Feature

And the winners are...

The Best of the Best: Britannia Building Society
Number of IT professionals: 240
Number of staff supported: 4,200

As this year's Best of the Best, Britannia Building Society wins its accolade by an across the board attention to a wide range of factors contributory to being an outstanding IT employer. All these factors are embedded in Britannia's core set of five company values - putting customers first, being easy to do business with, being excellent at communication, taking personal responsibility and being faster, cheaper and better than competitors.

IT staff recruitment and retention is based therefore not just on technical skills, but also on whether individuals can demonstrate a commitment to these corporate values. Internal staff get first bite at job opportunities in the expanding IT department, and Britannia has tailored career development schemes targeted at female staff (Springboard), male staff (Navigate), individually based sponsored external training (Horizon) and high-potential staff (Excellerate).

Open communication is considered crucial, with a broad range of activities designed to elicit views, feedback and self-knowledge. Creativity days, facilitated by the IT staff themselves, take place off-site, in a relaxed, free-thinking environment, to devise alternative ways to accomplish day to day activities.

Monthly focus groups provide an opportunity for IT staff and management to talk through proposed changes and brainstorm ideas. Business-facing events such as open days invite business users to "have a look" at IT, and give feedback about IT's performance and service.

That Britannia is an outstanding place to work in IT is confirmed by the results of the department's biennial survey of its own staff, which consistently indicates that IT staff are happy to work there, and would recommend Britannia as an employer.

Judges comments

The judges liked Britannia's approach to benchmarking itself with other IT departments and its candour in detailing the results of its in-house survey. They were impressed that 88% of Britannia's IT staff feel that their job gives a sense of personal accomplishment.

They also found positive the mechanisms in place to promote staff within the workplace, and the flexibility in working hours, such as, for example, allowing staff to compress five days' working into four days.

Britannia Building Society stood out. What particularly impressed the judges in addition to Britannia's general excellent working environment, professional development and strong work-life balance, was the company's formal structure for demystifying the work of the IT organisation to the rest of the business.

Best of the Best sponsored by MadisonBlack

Overall winner Britannia Building Society is also the category winner for Banking & Finance, category sponsored by PSD

Retail, Wholesale & Distribution: Past Times
Number of IT professionals: 15
Number of staff supported: 1,500

The self-avowed challenge for Past Times is to do a lot of IT for little money. As a small company with big pressures, high demands and very tight money constraints, IT has to be - and is - highly motivated and delivery focused.

The department achieves this by empowering IT staff to grow and gain experience without fear of failure. Past Times gives its IT staff a wide variety of challenging, fast-paced work, in an atmosphere that the organisation deliberately makes as enjoyable as possible. This makes IT staff feel they are having "fun" rather than being "at work".

A key factor enabling the IT team to deliver quickly and effectively is keeping IT exceptionally close to the business and its needs. This is reflected in the launch of Past Times' initiative to "not only work for the users, but with the users."

To this end, cross-functional teams have been set up, and IT staff can be seconded to work in other departments. IT staff work physically closer to users, sitting with their respective internal customers, and IT staff also keep abreast of developments within the retail sector by going to retail seminars and conferences.

Regular user surveys and comparative benchmarking are used to ensure that IT is kept closely aligned with the business.

IT has also launched a new newsletter for its business users, to ensure they are fully aware of the progress and activities of the IT department, an initiative that has been copied by other departments within Past Times as well.

Within IT, a strong esprit de corps is fostered through emphasising a good work-life balance, with a supportive management philosophy.

This philosophy allows IT staff to take advantage of practices such as home working if children are sick, flexible working to accommodate family arrangements, time for driving lessons, and allows for participation in the IT team fitness programme run by the IT director.

Judges' comments

This was a small but effective team, strongest in work-life balance and in having a positive work environment, which also focuses on results.

Past Times demonstrated a strong emphasis on integrating with their business colleagues at all levels.

