So which do you believe has achieved the most over the past year and therefore deserves to walk away with our accolade?
Here we offer a short explanation as to why each of the candidates has been shortlisted for the prestigious accolade.
The 2011 HR director of the year will be following in distinguished footsteps. Last year, Sandra Campopiano, HR director at Premier Farnell, won the award.
HR recruitment firm Digby Morgan is sponsoring the category for the sixth consecutive year. Alistair Cook, the company's CEO, says: "It is imperative for the continuing growth and development of the entire HR profession that we recognise and reward our top talent. We are delighted to once again be supporting the HR industry's premier awards and, in particular, this prestigious individual award.
"The standard of the entries continues to rise year on year and, as a long-time supporter of excellence in our industry, we have again been hugely impressed by the level of expertise and dedication shown by the individual entrants. With leadership such as that demonstrated by our shortlisted entrants, the HR industry is poised to scale still greater heights."
The winner will be announced at our gala dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane on June 27.
The 2011 shortlist
Simon Dodd, commercial and people director, Orchid Group
Simon Dodd took the role of Orchid Group's commercial and people director in November 2010. Five months later, when the Sunday Times announced its Best Large Companies to Work For 2011, The Orchid Group came in fifth place, having jumped up 15 places from the previous year and scooping the awards for wellbeing and most improved company.
But the announcement came less than four months after the company completely overhauled its HR department, merging it with communications, food strategy and consumer marketing.
In November, the previous personnel director left and the company moved to align the HR and commercial departments, as they had synergies in areas such as training.
The previous HR structure meant silos had emerged in the business and Orchid, which employs 15,000 staff across the UK, was operating without the transparent levels of communication Dodd aspired to.
He restructured the business, appointing three heads of HR beneath him: one to look after people management in The Living Room, Dragon and carveries division; one to focus on HR in the free houses division; and another to manage training, development and communications across the company.
Last year, following the release of the Best Companies listings, Orchid was advised to focus on the 'giving something back' category and it acted to increase its charity giving, as well as actioning improvements in the communication of the company vision and values to staff.
Dodd has also invested further in employee training and development.
With tough times continuing in the pubs sector, Dodd and his team are rising with gusto to the challenge of increasing customer footfall. In 2011, Dodd plans to tighten the firm's succession planning, focus on recruiting managers from within the company to build a stronger talent pipeline and invest more in internal communications.
"Last year, Nando's came top in the Best Companies list," he says. "But this year, it chose not to apply. We are going to apply next year - and we are going for the top spot."
Sara Edwards, director of human resources worldwide, Orient Express
Sara Edwards joined Orient Express in late 2009, faced with the challenge of connecting HR processes and strategy worldwide to ensure consistency in every location and deliver significant returns on any investment made. Since then, she has introduced a worldwide employee engagement scheme in 11 languages, defined clear competencies and restructured the global HR team to improve capability and deliver a service-driven HR team.
Last year, a global online talent management programme was introduced in more than 25 countries to encourage employees to drive their own performance. HR strategy is now a regular discussion at board level and is delivering results. There has been a substantial decrease in labour turnover and 96% of appraisals were completed within just 12 weeks from launch. Identifying key talent is now a priority business focus and a worldwide leadership development programme has been introduced. A worldwide benefit has been launched, where all employees can stay on a complimentary basis in the businesses, to experience it for themselves - in line with values.
Bethany Evans, HR director, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust
Since Beth Evans arrived at the trust in September 2009, the HR department has felt a breath of fresh air, according to her colleagues. She operates an open door policy and has built strong relationships with the whole team.
Evans has provided many development opportunities for all the staff in the team, at all levels. She has also introduced coaching by an external facilitator, which proved to be positive and useful for all who took part.
Evans has been visible and supportive to her team members during what they describe as a "difficult and stressful time" in terms of organisational change and restructuring. Feedback from others outside of the department has been positive, particularly in regards her visibility as a director.
"Evans is a conscientious, ambitious, reliable and determined person and should be acknowledged for all the work that she has done and is doing," says one employee in the HR department.
John Handley, divisional HR director, international markets, Bupa
The past 12 months have been extremely busy for John Handley. After being promoted to divisional HR director of Bupa's newly created international markets division, overseeing 5,000 staff in 15 countries, the challenge was immense.
