Personnel Today Awards 2020: HR consultancy shortlist

2019 Consultancy of the Year Egremont Group team flanked by PT editor Rob Moss and actor Sally Phillips

As we prepare to celebrate the Personnel Today Awards next week, it’s time to showcase those organisations that made the shortlists for each category. Here we profile seven organisations that are up for the tightly contested HR Consultancy Award.

MakeUK (formerly EEF)

During an initial review, Margaret Renshaw of MakeUK recognised instrument-maker Campbell Scientific’s (CSL) growing need to ensure its basic compliance. In July 2017 she started working in partnership with CSL’s senior management team and a positive business relationship has flourished and continues in 2020.

Prior to July 2017, CSL had undergone a considerable period of change; however, one of the immediate challenges faced was a lack of evaluation of employee engagement levels.

Margaret completed a comprehensive HR audit and commenced work on policies and procedures, initially focusing on attendance and performance management, recruitment and induction. Attendance management delivery incorporated individual sickness absence reviews, provision of accompanying documentation, management guidance and standard letters. Recruitment focused on developing and embedding a cohesive process from standard person specifications to a whole process framework.

In early 2018, CSL needed to establish a representative body to enter into collective consultation to make company-wide changes to contractual terms and conditions. These changes involved working with the MD/FD producing a project plan, chairing collective consultation meetings, producing final draft employment contracts, training representatives and managers. Margaret’s support during the individual consultation process included responsibility for sending invitations and managing timetable changes for all employees.

Personnel Today Awards 2020

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Margaret’s collaboration and continual support in its improvement journey has resulted in CSL adopting best practice, significant leadership improvements, proactivity, providing new perspectives, programme management and successfully delivering major restructure and business planning.

She has brought fresh perspectives to situations, takes a “what’s best for the business” approach, and spots and openly shares any potential warning signs.


Paydata creates and communicate reward frameworks that can fairly and objectively remunerate people. From designing objectively fair staff bonuses to bridging gender or ethnicity pay gaps, the company seeks to help clients tackle pressing HR issues.

Paydata is working with Nuffield Health, which employs around 16,000 people across its 31 independent hospitals, 112 fitness/wellbeing clubs and many corporate locations and medical centres across the UK, Nuffield wanted to create one consistent pay framework.

The company helped Nuffield Health develop and utilise its newly implemented job evaluation system by attaching appropriate pay scales to clinical job families across the organisation as a starting point for all employees to be remunerated by.

A pay framework was implemented that provided a crucial point of reference to ensure pay scales truly reflect and remain competitive.

Key outcomes included increased employee engagement by defining job responsibility and progression paths; reduced employee turnover by offering meaningful reward; and streamlined HR processes to allocate pay and benefits resources consistently and fairly.

Paydata co-creates HR strategies to meet clients’ unique challenges, from FTSE 100 multinationals to small charities, focusing on finding solutions that suit each client’s culture. Customers cite its team’s prior experience on “the other side of the desk” as an enormous reassurance that brings a fresh perspective to their approach.

Key to its approach is an understanding of how critical it is to understand the organisation’s business strategy, HR strategy, strengths, challenges, people, organisational structure and what it wants to achieve. According to Olivia Hill, chief HR officer at AAT: “Paydata provides a lot of support, a really quick response when we need it and have a wealth of experience that we can utilise that really makes our lives a lot easier.”

PS Human Resources

MGS is a manufacturer and supplier of products used in ground investigation, geothermal installations, landfill and railway drainage. PSHR began working with MGS in January 2019.

The organisational structure of MGS was unclear. Many managers had been in post for many years and had their own view of their responsibilities. They did not take ownership or accountability for the areas that needed improvement and they did not like change. They were also unsupportive of the leadership. This meant the leadership team had too many reports and were under a lot of pressure. The company culture was dated and did not inspire or engage the staff.

There was no HR department. Employee relations issues were dealt with badly creating division. There was little management development or training plans.

