ISSN 1175-5407

Delivering High Performance in New Zealand Post: The Role of HR as a Strategic Partner

Professor Jim Arrowsmith, AFHRINZ

Abstract: The theory and practice of HRM has been dominated by its potentially strategic role and contribution to business success. There is a growing body of evidence for the success of ‘high performance work systems’ (HPWS) based on teamwork and employee involvement. However, much of the empirical research has been dominated by large-scale surveys of manufacturing industries. This case study of New Zealand Post explores the process of designing and implementing a successful HR change programme based on HPWS. It demonstrates how HR initiatives can make significant improvements to business performance and also identifies critical success factors such as careful planning, evaluation and systematic engagement of key stakeholders.

Introduction

The theory and practice of human resource management (HRM) has been dominated by its potentially ‘strategic’ role and value and, more specifically, the question of how to contribute to creating and sustaining ‘high-performance work systems’ (HPWS) based on teamwork and employee involvement. In the 1990s an increasingly authoritative body of literature argued that sustained business success now more than ever required high levels of employee engagement (Ulrich, 1997; Pfeffer, 1998). The HR function was recognised as having an important part to play in promoting a high-performance culture through practices such as rigorous recruitment and selection, employee training and development, appropriate rewards schemes and performance management, and by promoting forms of work organisation that enhanced employee teamwork, flexibility, discretion and involvement (Huselid, 1995; MacDuffie, 1995). The job of HR, whether in a manufacturing (Applebaum, Bailey, Berg & Kalleberg, 2000) or service environment (Boxall, 2003) was to help ensure that the organisation was staffed with people committed to quality and customer satisfaction, and that they were managed and deployed as effectively as possible.

This was, however, more often easily said than done. Common problems include rationalisation and restructuring which, together with financial pressures, often undermine the process of trust-building necessary for HPWS to succeed over the longer term (Burchell, 2002). Managers, especially at the frontline, may also find it difficult to adapt to new styles of working based on worker participation and empowerment (Edwards, Geary & Sisson, 2002). Yet many organisations did persist with the drive for high-performance working, aided by new systems of HR metrics such as the balanced scorecard (BSC) (Kaplan & Norton, 1996). Here, the key to success was to forge a partnership between HR and the line, driven by senior management commitment (Hutchinson and Purcell, 2003).

This case study describes how HR and line managers worked together to develop and apply a culture-change initiative based on high-performance working in New Zealand Post. The case is based on company documentation and discussion with managers involved. It charts the implementation of an initiative designed to improve the leadership qualities of frontline management in the postal delivery business, with remarkable results. This was recognised by the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) award of HR Initiative of the Year in 2009.

New Zealand Post

New Zealand Post is one of the country’s most distinguished companies. It is one of New Zealand’s oldest organisations, with a heritage dating back to the 1840s. It was run as a government department until becoming a ‘state-owned enterprise’ (SOE) in 1987. This introduced an arms-length relationship to the state and a remit to act both commercially and as a ‘good employer’. It has been consistently profitable since its incorporation as an SOE over twenty years ago, during which time it has returned more than a billion dollars to the state in taxes and dividends. It is now one of New Zealand’s largest firms, directly responsible for around 10,000 employees and with a further 7,000 employed in affiliated operations throughout the country.

The Group successfully operates a diverse and complex portfolio of businesses including banking, payment services, goods distribution and logistics, marketing and information management in addition to the traditional delivery of mail. However, the processing and delivery of domestic mail is a core function of the business. Around 2,300 postal workers (‘posties’) are employed at 120 sites around the country to distribute mail to some 1.4 million urban addresses, with a further 535 Rural Post owner-drivers servicing 208,000 delivery points. It is a labour-intensive business with high fixed costs, of which around 70% are employment related. It has also faced a number of challenges in recent years. The postal market was deregulated in 1998, bringing increased competitive pressures to a firm that remained obliged to operate a universal service. Then there was the impact of the internet. On the one hand it reduced mail traffic due to substitution by email and digital transfer. On the other there was an increase in the delivery of items purchased through the web, accompanied by a growth in direct marketing to reach customers at home. In short, the number of items processed each year remained high (approaching a billion individual deliveries) but overall volumes are declining and items have become heavier, bulkier and more diverse, making them more difficult and expensive to deliver. An increase in delivery points, a corollary to demographic and social change, also brought pressures on productivity and costs.

