"The only way an organisation can succeed is by embracing the people who work for it and getting them engaged in that organisation," says Doug Hall, head of HR at Stockport College of Further and Higher Education. "That's why I don't see what we've done as that remarkable - it's just good HR practice, nothing more."
Hall is being modest. In less than two years, he and his HR team have spearheaded massive changes in the culture, work practice and ultimately the performance of the college. With the support of college principal Peter Roberts, staff contracts and work practices have been changed, the curriculum management and administration systems have been revolutionised, and the HR department has shifted from being an administration-led function to a forward-thinking force within the organisation.
The college's significant improvements were recognised in a recent inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), and it earned an 'A' category for finance. In the past year, the college has also exceeded the admissions targets set by the Learning and Skills Council - an accomplishment never before achieved.
Problems to be tackled
It is a far cry from when Hall came to the college in July 2002. He arrived in the wake of an Ofsted report, which highlighted financial difficulties and the need for cuts across the organisation. Underlying these problems were a series of issues, which Hall has had to tackle. The 800-plus teaching staff were employed under four different contracts - the result of changes over time with no attempt at consolidation.
The college operates on a not-for-profit basis, but it still needs to break even. And while local authority support ended in 1993, the college had not made appropriate changes to acknowledge this.
Also, having been on a level playing field when it came to rewarding staff - reimbursement being set by national agreements - the college now had the power to negotiate its own pay awards.
On the other side of this equation was the commercial task of attracting students. Students in the area have a choice of further and higher education colleges in Manchester, Stafford and Liverpool. So the college had to work to become the college of choice. But, to attract 12,000 students, you need to have something good to offer, which again came back to attracting and retaining staff. The college's mission statement - Working Together to Deliver Your Future - needed to b