Handley took time to understand the complexities of each of the businesses and build strong relationships to enable him to support each of his teams. The initial task of creating the division was underpinned by clear standards of excellence, under the overarching aim of driving sustainable organisational performance within Bupa.
His priorities were to ensure that every business unit was able to develop or build a robust talent management programme, which actively supported the local business challenges. He also initiated a series of global initiatives, including strengthening reward practices and finally enhanced 'One Bupa' by building a division that was unified through collaboration and sharing best practice.
Handley ensured that everyone had an input into initiatives and equally that credit was shared with his wider HR teams in each country.
He sponsored the creation of development centres where the impact was not only realised by the participants, but felt throughout the whole business. After three months of its introduction, the development centres were launched in Miami and Melbourne, heralded as "the best development programme ever experienced". The development centres are in the process of being scoped for Saudi Arabia.
This has saved Bupa about £200,000 through not having to design new programmes in each location and individuals witnessed immediate transformations of their managers after the programme.
In January 2010, four of the eight business units did not have HR directors.
Handley employed people into the roles and each of these newly appointed HRDs has gone on to build on these foundations by developing high performing teams of their own and ensuring the same high standards.
As one nominee says, perhaps the biggest accolade is that people actively choose to move with Handley throughout the Bupa business as he strives to realise his own extensive potential.
Dina Knight, group HR director, e2V
Dina Knight is group HR director at the stock-marketed listed high technology engineering solutions company, which employs 1,600 people in six design, development and manufacturing sites in Europe and the US. Reporting to the group CEO, she is a member of the group executive committee and a trustee of the pension schemes.
Following a restructure in the downturn, e2v emerged well placed to grow in the recovery. Knight joined the company last year, facing the challenge of finding specialists in a competitive area with skills shortages and maintaining the firm's track record of innovation. According to a colleague, her natural style is to make quick, analytical, commercially sound, evidence-based decisions. At the same time, she is fully cognisant of the need to take time to listen to feedback and develop an understanding of the culture and challenges of e2v.
Given the strategic priorities for business growth, her focus has been on supporting expansion in the geographies, which will result in requirements for different skillsets. The transition from components to subsystems and services will require the upskilling and development of management skills and capabilities. Knight has also invested time in strengthening links with the CBI and local community projects to progress the CSR agenda.
Before joining e2v, Knight was at Northgate Information Solutions, where she was responsible for all HR aspects of more than 20 acquisitions, as well as driving the strategic HR agenda to achieve significant success and growth for the IT outsourcing company.
Derek Lindars, HR director, Avante Partnership
Avante Partnership is one of the largest social care providers in the south-east, providing residential care homes and care at home services and offering specialist dementia care. During the past year, the company has been through many structural changes and within the past six months it has TUPEd more than 300 staff. These employees were on various contracts. At the same time, government cuts caused issues with the way funding was to be received from the council, due to the introduction of personalised care.
During this time, employment tribunals were rife and there was tremendous stress on an HR department comprising just four people, including HR director Derek Lindars. According to one of his colleagues, Lindars was able to lighten their spirits and encourage and motivate them during this difficult time.
Avante Partnership employs just short of 1,700 employees. With this amount of staff in such a small department, it is important that the manager is encouraging. Says Lindar's colleague: "I believe he has led us forward and will continue to inspire and create an environment that makes our day-to-day work achievable."
Lindar has been head of HR at Avante since 2005, joining in 2003 when it was named KCHT. He has previously worked in HR in the food industry and was a musician in the Royal Marines Band Service.
Jabbar Sardar, HR director, Cafcass
Jabbar Sardar has been at the forefront of major change and improvement in non-departmental public body Cafcass over the past 12 months. The body provides an intensive court social work service to 140,000 children a year through over 90 offices in England. Its remit includes an overview of children who are the subject of local authority applications for care, the children of parents who separate or divorce and who cannot agree on care arrangements, and some specialist cases such as surrogacy and international abduction cases.
Sardar has enabled Cafcass to absorb 30% more cases, rationalise workforce roles and reduce the number of offices. He has led on the delivery of a major corporate and business support restructure and directly gave operational support to four of the body's 21 service areas throughout England.