The IT staff at Past Times are exposed to a variety of work at different levels providing a fun and stimulating environment.

Sponsored by: ReThink Recruitment

Media, Hospitality, Entertainment & Leisure: Yell
Number of IT professionals: 220
Number of staff supported: 3,820

With one of the most recognisable brand names in the country - Yellow Pages is an official "superbrand" - Yell is also one of only 24 companies that the Investors in People Standard awards with champion status.

Within IT, Yell's strong people culture is demonstrated across the board. Its Capability Development programme, developed from the BCS model, creates a formalised and consistent approach to the measurement and development of the individual capability of all IT staff.

Each staff member receives a tailored development plan, which includes both technical training and training in skills such as presentation and consulting; as well as mentoring and coaching; plus further education, such as MBA sponsorship.

There is also a wide variety of motivational recognition schemes, including a corporate-wide Yell Gold Award, as well as IT specialist "Yaftas" and "Yoscars" awards. This is coupled with ad hoc recognition in the form of champagne, flowers and bonuses, as well as group celebrations to mark collective achievements such as project completion.

Staff motivation is also cultivated by an enthusiastic work-life balance. Flexible working is available to all, and over 10% of IT staff at Yell work part time. Home working is also supported, as is special leave - one member of staff is going around the world - and sabbaticals.

Yell also provides a pleasant, spacious working environment - senior managers have given up their office space to meeting rooms, breakout areas and a coffee area with free drinks and TV news broadcasts.

Judges' comments

Yell has a strong emphasis on training, with a healthy training budget, and has three local recognition awards schemes within IT, in which staff are nominated by their peers for their achievements.

Yell recognises the role that the partners of IT staff play, and rewards them when staff have to work inconvenient hours.

The company's special leave policy, called "Just Yell" leave, makes either paid or unpaid leave available to staff to allow them to deal with a wide range of personal situations when they may unexpectedly need time away from work.

Other Public Sector & Non-profit Sector: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Number of IT professionals: 66
Number of staff supported: 1,500

One of the key benefits of working for a charitable or voluntary organisation is the psychologically reassuring knowledge that the employer is a contributor to the good of the world. Those working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have the kudos of providing a key environmental service and encouraging essential public interest in wildlife.

This commitment to the work of the RSPB is reflected in the opportunity that IT staff are given to take a sabbatical every seven years and follow through a conservation-related project. Conservation activities also form a key part of staff social activities.

Moreover, the RSBP's IT department is located in the middle of a nature reserve, which is conducive to a relaxed working environment. Employees have the opportunity for lunchtime walks in the nature reserve following an organic lunch at the subsidised restaurant.

Environmental friendliness is further encouraged and supported by the provision of shower and locker facilities for cyclists, car pools and a free bus service from the reserve.

As well as the benefits that come from working for a wildlife organisation, however, IT staff also enjoy more typical benefits such as flexible working, continuous professional development, a mix of both technical and management training - such as leave to study for MBAs - and a strong ethos of team working and individual encouragement.

Judges' comments

The judges praised the RSPB for its enviable working conditions and admirable gender balance. They were impressed with the four-week sabbatical offered every seven years, the range of transport options to enable staff to travel to work, and the range of non-IT training, for example in time management and equal opportunities.

The judges also liked the healthy location of the RSPB's offices, in the middle of a nature reserve.

Sponsored by: Barclays

IT Services, Including Outsource Providers: Imerja
Number of IT professionals: 9
Number of staff supported: 14

A key distinguishing factor of Imerja, based on its foundation of strong ethical principles and key core values, is its determination to allow staff to take the initiative in their working lives. Staff only refer to managers and colleagues when instruction or advice is needed, thereby avoiding constricting and unproductive micromanagement.

According to Imerja, for staff to take responsibility in this way helps cultivate a sense of ownership and commitment to the company and its customers, delivering the best work possible, while allowing staff to thrive within their own choice of lifestyle.

