Strategic Human Resource Management

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Strategic Human Resource Management

Calling in the Professionals

When the National Care Standards Commission (NCSC) was set up in 2002 it called in a number of human resource specialists to help. The NCSC is part of the Government’s modernisation agenda to promote and protect the well-being of users of regulated services such as residential nursing homes, private hospitals and boarding schools. It also covers services that weren’t previously regulated, including laser clinics and private and voluntary hospitals. In the past these institutions were regulated by different local and health authorities.

The NCSC essentially brought together some 1800 staff from 230 employers into one umbrella organisation. One of these Human Resources specialists was 37-year old Charlotte Grover, a human resources professional with a background in blue chip companies including Unilever, Toyota and Xerox. In 2001 Grover set up her own HR consultancy, wishing for more job flexibility and to be able to make use of the experience gained from working in a range of HR roles during her 15 years in the profession. The NCSC was her first assignment.

Working to establish the NCSC certainly provided a substantial challenge, but Grover has never been fazed by a blank sheet of paper. She was initially going to be employed for a six-week interim assignment, but this soon turned into a year-long exercise, with Grover reporting directly to the East Midlands regional director Tony Frayer and with a professional reporting line through to Clare Curran, the HR Director based in the head office in Newcastle. For the first six months Grover was responsible for developing all the HR services within the Trent Region, helping to establish all new services covering Northampton, Nottingham, Leicester and Derby. Once a permanent HR manager was appointed to this post, Grover was asked to take on the exciting challenge of helping to develop a new reward structure, competency framework, and performance management scheme.

Because the NCSC was new, everything was in start-up mode. There were some draft methodologies covering, for instance, the way to inspect a residential home, but everything was incomplete: even the Newcastle headquarters had a skeletal staff – and HR was the last function to be established. HR support was crucial as many staff had moved across from their former local and health authority employers, so at a regional level the HR support provided by Grover had to be ‘spot on’. She was responsible for supporting seven area managers in the East Midlands region, each with around 40 professional and administrative staff, so she had to set up HR systems based upon national policy. “The critical bit was getting the manpower plan sorted out early on, as that gave us a framework and structure,” she says. “When we started we didn’t even know the names of everyone who worked in the region and many of them didn’t have contracts.”

She embarked on a major recruitment drive early on: one of the first challenges was to hire 20 healthcare professionals as inspectors – and they don’t grow on trees. She also spent many hours managing the uncertainty of staff, many of whom came from very structured backgrounds. The balance of her time was spent handling adhoc HR issues like maternity, grievances, discipline, absence and capability – with no policies and procedures to guide her. “I drew on my knowledge and experience and managed every new situation by adopting best practice,” she says. “Not only did we have to comply with the law, we also had to keep the unions involved and satisfied that we were proceeding correctly in the absence of policies and procedures.”

Once the permanent regional HR manager was in place, Grover took on her next challenge: to assist in the development of a new pay structure for NCSC that was linked to performance in the job and a competency framework. She researched other public and private sector organisations, ran focus groups with staff and trade unions to understand their expectations and experiences, met regularly with Clare Curran and her team, to discuss progress and possible options, and drafted papers and recommendations.

At the end of the three-month process the organisation decided not to implement the recommendations on the grounds that the NCSC is going to be replaced by two new organisations in April 2004 and it was felt the structural overhaul required to implement the proposed new reward structure would merely add to the sense of uncertainty and confusion. “It was a pragmatic solution,” says Grover, “but we needed to do the research to arrive at that decision.” The work did importantly highlight the need for a new appraisal and development system, and she and Curran spent the next few weeks developing the ‘Individual Contribution Review Scheme’ – or ICR – which sets short-term objectives and assesses individuals’ contribution in the job and identifies their training and development needs.

In turn, this work led to the realisation that staff weren’t actually sure what their jobs were, and so Grover spent the next three months – to April this year – redrafting all the job descriptions too. The ICR and job descriptions were presented to management for consultation in May this year, and as Grover comments: “Once they are agreed, and people know what their jobs are and how they will be measured, the way they are managed will improve enormously.”

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