Case study: A passport to global success at Harvey Nash Group

A drop in employee engagement and a sense among managers that staff were not working to their full potential prompted a cultural refresh that has had an international impact, finds Emma Greedy

The organisation

For 30 years, Harvey Nash Group has been offering technology and talent services around the world. 

The business operates across three brands: technology recruitment business Harvey Nash, IT outsourcing firm NashTech and leadership services firm Alumni, as well as a variety of local-market brands. In total it employs over 2,500 people in 36 locations across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The group’s HR team say they have a responsibility to promote a culture that best highlights why the diversity of the organisation is one of its best assets. 

In 2016, the group became the first recruitment firm to be certified with EY’s National Equality Standard (NES) for diversity and inclusion in the UK.

It won this award by meeting criteria set by the NES covering equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), talent, business strategy, how the organisation provides for its people, leadership, external relationships, and how EDI is reviewed and measured.  

The group’s chief people officer, Melanie Hayes, was appointed to the role in 2020, and set out to achieve two main goals. 

The first was to play a key role in the growth of the organisation and to support sustainable growth. The second, she says, “Was to promote performance through an effective people strategy which focuses on a new high-performance culture, diversity, equality and inclusion and an engaged workforce.  

“That’s where chief people officers can demonstrate commercial impact and it’s partly how I’d measure my success.”


The challenge

Harvey Nash needed a new focus on culture, as a drop in engagement was linked to employees not feeling their opinions were sought after, and leaders felt their teams were not being seen as individuals.

Hayes says: “It’s important that people feel valued, that they’re given the opportunities to grow, and that they have that sense of belonging because we treat people fairly and with respect.

“As soon as I started my role, I knew I wasn’t going to launch an activity or start a quick and forgettable network that won’t get used. I knew a more strategic and long-lasting process was needed for a company of this size.” 

A few weeks into the new role, Hayes launched a Global D&I Council, a committee made up of Harvey Nash employees whose aim it was to explore lived experiences within the business.

As part of the council’s launch, it held listening groups to help the people team understand the challenges colleagues may be experiencing at work.

“The listening groups enlightened us all. They allowed us to look through a very personal lens and see how hard some members of our team were finding it to truly express themselves in the workplace,” says Hayes.

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Group feedback found people were avoiding situations that would require them to describe their individual needs. For example, employees who needed extra time to complete work tasks avoided group projects, which could in turn impact their opportunities within the business. 

It also found employees feared having to repeat conversations surrounding their reasonable adjustments as they moved around the business or spoke to new line managers. 

“For some, opening up to someone they don’t yet know is extremely difficult and sometimes frustrating,” says Hayes. 

“We needed to make it easier for people to have these conversations and establish a simple format which would help shape the conversation.”

After the focus groups, it was clear to Hayes that a process was needed to make conversations around the unique needs of employees easier. “The people team needed to create a tool that would normalise and de-stigmatise employees discussing their neurodiversity and disabilities.

“To do this, I knew I had to create something that would lead to sustainable change,” she says. 


The method 

An ‘inclusion passport’ was the result of the listening groups. Hayes and her team designed the passport specifically for employees who may need reasonable adjustments in the workplace due to a health condition, disability, or another personal situation.

“To have a physical record of your personal needs can be so freeing, it lets you know that you don’t have to explain and justify yourself to your colleagues and bosses,” says Hayes.

The passport is confidential and ensures the correct support is available to any employee who feels they need it. 

Some examples include support for life changes like the menopause, such as access to information apps and sessions with GPs for any questions they may have. 

Flexible working to support staff caring for a family member, support with hidden disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD or dyspraxia and making adjustments to support religious activities, is also on offer.

Staff who have caring responsibilities are able to structure their work hours around their out of work routines and employees who are practicing religion are able to shape their days around their activities, such as praying and fasting.

“The passport is stored confidentially and stays with the employee so if they move jobs within the group or get a new manager, the passport can be shared with the relevant person, making the conversation easier for both parties,” explains Hayes. 

Training on how to utilise the passports was also given to line managers. “We have trained our managers, we have trained our HR team globally, and we will be checking in regularly to make sure it becomes a live process,” says Hayes.

“We also know that to make this come alive we cannot just launch and leave, we need to focus on how we keep identifying how we do this.”


The result 

“The passport has unlocked a new world of work for employees who once felt they could not speak up,” says Hayes.

“For example, a neurodiverse employee had been singled out by his line manager for not hitting his deadlines and for general under-performance, and this led to an official consultation.

“However, the employee’s particular needs were not known by the manager and were not being considered.”

This all changed once the HR team produced the inclusion passport, which had just begun to be applied to everyday practice.

Hayes says: “I don’t know how businesses can support diversity initiatives without them.”  

She explains that once the line manager was made aware of the employees’ need for extra time the conversation was completely different. 

“The consultation changed to a performance review, which allowed the employee to comfortably discuss how they could be supported to allow them to succeed.”

Knowing that their line manager understood their needs removed the need for an uneasy and sometimes embarrassing conversation that could hinder an employee’s ability to perform. 

Aside from individual success stories, Hayes says the biggest change in the business since the introduction of the passports has been that employees have started to talk to HR more.

“I think the HR team have become more accessible, we’ve shown our colleagues that we really do have their best interests at heart,” says Hayes. 

The passport has also opened communication channels between HR teams globally.

“Although we’re a UK-headquartered business, the concept of the inclusion passports is a universal one, and since we’ve introduced it the communication with our offices around the world have been overwhelming,” says Hayes proudly.  

Teams in Belgium and the US have now adopted the passports and intend to roll them out as soon as possible. 

“It feels great to be able to say that our hard work has paid off, and that our colleagues and friends can go about their work without fear of having to explain themselves ever again.” 


This piece appears in the July/August 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.

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