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How FSCS became an award-winning HR team

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s HR function used to be stuck in a rut, but raised its profile, credibility and influence

The organisation

Launched in 2001, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) was created to provide a single independent UK compensation scheme for all regulated financial services, with the aim of protecting customers while being accountable to the industry. It is a not-for-profit body, funded by a levy on authorised financial services firms.

In 2014 and 2015 alone it paid out £327 million in compensation and recovered £560 million from the estates of failed financial services firms. Since its launch it has helped more than 4.5 million people to claim the compensation they are due.

The challenge

When David Blackburn first joined FSCS as head of people in March 2013 he found the people function lacked a clear direction. “It was transactional rather than transformative,” he tells HR magazine. “There was no published vision for the organisation. We needed a new competency framework, a whole new approach to recruitment, new benefits; you name it we have done it.”

One of the key issues was resistance to change. Sarah Smith, business learning manager, says she struggled to engage staff in training for instance. “People would ask ‘why are we bothering with this training? What’s the point? Why can’t we just spend our money on more [project management methodology] PRINCE2 training?’ We realised we needed to get people into a more curious mindset.”

Smith reports that trying to interest staff in new activities, such as an emotional intelligence workshop, was met with disinterest. “They might say ‘but I have lots of claims to process, so why would I do that?’”

Lynn Phillips, business support manager at FSCS, says perceptions of HR were another obstructing factor. “We were very much a ‘tea and sympathy’ HR department. We really needed to become strategic and raise our credibility. We didn’t have a seat at the table, or a real voice in the business.”

It was clear the HR department was stuck in a transactional rut, focused on getting through day-to-day tasks rather than a longer-term strategy. Blackburn and his team knew they needed some radical changes to raise their profile, credibility, and influence over the organisation.

The method

“We had to find places where we could cast our seeds into fertile ground,” Smith says. “We found it was much more effective to work in the areas where there was interest and enthusiasm already, rather than try to force change on those who weren’t interested.” The team found that working with those receptive to change kicked off a groundswell of interest from harder to penetrate teams. “The other employees who weren’t yet included started to pop their heads above the parapet and say ‘why can’t we take part in that too?’, and we’d say ‘you can!’”

The team began by role modelling the behaviours they wanted to see across the organisation, and by providing support to managers to understand the importance of attitude, not just skill, within their teams. “Many of them were feeling very insecure about the changes we were implementing,” says Phillips. “While some people did walk out we were able to replace them with equally skilled people with the right mindset, and that has helped to drive the cultural shift to a workforce that is engaged.”

The team quickly understood that happiness in an organisation does not always translate to engagement. “You need curiosity, and drive, rather than just making people happy,” explains Phillips. “And engagement is so important to any organisation because it is a driver of productivity.”

A core philosophy was piloting ideas before they were perfect. “That was something we’d never done before,” Blackburn says. “We want to get an idea, pilot it, see what works and get some feedback, and refine it. Innovation is not in the DNA of this organisation, but in HR it is your responsibility to help your organisation become more innovative.” This prevented ideas being held back in development, and allowed the team to gauge reactions and make changes quickly using responses from the workforce.

Successful initiatives have included ‘The Drop-in Zone’, where employees can meet and share ideas to encourage collaboration between colleagues, and a newly-developed competency framework that allows FSCS to generate a personalised competency development plan for everyone, tailored to their strengths. A new ‘Learning Pathways’ framework shows a journey of possible learning opportunities for employees, to help an individual prepare for a specific role in the future and gain new applicable skills.

Business transformation manager Sarah-Jane Savage found it was essential to get employees involved in the changes. “We had to change our internal communications from being just a one-way transmission of information,” she says. “That open communication has really helped us to implement our new strategy.”

The culture of innovation this created allowed the team to be flexible with their changes, moving faster in areas that responded well and allowing the new culture to gradually penetrate more resistant areas of the workforce.

The result

“This is a totally different organisation to the one I joined [last October],” says blueprint delivery lead Claire Booton. “It’s obvious the HR team has raised its profile and credibility. It now has a clear strategic direction.”

One of the foremost indicators of success comes from the FSCS employees themselves. More than 83% of respondents to a FSCS survey said they feel proud to work for it, up from 68% in 2013. Almost all (95%) believe that they can make a valuable contribution to the success of the FSCS.

Blackburn explained that these results are significant. “The headline from that survey was that the progress we have made is really impressive,” he says. “Our new values are embedded in our culture, they are understood, and we have a simpler corporate narrative that our people can really get behind. We’ve been able to refocus our organisation around our customers, and that has really resonated with the employees.”

However, the team are adamant that their work has only just begun. Booton has been brought in to help deliver on their blueprint for the future – a high-level strategy detailing how they want the organisation to look by December 2017. “There’s a lot of work I will need to bring together before then,” she explains. “The organisation is still evolving, as is the HR team itself, but the impact so far has been very significant.”

The overhaul of the people function at FSCS has already garnered external recognition. In July 2016 the team won the coveted and prestigious HR Excellence Award for Best HR team, and were also shortlisted for HR Distinction’s change management award. The team already have their sights set on their next goal: upgrading their Investors in People accreditation to platinum level by 2019.

The team formed a close bond over the course of the transformation, even going on holiday together to Amsterdam last year. “I’ve never worked with such a close team,” Blackburn says. “The other day I found myself wondering where we should go on holiday this year.”

He adds: “You cannot do all the heavy lifting yourself. This isn’t a one-man job. It’s your team who can help you recharge and say ‘right, we did that, now what’s the next thing we’re going to do?’”

The 2017 HR Excellence Awards are now open for entries .Find out more here.