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Better integration between human resource management and business tactic is one of the most important demands and assets of any organisation that are placed upon contemporary strategic human resource management. (Truss & Gratton, 1994).
Thompson and Strickland (1987) define strategy as the direction and framework business organisation plans to establish involving a consistent approach over time that reflects the business organisation’s approach to achieving its objectives.
Business organisations use strategy to preserve a position of advantage by capitalising on the strengths of the organisation thereby minimise its weaknesses. In order to do this, business organisation must recognise and evaluate the threats and opportunities present in its external and internal environments.
The aim of this report is to explore Strategic Human Resource Management at Halcrow Group Limited.
Halcrow Group Limited is a well-known consultancy company providing quality services in planning, design, transportation, water, property, consulting, infrastructure development and management services to its customers throughout the world.
Formed in 1941 by (formerly Thomas Meik) by Sir William Halcrow Group & Partners. In 1998 various Halcrow Group businesses and departments became Halcrow Group Limited with 90% of Halcrow Group is owned by the Halcrow Group Trust and the remaining 10% by its employees. Halcrow Group is operating through a network of 29 UK and 32 international offices and more than 5000 employees worldwide.
Halcrow Group’s recent projects include the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the International Congress Centre in Rome, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, new and refurbished stands for Chelsea Football Club and many more.
Halcrow Group mission statement is to maintain and improve the quality of people’s lives’ including ‘skills and innovation; enjoying what we do; delivering within time and budget’, codes of business behaviour and business principles.
Halcrow Group operates with honesty, integrity and fairness and expect the same from all those with whom they do business; including a clear description about the kind of behaviour Halcrow Group expect from its employees.
Figure 1: Halcrow Group Limited Structure
Halcrow Group Group’s strategy
Halcrow Group’s operations were brought together in 2001 with four main business groups: Property, Transport, Consulting and Water operating as a matrix structure across eight geographical regions. Each of Halcrow Group’s four Business Groups has a management team comprising of five people including a Group board director or managing director. Employees are assigned to an office in one of the regions, varying in size from less than ten to more than 500 employees. Corporate Support Services, comprising all the corporate and business support functions, including, Human Resource function with 31 employees divided between three teams, ‘Personnel’ (22), ‘Pensions’ (3) and ‘Training’ (6) with a Director at the executive level.
SHRM at Halcrow Group
Central to its plan in relation to its HRM strategy, in 2004 Halcrow Group launched its change programme, ‘Act now’, designed to align employees’ behaviours and attitudes to Halcrow Group’s purpose, values, codes of behaviour and business principles thereby improving individual, team and overall business performance and change the organisation’s culture.
Halcrow Group employees tend to be concerned with ‘detail’ rather than seeing the bigger picture. The challenge for Halcrow Group is to retain the reputation for technical excellence and consistency while becoming increasingly commercially flexible and responsive to customer needs.
Some of Halcrow Group HRM initiatives to support the change programme are:
The development of core competences: Employees at Halcrow Group believe that a professional qualification will help them to develop the right skill set needed for development of a core competence programme.
The introduction of 360-degree appraisal: Halcrow Group believed that the introduction of 360-degree appraisal would make a significant contribution the ‘Act now’ culture change initiative. In addition, Halcrow Group is also dealing with ‘ignore and deflect culture’ in which people sought to evade responsibility for mistakes rather than being open enough to learn from them. Using employee appraisal, Halcrow Group management believes that a far greater degree of openness will be developed.
Initiation of a profit share bonus scheme: This scheme was designed to create awareness of the Group’s profit performance among its employees. From Halcrow Group management’s view, such scheme has the potential to make a major contribution of developing Halcrow Group employees more commercially and to be aware of the company’s values. In order to achieve this, senior management sets clear targets of its profit performance, as an effective way of focussing the minds of employees on profit performance.
‘Ideas labs’ development: As part of its management innovation programme designed to promote innovative thinking and enable commercially valuable ideas; including adding value to the business and encouraging cross-fertilisation between disciplines.
Generally, most of the key SHRM changes at Halcrow Group are helping its employees to be to be more responsive and competitive in the industry.
Other critical issues facing HR at Halcrow Group includes a significance of customer feedback, which is increasingly showing that customers are taking technical excellence for granted when making decisions about which consultancy group to employ which is bad news for the Group.
Young Graduate Retention Measure
HR at Halcrow is aware of the problem of retention creating a shortage of high quality consultants throughout the construction and engineering sectors and competition for consultants is high. HR at Halcrow understands that there is a decline in the number of construction-related graduates in the UK, the number of students studying relevant courses in the UK dropping by 10% in the late 1990s.
