, business partner or someone in a similar role who is making an impact in their organisation. Here we profile Nicola Burrows’ entry and those of our runners-up.

Judges
Angela O’Connor, chief executive, The HR Lounge
Neil Carberry, director, employment and skills, CBI
Tanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer

 

 


Nicola Burrows, ATS Euromaster

About the organisation

ATS Euromaster is a nationwide tyre company, with 349 centres across the UK. It operates a specialist fast-fit and tyre service to fleet and retail customers.

The challenge

Four years ago, ATS needed to reverse a long record of financial instability. Although this had mostly been achieved, there were still some loss-making centres at the start of 2012. ATS revised its strategy to focus on helping those centres to return a profit.

What Nicola did

  • As head of HR for retail operations, Nicola has achieved significant successes in the North-East, working closely with managers and area managers in struggling centres.
  • Identified that some centres – despite investment and training – were continuing to lose money.
  • Focused on areas where losses were highest, working closely with the area operations manager.
  • Re-assessed working structures in North-East and set up a selection process to implement a cluster management model.
  • Had candid conversations with staff about suitability for roles, which resulted in some moving on and some being promoted.

Benefits and achievements

  • Three of the loss-making centres returned a profit, while remaining two are on track to break even by the end of 2013.
  • New centre operations managers have been given the opportunity to manage their centres and drive performance improvements.
  • Area operations manager can see the impact HR has made to the bottom line.
  • Employee engagement has risen dramatically and labour turnover has dropped.

Judge’s comments

“Straight talking and gets on with what needs to be done without any fluff. Excellent business results.” – Angela O’Connor


The runners-up for the HR Professional of the Year award are as follows:

 

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Katrina Johnston, Gamma

About the organisation

Gamma is a UK-based telecoms and data communications provider that offers an alternative to larger and better-known communications providers, whether direct to other telecommunication service companies (by provision of wholesale products and services) or indirectly to business end users through the channel.

The challenge

Staff numbers at Gamma have increased steadily since its inception in 2002, from 50 staff in 2005 to 400 in March 2013. The challenge has been to retain the “best bits” of its small business culture while helping the company to grow by streamlining processes, reducing administration and legal compliance.

What Katrina did

  • Helped Gamma implement its first HRIS system in 2012, to reduce administration and help the small HR team focus on value-added tasks.
  • Achieved reduction in recruitment costs while simultaneously filling 126 vacancies.
  • Focused on HR’s contribution and impact on the business – for example, how clear processes and prompt action is linked to manpower levels and customer satisfaction.
  • Introduced a full flexible benefits package.

Benefits and achievements

  • Employee engagement has increased: Best Companies accreditation now 2-star status; and was voted 48th place in Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For.
  • Recruitment costs were down by £300,000 in 2011 and £210,000 in 2012.
  • Katrina moved up from group HR manager in 2005 (Gamma’s first HR professional) to head of group HR.
  • Katrina says: “Everyone here is working towards a clear common goal: for Gamma to be the market leader in our industry.”

Judge’s comments

“Good solid initiatives to build the culture, producing solid results.” – Tanith Dodge

 


Beth Fisher, Napp Pharmaceuticals

About the organisation

Napp Pharmaceutical Group is a UK-based, privately owned group of companies, which is part of a worldwide association of independent pharmaceutical companies that have been developing and providing medicines to patients since the 1920s. The company is a leader in pain control, with growing expertise in oncology and respiratory medicine.

The challenge

Although the business had developed an extensive management development programme, on deeper inspection the approach was not consistent throughout the organisation and the return on investment was not clear.

What Beth did

  • Set up a trial network for managers in head office to share ideas/experiences, help identify opportunities for manager development and provide information and updates.
  • After evaluation, she identified number of ways to increase the value of the network such as: increasing time spent on learning sessions; closing the network to new joiners to ensure secured/safe learning environment; and engaging with the wider management community.
  • Identified number of areas to be fed back and captured by the management development team, such as: defining different management groups in the business; creating a robust communications plan; and including 360-degree feedback at start of the programme.
  • Defined actions for leadership team regarding the roll-out of management development modules.

Benefits and achievements

  • New manager community is valued for providing the opportunity to learn in a group environment and build close peer relationships.
  • Recognition from managing director and finance director for Beth’s insights into management development.
  • Initiative fits in with wider strategic approaches to management training and the goals of the organisation.

Judge’s comments

“Good innovation with clear business case, articulating the benefits.” – Neil Carberry


Stefanie McCormack, Merlin

About the organisation

Merlin Entertainments is one of the world’s largest leisure and entertainment companies, operating more than 90 attractions across 22 countries, including Sea Life Centres, Madame Tussauds and Legoland.