The first step was to understand the culture. To gain a full understanding PSHR interviewed every member of staff to explore what they loved about working at MGS and what would make it a better workplace. This data informed the people strategy.

PSHR held workshops with the leadership team to focus on the long-term goals for the organisation, the 12-month plan and quarterly goals. A one-page strategy document was produced and communicated with staff. Based on the strategy, each functional area developed a yearly plan with quarterly goals, and there are quarterly meetings to review progress.

Financial and commercial information was used to review the most profitable sides of the business and areas that were not making money. This informed decisions on the design of the structure including establishing a senior management team, creating team leader positions and establishing areas of the business that needed more focus.

PSHR has implemented a clear business plan and long-term strategy that all staff are aware of and understand how they are instrumental in the achievement of this. Managers understand their priorities and goals and how they relate to the business rather than all managers working to their own agenda. Employee morale has increased, employees are aware of what is expected of them and are taking more accountability for their work and actions. There is reduced sickness absence from an average of 24 days pcm to 15 days pcm. Finally, productivity is at 93% which is 13% over target.

Redwing Solutions

Worcestershire-based Redwings Solutions provides generalist HR consultancy to small businesses. It specialises in day nurseries, pre-schools and out-of-school clubs that are based across the UK. Its business vision is to be the most successful HR consultancy specialising in the early years’ sector in the UK.

In the past 12 months, it has achieved outstanding results for its clients. Managing director Imogen Edmunds and the small team of HR advisers have delivered HR support to over 130 clients and grown its UK client base to over 600.

The early years sector in the UK has more than 25,000 private, voluntary and independent settings. The vast majority are operated by small business owners with fewer than 20 employees that operate without internal qualified HR support.

Earlier this year Redwing received a call from a nursery owner explaining it had received a whistleblowing complaint that two employees had failed to effectively safeguard a group of children. This was a serious allegation. Its specialist HR adviser understood the urgency and importance of taking the right course of action.

There was also a key requirement with a safeguarding allegation that the regulator would be informed and that necessary bodies would be consulted before any investigation took place.

Redwing steered the nursery owner through the process of establishing that they could investigate the matter themselves and following its advice they contacted the relevant body for permission. It then further spoken to the owner to explain the process of conducting a fair investigation.

Following the investigation, it was identified that the children’s safety had been maintained and no breach of safeguarding had taken place. Redwing advised as to the correct approach to follow up with the staff to ensure adherence with their policies and procedures and how to explain to their staff what was expected from them.

Its involvement in the case allowed the nursery owner to swiftly and effectively deal with the safeguarding concern meaning that she and her nursery manager could get back to running the nursery.

Feedback is excellent, with clients like Letty’s Little Learners in Birmingham saying, “I am a new clients and Imogen and her team have given so much time pre joining them. The information is invaluable and easy to understand you are made to feel comfortable rather than thick for not knowing, even at these unprecedented times.”

Starford Legal HR

Starford offers operational strategy, project management and people-related consultancy, supported with legal expertise. It aims to empower clients by giving them the tools to flourish – whatever their size or situation.

The firm identified an Attract, Reward, Retain, Develop, Manage employee lifecycle, enabling it to support start-ups through to national corporations with HR policies.

Starford’s turnover as of March 2020 is £395k, a growth of 18% over 2019. It now has 158 clients, an increase of 17% from 2019, including the Lawn Tennis Association, the RSPCA, Arora Hotels and Giggling Squid.

As well as providing innovative solutions for clients, Starford’s model attracts highly qualified senior HR professionals and lawyers who want to work in a different way. Many consultants are forced out of the profession because of traditional 9-5 models being incompatible with family life, but Starford’s flexible culture means that consultants choose their own hours while still being available to clients.

With the Caravan and Motorhome Club, Starford helped reorganise staffing structure across the Club’s sites to devolve responsibility from the centre and ensure greater consistency of member experience when visiting a site. Starford worked closely with the internal HR team to develop new roles and job descriptions for the sites and to give experienced site managers with an appropriate skill set the opportunity to deliver training to the site network on every element of running a site. This moved the organisation away from large training events in favour of smaller peer-to-peer local workshops.

