At Work: Human Resources - Case study - Stronger leadership, stronger team

Graham Willgoss

A new HR strategy has improved staff morale at the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund.

The challenge

Five years ago, staff at the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund were, according to its new HR director, "working in fear with dysfunctional management". Several took the charity to employment tribunals.

External consultants reported poor systems and processes, poor management practices and the absence of clear staff roles as its crucial failings.

The process

The fund appointed HR specialist Gordon Ross, who devised a strategy focusing on the organisation's leadership, management practices, policies, procedures and culture.

Ross identified insufficient training of managers and team leaders as an area that needed rectifying if the organisation was to reduce the number of grievances and tribunal applications.

"Leadership was weak and the fund needed a chief executive to work with the board to create success," says Ross. "In effect, the board and senior management team needed to work as one."

The charity made Roy Lawrenson its new chief executive in 2001, who in turn hired Ross as HR director to ensure that people management remained central to the organisation's overall strategy. Ross then co-ordinated and edited a new business plan. "The essential thing was a mission to galvanise our staff into a unit focused on beneficiaries," says Ross.

A staff council was formed to help develop a staff handbook. Ross evaluated and defined job descriptions to ensure everyone at the charity understood their roles. Managers received regular coaching to ensure they applied the right management practices.

The outcome

Ross says staff morale is "extremely high". No employment tribunals have been called since 2000, a period that has seen more than 20 redundancies and a move to a new head office. Ross adds that staff turnover is "healthy", with an 85 per cent stability rate.

"The senior management team has restructured the organisation into a more efficient entity, encouraging greater freedom and ownership of roles," says Ross. "Any ambiguity was eradicated by better communication with and information for employees. In last year's Sunday Times best employers list, 97 per cent of our staff said they had a "very good understanding of their role".

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