As part of that culture of empowerment and responsibility, staff are provided with laptops and broadband home setups so they can work remotely and with flexible hours.

This supportive ethos is reinforced by a very flexible policy on maternity/paternity and discretionary leave for personal circumstances. Staff are also valued by way of share option schemes, bonuses and benefits.

Employee retention has been 100% since foundation, over a period of very rapid growth. As a company that relies on its IT skills, training has a high priority, and all technical staff are actively encouraged to achieve up to date accreditation in their specialities.

Judges' comments

The judges rated the emphasis Imerja placed on self empowerment and people development. They noted that it can be difficult to achieve a strong work-life balance in a smaller organisation, particularly in IT services where a company is selling its employees' time.

Imerja demonstrated a strong culture of training, professional skills development, and good opportunities for flexible and home working, with broadband provision for employees.

Sponsored by: Spring Technology

Business Services: Eaga Partnership
Number of IT professionals: 30
Number of staff supported: 1,250

Eaga demonstrates a work hard/play hard ethos that shows up across the company, including IT. The company is owned by its 1,250 employees, so there is an inherent sense of loyalty and mutual self-interest that can be tapped into.

Within IT, this is visible in its ethos of service excellence as it performs its company role of supporting staff across 20 UK locations, including some 200 home workers.

The IT department delivers and supports all the IT the company needs, to a very high standard, but not at the expense of the personal lives of the IT staff. One of the company's key values is to "maintain a sense of fun", which creates a relaxed working culture in an open plan working environment where all levels of management are visible and accessible.

Social activities also help to foster this deliberately relaxed culture. One-off events, such as when new projects go live, are celebrated with lunches and evenings out.

High performance is recognised similarly - for example, bottles of wine are awarded to staff for the highest number of helpdesk calls closed.

Flexible working is supported, especially to accommodate parental obligations such as the school run, and staff have the option of home working where possible. Even on the helpdesk, the rota system is designed to avoid long shifts for individuals.

Because every member of the IT department has the opportunity to become a partner in the company, professional development is strongly encouraged, with twice-yearly meetings with line managers to draw up and monitor employees' individual personal development plans.

IT staff are expected to attend seminars and user group meetings, and keep abreast of technical developments in their fields, and the company provides access to the latest technology.

Judges' comments

Eaga demonstrates that it has achieved a good balance between flexibility and effective customer service. The judges were impressed that the IT department had won an internal award for being the best customer focused department.

The judges also liked Eaga's strong continuous professional development programme and the flexibility it offered staff. They also appreciated the low number of sick days and low staff turnover.

Sponsored by: Capita Resourcing

Manufacturing & Engineering: Kimberly-Clark
Number of IT professionals: 173
Number of staff supported: 5,500

As the IT function for an international company, fielding a global IT team, Kimberly-Clark needs to ensure that the service it provides meets multinational business requirements.

Satisfaction with the service received has increased in all of the four years since IT started to survey its business customers. Additionally, for the past five years IT has assessed its own performance against that of IT departments in comparable companies by conducting external benchmarks, and shown highly cost-effective service delivery. Within IT, every member of the department is reviewed by all the managers involved with that individual, making career opportunities visible, and ensuring no one is neglected.

Work-life balance is highlighted as key to performance, and all IT staff participate in stress management training. By making this training mandatory, there can be no "stigma" attached to any need for help, and it also helps all staff recognise the early warning symptoms of stress in themselves and colleagues, which can then be treated.

One very popular stress-buster available to everyone is the bi-weekly 15-minute therapeutic head and shoulders massage, for which the company pays - staff donate £1 to charity.

Judges' comments

Kimberly-Clark, demonstrates originality in its initiatives, such as its mentoring arrangements for each new job hire, specific work-life balance policy and mandatory stress management sessions.