Halcrow HR response to this issue is to ensure that global training of key staff to ensure compliance with industry standards takes place. In addition, organisational structure issues such as the revision of reporting relationships to ensure greater transparency are receiving attention.
The level of staff turnover at Halcrow Group and decline in the number of graduates entering the construction-related industry now a top priority for Halcrow HR. Halcrow HR now use key performance indicator for its staff turnover. The company is also helping its HR to acquire professional qualifications through CIPD, an important qualification that will help mentoring, coaching and development of a more customer-focused HR team.
International Strategic HRM at Halcrow Group
Halcrow Group has been pursuing its plan for growth through acquisitions in countries overseas and improving its international staffing policy. This has changed in the recent years with more overseas expertise in various countries (China and Dubai) are now involving in many overseas projects from Halcrow Group at a relative cost of labour compared with the UK.
The scale of Halcrow Group’s international business can be seen from the fact that about 40% of the Group’s workforces are involved overseas including new HR managers appointed in Dubai, UAE, transnational employees from Halcrow Group’s Eastern European, Chinese and Asian operations.
Halcrow Group is able to achieve this by using its codes of behaviour that stress the need for honesty, transparency and integrity in all Halcrow Group’s business operations and state that all employees will:
Treat everyone with respect, trust and dignity
Help each other -share experiences and lessons learned
Never undermine anyone directly or indirectly
Work together to resolve disagreements
Be professional and ethical at all times
Listen to others’ points of view
Honesty and openness
Through the writing of HR policies and disseminating them in the overseas operations, the use of a code of behavior is gradually building good relations between HR and the international management teams to the extent where they now see the point of taking HR seriously.
Evaluation of SHRM at Halcrow Group
Halcrow Group introduced the Group wide ’employee survey’ to measure staff satisfaction, and provide information to help the organisation improve its leadership, management and skills base in 2000. Kaisen Consulting Ltd and independent firm is managing the questionnaire administered every two years to employees worldwide. The aims of the survey are to identify strengths as well as areas that require improvement in Halcrow employees.
An approximately 30 questions were used in 2004 to ascertain the employees’ views on ten key areas including the direction of Halcrow, employee commitment, employees job clarity, empowerment, client focus, competence, work resources, involvement, cooperation from others, feedback and recognition. The outcome was a positive and very encouraging with response rates of over 67% of employees worldwide returning their questionnaire in 2002 and 72% in 2004.
In the result of the 2000 employee survey, Halcrow Group was able to identify those areas of strategic human resource management highlighted by employees as being most in need of attention. These were:
Results from the surveys suggest that there have been improvements in all three areas. However, data from the survey and other sources suggest that there is still more to be done to improve these and other aspects of human resource management such as employee engagement. Halcrow Group’s senior managers are currently working with Kaisen Consulting to develop clear action plans to improve the managerial environment which employees will also be involved.
Data from Halcrow Group’s employee survey calculates an HR Enablement Index for the Group, an average score of responses to all the questions in each of the ten key areas. This index provides an overall indication of the extent to which employees are engaged with their work within the Group. By comparing the 2004 HR Enablement Index score with the 2002; it showed that there had been no significant change in employee engagement.
Retention rate data were not also improving for the same period, Halcrow Group is working hard to find a solution to this problem from a range of data including employee exit interviews, staff workshops, employee engagement and further analysis of the employee survey data.
Data from other surveys also used to evaluate SHRM within the Halcrow Group. These include the use of the Business Excellence Model (BEM) self-assessment process (British Quality Foundation, 2001) to help illuminate the issues raised in employee surveys, staff workshops focussing upon issues of particular importance, and internal customer satisfaction surveys. In addition, they argue that an employee ‘feel good factor’ is also important.
Using the range of secondary data, it helps Halcrow to understand which information to monitor, evaluate and to learn from in order to improve Halcrow SHRM initiatives. For example, Non Compliance Reports from external auditing by the British Standards Institute (BSI) relating to quality standards. Likewise the introduction of 360 degree feedback and client satisfaction surveys discussed earlier, have highlighted the importance of initiatives to ensure employees engage with the company and also understand the client’s needs.
Halcrow Group continue to use the proper process and compare itself with other companies in the sector using a variety of approaches like benchmarking for prospective clients as part of the tendering for the new contract process. For example, the UK Highways Agency uses ‘Capability Assessment Testing’ to benchmark potential suppliers and assess their alignment to what they require.
In conclusion, Halcrow Group sees monitoring and evaluation essential as a yardstick to determine whether SHRM initiatives within the ‘Act now’ programme are effective or ineffective. Halcrow Group also believes that its Act Now programme needs continuous evaluation so that it will align to the future direction of Halcrow Group strategic human resources.
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