One response was to invest in new hardware, not least to upgrade mail processing systems and equipment to the latest technology available, and to rationalise mail processing capacity nationally. New sorting machines were introduced at six key processing sites (Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Auckland), accompanied by a new national postcode scheme to improve mail processing efficiency. However, the business was still confronted with the ‘last mile’ challenge of postal delivery from processing centres to their final delivery point (an urban or rural letterbox or a post office box). Unlike the technology solution in mail processing, the solution here was people-based, with front line leaders crucial to its success.

Improving performance through people

It was evident that greater attention had to be paid to the ‘software’ dimensions of performance in order to establish standardisation, consistency and sustainable processes and results across the postal delivery network nationally. The focal points of the postal delivery business strategy (‘Creating a High Performance Culture’) were building a safety culture, creating a world class operational environment, developing high performing leaders, building a highly engaged workforce, and redesigning work and pay systems to meet the changing needs of the business. Frontline leadership had been identified as a particular area where significant improvements could be made as it was frontline leaders who were responsible for daily results and who were influential in supporting change and employee engagement. The 180 frontline leaders employed in the Delivery business had an important management role in ensuring that standard operating processes were implemented daily. The changing nature of the business also meant increasing challenges in areas such as matching resources to daily fluctuating mail volumes, managing labour budgets, industrial relations issues and workforce performance and engagement. They had to deal with issues arising from different types of mail, new products, new initiatives, and to have the flexibility to engage and meet the demands of an increasingly diverse workforce.

These frontline leader roles (a mix of branch leader, team leader and ‘leading hand’ type roles around different sites) had therefore developed into a crucial leadership role, especially as the business became more dynamic. They needed to have direct responsibility for the recruitment, retention, motivation and development of the core workforce of posties and support staff, with whom they had to build a customer-focused mindset, open to change. They also had to respond constructively to the challenge presented by a highly-unionised workforce and what was until very recently a tight labour market, and the different needs of a workforce that was generally aging but also becoming more diverse, most particularly in metropolitan centres.

There were signs however that the behaviours and performance of the frontline leadership cohort was lacking. Across branches there was inconsistent performance across most areas of the BSC; new initiatives were difficult to implement; employment relations issues were continually bubbling from sites because issues were not being dealt with early; there were few leaders considered to have the potential to develop further; and there was a lack of confidence from senior management in their ability to manage the changes that were coming in the next few years. In addition, the trade unions raised concerns about the quality of frontline leadership and their perception that nothing was being done to develop these people (many of whom were union members) in career terms and to make them better and more effective managers. Perhaps just as importantly was that frontline leaders themselves referred to ambiguities and difficulties in their role. Some felt they were not fully accepted as managers by the company, whereas others had difficulties differentiating themselves from the shopfloor - even though they were generally perceived as management by staff. In the words of one senior HR manager, these tensions meant that many felt ‘in no-man’s land’ or as ‘the meat in the sandwich’ rather than as credible leaders in their own right.

The ‘GOAL’ initiative

The aim of the GOAL initiative – ‘Great Operations and Leadership’ – was to go beyond the traditional approach of placing frontline leaders on development programmes. The company had for years offered a range of programmes (including performance management, coaching, influencing, communicating, relationship management and programmes specifically targeting frontline leadership), but these alone did not deliver enduring performance improvements across the board. Instead, it was decided to systematically map out and implement a framework for a best practice delivery operation. This would involve a bundle of reinforcing interventions including a redefinition of job roles, new recruitment strategies, modularised on-the-job training and mentoring. Crucially, in terms of harnessing senior management support, an accreditation process was also introduced to clearly identify completion stages and demonstrate measurable outcomes. GOAL was therefore designed to be a comprehensive but integrated programme based on a clear analysis of the problem and careful implementation. The overall design and implementation of the programme is discussed below, followed by consideration of the experience of one important test-case site in section five.