The challenge

Before 2011, all of Merlin’s employee opinion surveys – called “The Wizard Wants to Know” – had been completed through a paper questionnaire. The company needed a more robust and accurate process, and one that could be translated into 14 different languages and provide a comprehensive reporting tool.

What Stefanie did

  • Led tender process to engage a new provider to meet Merlin’s global needs; selected ORC.
  • Dealt with initial resistance from the business to move to an online system – forum of project champions at each site meant there was positive communication about the benefits.
  • Liaised with executive board on reviewing survey questions and identifying key metrics.
  • New survey included question on awareness of Merlin’s CSR projects through its Sea Life brand.
  • Improved the survey so that it now takes place over two phases.

Benefits and achievements

  • Achieved a response rate of 94% in 2011 and 2012.
  • Ninety-seven per cent of employees respond positively to the statement: “I enjoy working here”.
  • New system allows Merlin to track responses without attributing them to an individual, but they can be searched by category such as grade or length of service.
  • Areas where room for improvement has been identified have been targeted for engagement programmes.
  • Awareness of Merlin’s contribution to conservation and wildlife preservation has increased from 14% to 84%.

Judge’s comments

“Clear articulation of a change in strategy – from turnover to engagement – delivered using a survey proactively rather than passively.”- Neil Carberry

 


Kirsty Roberts, Trafford Council

About the organisation

Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council covers an area of Greater Manchester with a population of more than 200,000. Its towns include Altrincham, Sale and Urmston.

The challenge

Trafford had already engaged with local employers in the borough to increase levels of apprentice recruitment. However, it became clear that it needed to do more as a role model in this regard. Kirsty has been instrumental in helping the council to launch internal apprenticeships and other youth employment initiatives.

What Kirsty/the organisation did

  • Worked collaboratively with internal service areas, external partners and organisations, and used the Aspirational Futures programme, which helps young people understand employers’ expectations.
  • Works closely with apprentices, meeting with them regularly and keeping in touch with the personal assistants that are helping those young people who are leaving the care system, as well as line managers and mentors.
  • Expanded the council’s employment support offer through a programme of work placements for young people with disabilities, plus programme for “hard-to-reach” young people – for example, care leavers, offenders and those at risk of offending.
  • Initiated team building, CV preparation and mock interviews for hard-to-reach individuals, with plans for a summer school to support them in identifying options for careers.

Benefits and achievements

  • All 54 apprentices recruited so far have received bespoke support – six have gained permanent roles at the council.
  • Praised by the council’s corporate parenting board for her support  in helping vulnerable young people.
  • Apprentices have received external recognition through awards – a new category of Apprentice of the Year has been added to the council’s Employee Recognition Awards.
  • Programme for hard-to-reach young people achieved 100% attendance.

Judge’s comments

“Great example of supporting disadvantaged groups.” – Tanith Dodge

 


Sarah Findlater, Marks & Spencer

About the organisation

Marks & Spencer is one of the UK’s leading retailers, selling clothing and home products, as well as food that is responsibly sourced from around 2,000 suppliers globally. Its products are sold through 766 UK and 418 international stores in diverse locations across high streets and out-of-town retail parks.

The challenge

In a 2012 study, M&S worked out that there was a £62 million sales opportunity to be had if the retailer could drive up engagement levels. It needed to build on initiatives it had already run so it could see a step change from transactional to transformational engagement.

What Sarah did

  • As head of employee engagement and employee relations, Sarah worked with business and HR stakeholders to deliver “People Plan A” – “Plan A” is the M&S corporate social responsibility agenda.
  • Introduction of youth employability initiative called “Make your Mark”, which provides young people with four weeks’ work experience and practical skills.
  • Changed the people key performance indicator in the business to an employee engagement measure – given equal weighting to other commercial measures.
  • Moved from annual survey to four per year – less focus on transactional improvement measures to strategic action plans in areas needed.
  • Created engagement hub tools, resources and best practice to bring to life the business case around engagement.
  • Drove re-launch of wellbeing website, giving access to physiotherapy, counselling and other services.

Benefits and achievements

  • Business leaders now involve engagement team at the outset of new initiatives, allowing it to affect how they are implemented.
  • Engagement levels up from 75% to 78% over 12-month period.
  • Absenteeism decreased from 3.1% in 2012 to 2.7% in 2013.
  • Line management engagement score across retail has increased by five percentage points.
  • Developed an HR planning and communications function.

Judge’s comments

“A good story of how engagement can drive performance… Well thought-through and thorough approach.” – Angela O’Connor

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