The judges were impressed also with the company's strong emphasis on equal opportunities and career development, and with the customer satisfaction increase year on year over the past four years in its survey of internal customers.

Highly commended: Procter & Gamble
Number of IT professionals: 120
Number of staff supported: 1,000 (UK/Ireland); 100,000 globally through shared services organisation

Last year's Best of the Best, Procter & Gamble continues to shine as an outstanding IT employer. Building on its hallmark culture not only of "recruiting for life" -Êwhereby the staff start their careers at Procter & Gamble and are promoted through the company - but also of providing IT staff with a constant diet of challenging, groundbreaking technology to deploy for business advantage, the company also pays special attention to ensuring IT staff are fully aligned with the business.

To this end, the last year saw the launch of the company's "Running IT for Business" programme, which grooms IT professionals to behave as "general managers" who need to deliver business goals, such as cash generation and consumer adoption.

Consumers are also the focus of one of Procter & Gamble's flagship technology implementations, the Virtual Store, which mimics - at much less cost - in-store research into consumer behaviour. Data mining is another key technology initiative, to leverage and exploit rich customer data from retailers.

With the aim of recruiting for life, Procter & Gamble places strong emphasis on staff development. IT staff are helped to realise their aspirations, goals and personal career vision, which is developed into a roadmap marked out by assignments. This year has also seen the launch of outplacement assignments with key suppliers or customers, in order to drive even closer collaboration across the supply chain.

Judges' comments

The standard of entries in this category this year was particularly high, such that the judges suggested a special commendation for last year's winner, Procter & Gamble. The judges said, "They visibly strive to continue to improve - they didn't sit on their laurels but brought in new initiatives and efforts and deserve a special commendation."

Construction, Agriculture & Mining: WSP Group
Number of IT professionals: 40
Number of staff supported: 2,424

WSP's aim is to be seen as an attractive employer for IT. It aims to achieve this with a combination of competitive remuneration packages - supplemented with bonuses and employee of the month/year awards - and IT roles that offer diversity and also meet individual career aspirations.

But the company delivers a lot more to its IT employees. Staff careers are managed by a mix of mentoring, 360-degree appraisals, thrice-yearly performance reviews, external coaches to identify and develop personal career plans, and a policy of promotion from within via careful succession planning.

IT staff also have the opportunity to spend 12 days a year working on research and development projects. Work-life balance is encouraged, overly heavy workloads are discouraged, and home working actively promoted where possible.

Ongoing team building culminates in an annual IT conference, an intensive weekend of interactive workshops and presentations, interspersed with team activities such as go-karting and hovercraft racing.

As an international company, WSP also offers its IT staff a wide range of overseas assignments, with opportunities for three-month secondments and project work in countries as diverse as Sweden and South Africa, America and Dubai. This is cemented by a newly introduced "buddy" scheme to pair individuals with similar skills in IT departments in other countries.

Judges' comments

This category was also close run, with two strong contenders in the shortlist. WSP stood out for its staff inclusiveness - for example, with the opportunity for employees to vote on the performance of their peers through the annual 360-degree appraisal process.

The judges liked the frequency (three times a year) of formal performance reviews, the external coach for each individual, and the opportunity for three-month overseas secondments.

Sponsored by: Atkins

IT Software & Hardware: Compuware
Number of IT professionals: 7
Number of staff supported: 430

As the internal IT function for a software company, the IT staff at Compuware serve a twin purpose of providing first-user experience of the company's own products, such as application performance monitoring; as well as implementing IT for its own users, such as a portal to allow the distributed workforce to access the company intranet.

This close collaboration with the business side of the company is further encouraged by IT's proactive support of the business functions, such as through IT's internal account management roles, where each member of the IT team is assigned to a business area - for instance, marketing. This helps to foster a common understanding of goals and requirements and a strong alignment between IT and the business.

Internal IT managers are encouraged to spend a day "walking in the shoes" of business users. IT staff are also enabled to move across into business roles such as pre-sales and product support, sometimes in Compuware's Dutch and Australian offices.

