PT Awards 2013 winners: Sarah Trota is HR Director of the Year

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Sarah Trota, executive director of people at Circle Housing Group, was crowned HR Director of the Year at the Personnel Today Awards 2013. Here, we present details of Sarah Trota’s entry, alongside the runners-up who also made the shortlist for HR Director of the Year, sponsored by Monster.

Judges: Tea Colaianni, group HR director, Merlin Entertainments Group; Andrew Mayo, professor of human capital management, Middlesex University


Sarah Trota, Circle Housing Group, HR Director of the Year

About the organisation

With a team of more than 2,400 staff, Circle Housing Group (formerly Anglia) manages 65,000 homes and provides services for around 300,000 people across the UK. It is made up of nine partner housing associations and operates a diverse care and support business known as Circle Support.

The challenge

The business has grown rapidly since 2005, largely through acquisition, and had not fully exploited its potential synergies. The housing sector has itself gone through major change, thanks to government reforms to the welfare system. HR and change director Sarah and her team have helped to deliver £1.5 million in efficiency improvements and a thorough review of transactional HR processes.

What Sarah did

  • Established credibility through partnership with the executive team, non-executive directors and operational management.
  • Developed and led the “Repairs and Maintenance Change” programme, a major reorganisation of procurement and customer-facing activities.
  • Deputised for the CEO in series of internal and external meetings, including holidays cover.
  • Spearheaded group’s “Customer and People at the Heart” philospophy.
  • Developed a leadership, talent management and succession planning strategy – budget secured as top five priority.
  • Identified blockage in the recruitment process around pre-employment checks.

Benefits and achievements

  • Repairs and Maintenance Change programme will deliver £120 million in efficiencies over 10 years.
  • Internal promotions have increased by 60%.
  • Performance management issues reduced by 40% year on year.
  • There has been a 50% reduction in time and cost of checks in recruitment.
  • Mandatory training has been converted into informative modules, and the ability to report on this has delivered £1.5 million in training spend efficiency.
Sarah Trota collects her trophy for HR Director of the Year

Sarah Trota collects her trophy for HR Director of the Year

Judge’s comments

“Sarah has made a remarkable transition from the plc environment into the not-for-profit sector, bringing commerciality and credibility to her new role. She has demonstrated clear vision, leadership and tangible outcomes.” – Tea Colaianni

 

The five runners-up are as follows:


Karen Nightingall, CMA CGM

About the organisation

CMA CGM (UK) Holding Group is a group of six shipping businesses, spread over 15 offices across the UK, Ireland and Iberia with approximately 500 employees. It reports into a central head office group (CMA CGM) based in Marseille, France, employing circa 19,000 staff, and boasting a turnover of £300 million.

The challenge

After a challenging few years for the shipping industry, the company needed to deliver a world-class HR service through a very small and relatively new HR team. In 2010, Karen was appointed to head up HR for the UK and Ireland. She restructured the business using a business partner model and the HR service is now perceived as efficient and effective.

What Karen did

  • Persuaded the senior team that moving to a business partner model was the best approach.
  • Appointed a head of training and introduced an in-house, ILM-accredited management development programme; every employee now undergoes a training needs analysis.
  • Streamlined internal processes from recruitment to paperwork, including developing a PSL in the two main offices.
  • Introduced an employee value proposition so people understand where they fit in the organisation.
  • Introduced a new equality and diversity programme.
  • Created a staff forum to help communicate benefits to employees and incorporate their ideas.
  • Completely reviewed group benefits.

Benefits and achievements

  • Business division managers have expressed satisfaction with the business partner approach.
  • Absence is now less than 2% and grievances have reduced.
  • Staff understand better where they fit into the organisation and how strategy affects them.
  • Staff turnover has been reduced to 10% and recruitment spend reduced by more than 50% in 2012, compared with 2011.
  • Eighty-one managers and supervisors have attended the management development programme, and are coaching staff members as a result.
  • Significant cost savings in benefits have been achieved.

Judge’s comments

“Excellent evidence of HR transformation.” – Andrew Mayo

 


Arran McDowell, Elior UK

About the organisation

Elior UK is one of the UK’s largest contract caterers, operating in more than 650 client sites and employing more than 10,000 employees to deliver food and integrated services to a diverse client base.

The challenge

When Arran joined Elior six years ago, the business was made up of five separate operating companies with their own brand, structure and culture. Promoted to the role of HR direcotr in 2010, Arran has driven major change in the HR function, aligning it with the overall strategy of the business and its goals.

What Arran did

  • Introduced number of key communication initiatives aimed at colleague engagement, awareness and branding, such as CEO conference calls and drop-in chats with the leadership team.
  • Developed/funded new extranet to keep colleagues up to date with news, sent newsletters and established communications boards at sites.
  • Appointed an internal talent and resource manager and introduced talent reviews, 360-degree appraisal and feedback, and an online talent system.
  • Introduced a dedicated learning and development academy,which includes customer service NVQs.
  • Designed HR “Way guides” to help managers access information on practice and policy.
  • Developed and launched eXperience customer service programme.
  • Amalgamated payroll and HR services under umbrella of people services.
  • Introduced the “Clutter Committee”, a vehicle for process improvement.

Benefits and achievements

  • Elior is now one of Sunday Times Top 25 Best Big Companies to Work For.
  • Engagement scores have improved.
  • Client retention rates increased from 84% to 97.5% over two years.
  • Some 87.1% of customers believe Elior offers a genuine, friendly service.
  • Business partners now work with senior operators at an early stage of contracts, which means that complex issues are dealt with largely by the service desk.
  • Raised the profile of the HR team across the company and also the wider industry.