The newly streamlined working practices resulted in reduced costs of training for the business, more effective and relevant training for the teams resulting in more consistent performance from staff and greater consistency for customers.

Starford also worked with the Club to completely revise its learning and development offering as well as implementing a new interactive management tool that provided greater transparency over the learning and development available and motivated employees to take control of their own career progress.

The HR Dept

The HR Dept is a network of 67 senior HR professionals (licensees). They each run their own independent HR Dept consultancy businesses. Between them they employ a combined total of more than 200 HR staff as part of a unique UK-wide franchise model.

Not immune from the effects of the pandemic on their own businesses, the company’s licensees continued to provide outsourced HR support to more than 6,000 SMEs. The HR Dept set out to provide support and clarity for SMEs across the UK, regardless of whether or not they were clients.

As the Covid-19 crisis developed, the challenge for The HR Dept’s licensees was to quickly process the information provided by the government, so it could provide the clarity which SMEs needed.

The HR Dept experienced an influx of queries ranging from statutory sick pay to how to manage staff during lockdown. These came from clients, non-clients, and employees.

Tracey Hudson from The HR Dept South Warwickshire orchestrated an FAQ page, which included questions from across its network. This FAQ page developed to include industry specific information and the regular government updates. Before long it became the Coronavirus HR Hub hosted on its national website.

When the government announced the Job Retention Scheme and the term ‘furlough’, the HR Dept added a new section to the Coronavirus Hub explaining these frameworks in layman’s terms. The Coronavirus Hub also included recordings of the free national webinars its licensees presented, advising UK businesses on their options as employers. They provided expert practical advice which SMEs could implement immediately.

One webinar which was led by Ian Pilbeam from The HR Dept Edinburgh and The Lothians, focused on the Job Retention Scheme days after it had been announced. This ensured business owners had the information they needed as quickly as possible.

Other resources included My Furlough Development Portfolio. This, and other resources, provided employers with tools to ensure that the time was used effectively and would benefit their business in the long run. Other licencees helped fill in the gaps in the government’s guidance and raised issues with the scheme.

The TCM Group

The TCM Group is a leading conflict management consultancy. It has been vocal in its view that there is a need to completely redefine resolution and move towards a more values-driven, people-centred approach.

TCM’s experience shows that there is a lack of understanding within organisations (and HR teams) about how to create cultures that lead to a happy and harmonious workplace – and also a lack of investment in the critical skills managers need to deal effectively with conflict in their teams.

TCM has worked with clients including hospitals, banks, insurance firms, universities and councils to help them shift from grievance to resolution and to develop the fair and just cultures they need to succeed.

Its work has become particularly pressing in the current environment, where the pandemic has led to an increase in factors likely to cause strife at work. Remote working, for example, is leading to a loss of team spirit and a breakdown in communications, while the ‘return to work’ effort is leading to perceptions of unfairness and a break down of trust. .

Over the past year, TCM’s work with its growing client base has included supporting organisations with development of people and culture strategies that are values-led, compassionate and collbaborative (eg HSBC); helping HR and employee relations teams simplify their rules and processes and develop over-arching resolution frameworks, which are centred around informal, people-centred approaches, such as facilitated discussions, mediation and restorative conversations (eg London Ambulance Service); delivering leadership and management development programmes designed to equip leaders with the skills they need to create psychological safety in the workplace, including positive psychology, nudge theory, principled negotiation, and non-violent communication (eg Greater London Authority); and conducting specialist and complex workplace investigations (eg GSK).

TCM also reacted rapidly to the coronavirus crisis, recognising that its specialist skills would be needed more urgently than ever before and very swiftly made all of its consultancy and training services available online.

TCM’s work has helped hundreds of clients across private, public and third sector organisations build the trust and engagement that will be necessary as UK plc grapples with the pandemic.

The business prides itself on forming close partnerships with clients working with them at all stages of a project, from inception through to training and final implementation.

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Written by HR Today

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