Analysis

The initiative was created by a small (1.5 full-time equivalent) corporate-based project team led by a Delivery Business Leader, Leigh Jamieson, in collaboration with the HR function. The team adopted a coherent approach to understand current and required performance. This was based on the idea that performance is a function of ability, motivation, opportunity and direction – or by way of abbreviation P = A x M x O x D – which is robustly grounded in the organisational psychology and HRM literature (see e.g. Boxall and Purcell, 2008). The four components of performance were viewed in broad terms:

  • ‘ability’ embraces knowledge, skills, mental and physical capability, and emotional intelligence;
  • ‘motivation’ refers to values, attitude, incentives, the confidence to do the job and whether the job was seen as worthwhile;
  • ‘opportunity’ encompasses features of the organisational environment such as time, equipment, budget, job design, support systems and the physical environment
  • 'direction’ includes the elaboration and communication of expectations, relevant performance measures, feedback, coaching, and understanding and application of consequences

The premise of this framework is that under-performance reflects a weakness in one or more of these components. For example, a team leader could have the ability and motivationto lead their people really well, but if the design of the role means they spend much of their time on administration or assisting workers in carrying out their own tasks then they lack the opportunity to perform a leadership role effectively.

Analysis of frontline leadership performance proceeded through interviews, survey and focus groups, and identified weaknesses in each of these areas. In terms of ability, there were problems of communication skills, in modelling appropriate behaviour, and to do with performance management, planning and technical knowledge. Many had low educational attainment (40% had no qualifications and 20% school certificate only) and had not entered the position from any succession planning process. Most were motivated to perform well in their role, as understood by them, though these positions were not seen as particularly attractive - they were viewed as difficult, stressful and not a valued part of the overall management team. This in turn reflected problems relating to opportunity, such as a wide range of accountabilities, unclear reporting lines and large team size, and direction, with insufficiently-focused performance measures and an apparent lack of consequences for those consistently failing to meet objectives.

The objective of GOAL was to define a ‘best practice’ delivery operation by setting out clear leadership practices. The focus was on what frontline leaders should be doing, and how to support and enable them to achieve this. Workshops held with leaders at all levels of the business helped to develop a vision of what a high-performance team might look like (Excerpt 1). This underpinned the various interventions, including job redesign, skills development and performance management, that comprised the GOAL framework.

Excerpt 1: A vision of a high-performing delivery team

As you walk on site you see that it is in good physical condition. It is tidy, clean, light and well-laid out. The equipment is ‘fit for purpose’ and well maintained. Everyone is working productively, following our standard processes in a streamlined way. They willingly help each other out as needed. There is a positive energy and attitude.

Team members are aware and interested in how they, the group and the company are doing. They talk about the importance of the customer (both sending and receiving) and this drives the way they do their work. They care about customer complaints and, where appropriate, change the way they do things to ensure similar incidents do not reoccur. Everyone is health and safety conscious. They take responsibility by managing their hazards and taking care of themselves and others. They pride themselves on ensuring all the data they provide is timely and accurate – this includes volume, delivery point and docket data. Team members understand and embrace change as part of a constant evolution to meet the needs of customers and the business. They bring their brains to work and discuss ways of working smarter to develop and introduce better ways of doing things.

The Delivery Team Leader creates an environment which allows each person to perform consistently well. The Delivery Team Leader recruits appropriately and their induction programme ensures that new team members know what is expected of them, are well trained and able to integrate easily into the team. The Delivery Team Leader provides their team members with relevant, accurate and timely information about the team and also the bigger picture. They consult constructively with their team members about issues that affect them.

