These 10 HRDs have all made a significant impact on their organisations in the past year, and – in the case of most – long before this.
This shortlist is compiled via reader nominations and input from industry experts and the HR magazine editorial team. We are looking for excellence in these awards, and so would like to offer our congratulations to all of the HR leaders on this shortlist.
The deadline is midnight 20 May and the winner will be announced at the HR Excellence Awards ceremony on Tuesday 26 June at the London Hilton on Park Lane. For more information about attending the awards and to book click here.
The shortlist is:
Sally Austin, group HR director, Costain
“In 2017 Costain delivered another great year’s performance with an 18% increase in operating profit and 90% repeat business from our clients. Such results can only be delivered by a business with exceptional teams led by a clear people strategy,” says Andrew Wyllie, CEO of Costain. He adds: “Sally has driven our people agenda with passion and professionalism.” Diversity has been a key focus over the last year. The number of senior female leaders has increased from 10% to 18% and the group has launched networks for gender, LGBT+, and parents and carers, plus a Women in Leadership programme. Other highlights have included saving £6 million on recruitment costs by implementing an in-house team and technology platforms, and launching a number of strategic development programmes aimed at improving succession planning.
Alison Bell, HR director, MTR Crossrail
The challenge at MTR Crossrail has been to build a new business from scratch. Bell has been integral in recruiting key personnel, implementing policies and procedures, and managing a TUPE transfer in a short 11-month window. She’s also led strong union relationships – relations that have helped MTR Crossrail become the first train operator in the country to sign up to ASLEF’s Charter for Apprentices. Bell’s recruitment team has also pushed for greater diversity, trebling the number of female drivers since the start of the concession. “Alison always looks to be innovative and break the industry mould in how her team approaches various initiatives. She is always providing ideas that can really give a point of difference and further engage the workforce she cares so passionately about,” comments Steve Murphy, managing director at the organisation.
Rachel Brace, HR director, The Football Association (FA)
In 2016 Brace was part of a new leadership team hired ‘to rebuild The FA as a world-class organisation’. But she discovered an organisation wounded by a large-scale restructure, lack of faith in leadership, and a nearly non-existent HR function. Players were historically outside of HR’s remit. But Brace’s expertise was called on in 2017 to help resolve a player’s grievance against a national coach. She worked with UK Sport to put in grievance and whistleblowing procedures for players, and training for national coaches. Today the HR team runs all recruitment and assessment processes for the whole elite setup. “Rachel has been instrumental in driving procedures and more importantly values to affect change,” comments FA CEO Martin Glenn. “She demonstrates classically strong leadership behaviours… reinforced by excellent management skills.”
Mandy Coalter, director of people, United Learning
Coalter is part of a leadership team that has overseen the group doubling in size in recent years, and the creation of a progressive approach to people management in the schools sector at a time of national crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. HR has played a key role, with major achievements including: year-on-year employee engagement increases, a pioneering wellbeing programme that has helped reduce absence to a four-year low, and the creation of a high-quality leadership development programme and talent development framework. “Mandy is an outward-looking HR leader who seeks to bring the best of current HR thinking back into our ways of working and development,” says United Learning’s group CEO Jon Coles. “She is widely and highly respected and leads a team that – unusually for HR in my experience – is genuinely loved by senior leaders.”
Claire Gore, director of HR and OD, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust
Following a 2014 merger, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust experienced significant challenges. Gore joined in 2016 and found that while the financial position was better, high vacancy and turnover rates remained, as did poor staff engagement. She restructured the HR function to ensure it was strategically and operationally aligned, making significant savings. The turnaround has been impressive, with a marked improvement in the number of staff recommending the Trust as a place to work and receive care. Other key metrics include vacancies, mandatory training and appraisal rates and staff survey completion. Gore is also the HRD lead on a programme on behalf of 18 NHS acute Trusts to reduce the cost of both agency and in-house bank medical locums.
Susan Martindale, group HR director, Mitchells & Butlers
When Martindale joined Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) in 2012 she inherited a fragmented HR function in a company that had fallen behind. Fast-forward to 2018 and employee engagement has risen to its highest levels to date, staff turnover is falling, and guest satisfaction has grown. Martindale is the driving force behind these changes, having defined a new vision that puts the customer at the heart of the business, spearheaded an HR transformation so that the function can bring this vision to life, as well as leading the people strategy for an organisation that spans 45,000 people. M&B CEO Phil Urban says: “She has created a very clear people agenda for the business that supports the company’s strategic plan, and leads her team from the front in terms of execution.”
Rupert McNeil, chief people officer, government
McNeil was appointed in January 2016, joining the civil service from Lloyds Banking Group. He is responsible for delivering the Civil Service Workforce Plan, which sets out what it needs to do to attract the most capable and public-spirited people, and build a culture that is as good, if not better, than anything on offer elsewhere. Integral to this mission is breaking down silos. One example is an advertising campaign for policy staff that previously had been done very departmentally. Another: a combined internal/external campaign for the first time, aimed at attracting more people from the private sector. Civil service HR is also in the middle of a wide-ranging D&I push. The target is to be the most inclusive organisation in the UK by 2020, giving each area of diversity a senior leader focused full time on it.
Sarah Morris, group chief people officer, Aviva
Morris has lent strong support on a number of actions to improve the profitability of Aviva in recent years, such as the simplification of the UK business, the sale of its Spain and Taiwan businesses, and strengthening the senior leadership team with changes. Recent achievements include the development of Aviva’s Evolution Council, which gives employees the chance to discuss board papers with the board. Morris is passionate about inclusivity. In 2016 she advocated for group CEO Mark Wilson to become the first FTSE 100 CEO to sign up to the executive committee commitment outlined by the 30% Club. Aviva also sponsored Cranfield University’s The Female FTSE Board Report 2017 for the Hampton-Alexander Review, and was one of the first major financial companies to publish its gender pay gap.
Paul Raby, group HR director, Balfour Beatty
Raby joined the construction firm in 2005 during a period of rapid growth and international expansion. But the real test came during the financial crisis when the business was shaken by profit warnings, divestments and merger discussions, followed by senior management and board changes that continued up to 2015. While the rest of the business faced upheaval, Raby helped to deliver the Build to Last transformation programme to deliver sustainable, measurable change. He’s helped restore the group’s financial health by focusing and engaging all Balfour Beatty’s people around four goals: Lean, Expert, Trusted and Safe. Aside from his HRD role, Raby is highly influential in other areas: as a trustee of the Balfour Beatty charitable foundation Building Better Futures, and as an investor in the HR Tech Partnership.
Emma Rose, HR director, Kerry Foods
A lot has changed in the two years since Rose took the helm of HR at Kerry Foods. There have been some challenging decisions to make around the implementation of the organisation’s new ways of working, the rolling out of the Trailblazers employee engagement strategy, and the development of the leadership team. But one constant has been Rose, who has been instrumental in encouraging the business to think creatively. “Kerry Foods has always been a people business. However, Emma has taken this to a completely different level,” says CEO Duncan Everett. As well as driving the wider organisation’s people agenda, Rose has been credited with transforming the HR function; taking it to a level where it now delivers the right talent for the business and builds stronger teams – helping to lay the foundations for future success.
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