After waves of local council cuts, the motivation for Warwickshire County Council to sell HR services to other public sector organisations couldn’t be clearer.
Schools, fire services and other councils can choose flexibly from the full gamut of HR services, including access to policy generation, phone support, face-to-face support, HR admin and payroll, and HR advisory.
But many opt to pay an annual fee in exchange for access to all of these, as well as the Council’s other traded services, including health and safety, property, office and legal services.
“If you’re a small council having someone do your payroll is quite an attractive offer,” says Warwickshire’s head of human resources and organisational development Sue Evans.
All profit (£150,000 last year) is put back into traded services. “We put it into improving services and keeping costs down for schools, for example,” says Evans. “There’s not a huge profit; we almost charge them at cost. But it does mean we can maintain the system and make it flourish.”
Impeccable levels of customer service are crucial. “We’ve built a very slick customer service front end,” says Evans. “It’s a very small team, so these guys are highly trained at dealing with basic HR enquiries. They’re dealing with over 80% of what comes into HR in one call resolution.”
She adds: “We’ve introduced very tight time limits. So you say ‘I will call you back by the end of tomorrow’, or ‘I will call you back by the end of the week’. And if you can’t do that you go back and say ‘it’s taking a bit longer than I thought sorry, but I will come back to you within this specified timeframe’. That’s very customer-focused and it’s been a big shift in culture. We have also empowered staff at the front end in terms of how creative they can be in responding and creating solutions.”
Those transactional operatives deal with both internal and external enquiries, explains Evans, who adds that they are so passionate about solving problems that “the hardest thing has often been getting them to put things down”.
Carving out clear job definitions so strategic HR business partners don’t waste time trying to solve operational issues and vice versa, has been the other success factor, explains Evans.
She also advises providing a strong online FAQ-style portal for customers.
“It’s making sure the people manning the desks are experts, but also putting as much as you can right under the noses of your customer,” she says.
Beyond revenue generation, an added advantage is that it’s not only made HR staff more commercial, but helped them train others in the organisation to be so as well.
“We’ve been able to translate a lot of our learning into packages for developing commercial skills more broadly across the Council,” says Evans.
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