Judge’s comments

“A well-presented HR strategy aligned to the business strategy. Arran stands out as inspirational, creative and well connected to the company’s employees and their voice.” – Tea Colaianni

 


Matt Elliott, Virgin Money

About the organisation

Virgin Money is a UK-based bank and financial services company owned by the Virgin Group. It was founded by Sir Richard Branson in March 1995. At the beginning of 2012, it acquired Northern Rock in a deal worth up to £1 billion. Its ambition is to make “everyone better off” (EBO).

The challenge

Last year was a transformational year for Virgin Money, including rebranding, opening new stores and fully integrating systems. The challenge for Matt was to steer the company through the “reverse takeover’, taking the team through the due diligence process and establishing the key people commitments of the acquisition.

What Matt did

  • Worked with the departing Northern Rock HR director to enable a smooth transition.
  • Established a new senior executive team for Virgin Money from day one.
  • Designed and agreed an HR strategy and 100-day plan.
  • Met with recognised trade union and conducted joint briefing with both HR teams.
  • Restructured HR, announcing new reporting lines in week one.
  • Held HR leadership offsite meeting to set out new ways of working.
  • Introduced flexible benefits and a new, more transparent, pay structure and harmonised pension scheme.
  • Set out 27 new integrated HR policies, which were communicated in a staff-friendly style.
  • Integrated HR and payroll systems.
  • Communicated the changes to staff through a series of launch events, brochures, factsheets, town hall meetings and a helpline.

Benefits and achievements

  • Some 99.6% of staff signed up to the new terms and conditions.
  • Sixty-eight per cent of staff have chosen to change their core benefits package after the introduction of flexible benefits.
  • Ninety-four per cent of staff said that the launch workshops equipped them with the cultural tools to help build a better kind of bank.
  • Reduced mortgage offer turnarounds from 28 days to 20, by moving colleagues from 35-hours-per-week contracts to 37.5 hours per week.
  • In 2011, only 28% of Northern Rock staff recommended it as a place to work; this increased to 73% in 2012.
  • Staff turnover reduced from 11% to 7%; absence rates down to 2.7%.
  • HR declared “team of the year” by Virgin Money executive team, despite shrinking in size from 84 to 63 full-time employees.

Judge’s comments

“An integration project extremely well done.” – Andrew Mayo

 


Rosemary McGinness, William Grant & Sons

About the organisation

William Grant is managed by the fifth generation of the Grant Gordon family; the company was started by founder William Grant in 1887. Its famous whisky brands include Glenfiddich, Balvennie and Grants, and it also produces Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. The company employs 1,700 staff globally.

The challenge

William Grant has just passed £1 billion in revenue for the first time, yet still needs to maintain a clear vision and values that reflect its century-old heritage. Group HR director Rosemary McGinness has been instrumental in overhauling the HR function through a number of strategic initiatives, all of which have contributed to the company’s success.

What Rosemary did

  • Implemented a leadership strategy, which included a talent and succession framework.
  • Reviewed the engagement review structure, and evolved how the company responds to points raised in engagement surveys.
  • Set up a new employee portal that provides regular updates through an online forum and an employee and company information and knowledge bank.
  • Fused the best elements of UK operation with global locations after a restructure, in addition to adopting a global business model through an ERP system.
  • Hosted responsibilities for other functions such as legal, IS, and finance, raising her credibility in the business.
  • Introduced e-learning solutions, team development activities and workshops.

Benefits and achievements

  • Culture inspires excellence and values can be leveraged to competitive advantage.
  • Company has been able to deliver MBA programme with Strathclyde University.
  • Gary Brewer, head of reward & OD, says: “Rosemary is a group HR director who creates and drives the people agenda at the sort of pace that [the CEO] herself is seeking to develop within the company. That makes for an incredibly strong combination.”
  • HR team participates in external initiatives such as Young Enterprise Scotland and National Training Awards.

Judge’s comments

“Credible, driven, courageous – a role model for the HR community.” – Tea Colaianni

 


Jabba Sardar, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)

About the organisation

Cafcass is a non-departmental public body that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children. It gives advice to the family courts, makes provision for children to be represented and provides information, advice and support to children and their families.

The challenge

Since the controversy sounding the death of Baby P in 2007 and the serious case review that followed, there has been an unprecedented increase in demand for social care services. As director of HR and organisational development, Jabba has led a plan of operational and strategic HR intervention to steer the workforce through these changes.

What Jabba did

  • Radically restructured the HR team in 2008/09, with new HR business partner model introduced.
  • Balanced recruitment of around 600 new staff over past four years, while at the same time overseeing departure of around 700 workers through retirement, job moves or performance management.
  • Introduced e-recruitment to streamline hiring process and reduce lead-in time.
  • HR worked with managers to proactively manage absence issues and the problems of a disengaged workforce.
  • Introduced integrated HR system, with self-service e-processing for administrative tasks.
  • Reduced management numbers from 329 to 139, a fall of more than 60% since 2010.

Benefits and achievements

  • Higher productivity has lead to an increase in workload for social workers of 35% between 2009/10 and 2012/13.
  • Proportion of social workers assessed as “good” has increased by 50%.
  • Some 99.8% of public care cases, and 99.4% of private law cases, are allocated to a children’s guardian by month end.
  • Cafcass has one of highest retention rates in the sector, at 90% permanently employed, and only a 4% turnover of social workers.
  • Sickness absence rates have more than halved since 2008/9.
  • Sickness costs have been reduced from £3.5 million to less than £1.7 million.
  • The number of formal employee relations cases has fallen to 50 in 2013/14 from 210, a 77% reduction.
  • Implementing integrated HR system has delivered more than £250,000 in annual efficiencies.

Judge’s comments

“Impressive testimonials to a fully business-orientated HR director. Significant achievement in a difficult area both in HR and the operations.” – Andrew Mayo

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