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ZSL's Fiona Evans wins HRD of the Year award

The winner was chosen by popular vote among a poll of HR magazine's readers

Fiona Evans, HR director at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), has won the HR Director of the Year award at the 2017 HR Excellence Awards.

The winner was chosen in a poll of HR magazine readers, and was announced at the HR Excellence Awards gala dinner at the Park Lane Hilton hotel, London.

ZSL also won Best HR team and the HR Excellence Gold Award, and was highly commended for the Best learning and development strategy award.

“It’s really wonderful to win this award,” Evans said. “I didn’t think I’d win it, and I feel really privileged to be able to do this for my career. My staff are so happy that we’ve done well tonight too!”

When Evans joined ZSL in 2014 her only induction was 150 PowerPoint slides on the history of ZSL. Today the HR team has totally transformed itself and the organisation. Some of these changes include: carrying out employee surveys, overhauling the recruitment process and induction programme, introducing family-friendly policies, developing overseas T&Cs, building a competency framework and performance management culture, improving diversity and dignity at work, and introducing a new training and development offering.

“Fiona has completely turned around the HR department from one that was unhelpful and distant to an engaged, empathetic and competent team,” commented one employee who voted for Evans to win. “She is honest, fair and trustworthy, and I have had personal experience of her fantastic ability to mediate and resolve difficult situations with a firm fairness.”

Many beyond ZSL have been similarly impressed with her work. “I worked with Fiona early in my HR career and her enthusiasm and professionalism were inspirational – as my manager she supported and encouraged me to continue with an HR career,” commented a fellow HR director voter. “The impact she has had in her current role is testament to her approach and the way she takes people with her.”

Evans explained she likes to get her hands dirty when it comes to caring for the animals. “I’ve spent quite a lot of time with the elephants,” she said. “I’ve mucked them out, I’ve spent a whole day with their keepers, and I’ve even had the chance to wash a baby elephant! Not many people get to do that.”

She joked that, out of all the animals in ZSL's two zoos, the homo sapiens are the hardest to manage. “[The people] are the trickiest!” she said. “In some ways it’s harder to be an HR director than a zoo keeper. With the animals you know what you’re going to deal with. With people you have no idea what is coming next.”

The HR Director of the Year shortlist is produced following nominations and input from the HR editorial team, readers and industry experts and is based on achievements during the period 2016/17. Readers are only allowed to vote for their chosen winner once.