He sets exacting standards and demonstrates them personally, which is a good coaching model for all Cafcass's HR business partners. According to chief executive Anthony Douglas, this has resulted in accelerated career development for many of the BPs.
Douglas says Sardar sets the highest possible standards and has personally overseen HR casework in many of Cafcass local teams to share the risk and pressure with staff. He has introduced a fast-track HR procedure to reduce suspensions and delay in progressing difficult HR cases and works closely with three trade unions to find agreed ways forward in the majority of cases.
As a result of all this, sickness absence has been reduced 30% in the past year, while turnover remained low and performance levels rose.
Douglas describes Sardar as a "creative mix of pragmatist and perfectionist".
"He is the best HR director it has been my privilege to work with. I have never seen a single individual deliver so much change in a 12-month period."
Sue Swanborough, HR director, General Mills UK & Ireland
Sue Swanborough has been integral in enabling the business, part of the world's sixth largest food company, to become one of the fastest growing companies in the UK market, with a record of consistent double-digit growth. She has also helped the company achieve its mission statement of 'Nourishing Lives' in everything it does, both internally and externally.
Her achievements include ensuring that the company has the right resources to continue growing its portfolio of market-leading brands, including Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso, Betty Crocker, Green Giant, Nature Valley and Jus-Rol, as well as ensuring it has become a responsible and award-winning social partner through its works in the local Uxbridge community, where General Mills has its UK head office, and beyond.
Over the past year, Swanborough has instigated a number of programmes, including a series of workshops aimed at developing trust between departments and personnel throughout the business. The success of this innovative work on trust and culture has been such that it is now being adopted by other parts of the General Mills global business, which has brands in more than 100 countries.
Swanborough has also become a prominent ambassador for General Mills and for championing cutting-edge HR practice, speaking at a series of high-profile business seminars, including teaming up with UK and Ireland MD Jim Moseley for a presentation at the CIPD last November entitled 'Being Provocative: HR's role in challenging the organisation'.
As custodian of General Mills' employer reputation, Sue has sought to ensure that General Mills' profile has remained consistently high in the annual Best Companies accreditation scheme in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, with the company achieving an employer classification of 'outstanding' in the latest 2011 survey. The company is ranked eighth in the latest UK's top 50 Best Workplaces scheme, in which it has also featured in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
She brings much experience of the food industry to her role, having held various roles across different business functions within the industry during her career, including R&D, logistics and manufacturing.
Catherine Taylor, HR director, Mercedes-Benz UK
Since 2008, Catherine Taylor has transformed an outdated function that was operating practices of old 'personnel' and a function being considered a candidate for outsourcing to a truly integrated business partner. HR had no presence at board meetings or even featured on the agenda. By 2010, Taylor was considered an influential voice in driving forward the culture of the prestige car business with true employee engagement.
Her leadership and clear HR strategy have contributed to the success of the HR team's first ever National Training Award - Greater London Winner and the first to gain this accolade for the automotive industry.
One nominee describes Taylor as a "truly inspirational manager who places HR at the forefront of our business. Her drive and energy have made HR a function to be envied."
Taylor's influential nature demonstrates true HR value-add and she is a real ambassador for the HR profession, he says.
Neil Tune, HR director, Fitness First - South Europe & UK
Neil Tune has worked at Fitness First since 2009 and has placed HR on the company strategy map. The result is that Fitness First has gone from a sales and numbers-focused agenda to a people-focused strategy driven by his HR team.
He has ensured that team is now a high-profile department, which was highlighted by it designing, running and presenting the business agenda at this year's annual UK company conference, called Momentum.
One nominee says Tune is the best manager the HR team has had, having been through a few over the years, citing his commitment to the team's development and wellbeing as being outstanding.
Tune has changed the way Fitness First views HR as a department, giving it credibility and the voice needed to ensure it adds value across the whole company. HR initiatives put in place in the UK in the past year have now been rolled out out across the globe.
The result is not only that HR is now recognised within the business, but it is having a major impact to the attraction and recruitment of club staff as well as a positive effect on the company's attrition and bottom line EBITDA.