Within the IT department, staff are coached to take higher levels of responsibility as well as given individual project work on top of routine work. This helps to engender a sense of ownership and trust, and provides variety.

Sharing ideas, recommending new initiatives and changing roles and responsibilities is strongly encouraged at Compuware in order to maximise the contribution IT makes to the company.

Judges' comments

This was a very close run result between two small departments, both with high quality examples of best practice. The judges liked Compuware's approach to developing its IT employees' broader appreciation of the business. It develops their communication skills as well as technical skills, and through its Internal Account Management scheme, ensures that IT staff are assigned to a business area, such as marketing, to enable a common understanding of goals and requirements.

The judges commended Compuware's quarterly awards scheme, based on company-wide voting. They particularly appreciated the company's charity sponsorship scheme, where it matches sums raised by individuals for charity.

Central & Local Government: Land Registry
Number of IT professionals: 339
Number of staff supported: 9,000

Land Registry is a fast growing organisation and runs the world's largest online transactional databases, 35Tbytes mirrored across multiple sites, used by over 9,000 internal users and 100,000 business users.

New arrivals to the IT department receive a personal mentor and Land Registry also provides funding and paid study leave for further education and professional qualifications. Mentoring continues throughout IT careers, with the Future Leaders scheme helping to identify and develop a pool of strong internal candidates for middle and senior management - over a quarter of senior managers are female, as are a third of all IT staff.

An on-site nursery, term-time working, flexible hours, job sharing and career breaks help to foster a supportive environment for female professionals and all staff who value a  work-life balance.

Quality of life is strongly emphasised, with an on-site gym, counselling and support services. Also, since the IT department is based in Plymouth, staff have a choice of the sea or Dartmoor for leisure activities, some of which, such as surfing, also take place as part of Land Registry's sports, social and charity events for its IT staff.

Staff are also given incentives, such as performance bonuses, and an innovations scheme to reward suggestions.

Judges' comments:

Land Registry showed a good overall situation for its staff. The judges considered that its "concept working groups" were an interesting way of getting staff involved in other programmes and activities across the organisation.

They also liked its Future Leaders scheme and were particularly taken with the technical mentoring scheme, working with a key supplier to enable effective knowledge transfer of new and existing technologies. It also showed good evidence of work-life balance.

Utilities & Communications - Judges' Special Award: Kingston Communications (Hull)
Number of IT professionals: 198
Number of staff supported: 2,500

Kingston Communications places particular emphasis on the quality of its IT management, and has invested significantly in implementing a tailored summit programme - Successful Management of IT - delivered to all line managers in Group IT, and using experience of the senior management team and external trainers.

This delivers a consistent management benchmark and helps develop junior managers, reflected statistically in the high ratings in staff surveys and the company's Business Balanced Scorecard. Kingston also runs focus groups to drill down into the findings of staff surveys and highlight areas for analysis and action.

Staff development at Kingston is strongly emphasised, with psychometric profiling, internal hire and promotion where possible; new employee induction to the company and the locality; and rotation through departments to broaden understanding of the company overall.

There has also been recent focus on further improvements to the appraisal process, again reflected positively in staff surveys. The company is highly sympathetic towards flexible working, supporting part time, flexitime, job sharing, study leave, buying or selling holidays, term-time, shift and compressed working, and Kingston has an official Location Independent Working policy to make remote working as effective as possible.

Judges' comments

Kingston emphasises staff retention and has a strong emphasis on employee development. It ensures through a tailored in-house programme that junior managers learn from senior managers.

The company runs a graduate programme and also sponsors an MBA course at the University of Hull with a number of subsidised places for staff. Staff are allowed up to 20 days study leave when preparing for approved educational qualifications. Kingston also has a scheme to encourage staff to become governors of inner city schools.

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This was first published in March 2006

 

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