Everyone receives frequent feedback from their leader on how they are doing. This occurs both formally through regular 1:1s and informally. Feedback includes recognition of their positive contributions to the team and wider group. Everyone has a development plan and this is supported by effective coaching from their leader. Individuals who wish to progress their careers take up development opportunities. Everyone feels that they are listened to and valued.

Teams have good relationships with internal and external suppliers. Any issues are dealt with promptly and positively so that there is minimal impact on operations. The Delivery Team Leader has good relationships with Union Delegates and Organisers – in fact the Union uses this team as a model of workplace engagement. The team’s business results are outstanding. Customer complaints, absenteeism, leave liability and voluntary staff turnover figures are low. The team has ACC tertiary status and injuries rarely occur. Resourcing, overtime and unit cost figures are at appropriate levels. All fully trained staff members have consistently good BS Rates. The team operates within its budget. Team Gallup results are excellent.

Everyone in the team experiences a balance of work and fun – they are passionate about Delivery and have fun doing it.

Initiatives

The core of GOAL involved a process, tailored to the implementation site, of reviewing and revising job descriptions, objectives and measures; recruiting to the new roles and inducting successful applicants; providing close on-the ground support to incumbents for their first six months, plus 8 workshops for Group and Team Leaders (5 for Delivery Support) and a range of supporting documentation. Implementation concluded with auditing and accreditation. These initiatives can be briefly summarised under the AMOD framework (table 1).

Table 1. GOAL initiatives

ABILITY

Individual development plans were introduced (based on the ‘Lominger’ competency framework) to enhance technical and leadership skills
and encourage a customer and team-focused mindset. This was delivered through a modular framework involving 70% structured learning on the job,
20% coaching and 10% from formal training resources such as workshops and written material.

MOTIVATION A new recruitment strategy aimed to attract high performers to the roles as well as re-motivate existing frontline leaders.
OPPORTUNITY Roles and structures were redefined to free up time for leadership activities. A new support role was introduced.
Work units were clearly defined as team rather than branch. Succession planning built in to development and
by assigning individuals to specific Developing Group Leader and Developing Team Leader roles.
DIRECTION Clear expectations and measures given via new job descriptions, performance measures and
performance management and more broadly via Accreditation

A new organisational structure was introduced to support the redefined and new roles, based on a philosophy of managing teams rather than managing branches. Typically, under the new structure, a Delivery Team Leader (DTL) would manage between 14 to 20 posties plus one Delivery Support worker. The latter is a redefined role designed to release the Team Leader of operational and administrative work. It is purely a support role and has no developmental intent. The leadership responsibilities of DTLs include selecting, inducting, training and developing team members, conducting quarterly individual appraisals and regular team briefings. They are also responsible for their team’s personnel budget, and for decision making around disciplinary process outcomes. Several DTLs would then report to a Delivery Group Leader (DGL) who may have responsibilities across one or more locations. Under the transition, existing Branch Leaders (BLs) were expected to become DGLs or possibly DTLs if they were based in smaller branches; equally, existing DTLs may have remained as such or fill the delivery support (DS) role.

A key objective of the role restructuring was thus to free leaders from operational activities in order to devote more time to people, planning and business management roles. This is clearly indicated by Table 2 which records and estimates the time dedicated to these three sets of responsibilities in the existing and new roles (based on daily diary records for existing post-holders and estimates for the new roles).

Table 2. Actual and estimated time dedicated to job activities

Activity time in %
Established roles People Planning and business management Operations
BL (large branch) 65 12 23
BL (medium) 40 10 50
DTL 22 7 71
New roles
DGL 60 35 5
DTL 75 15 10
DS 5 5 90

From the outset it was acknowledged that GOAL was not the only initiative that would contribute towards creating a high performing culture in Delivery.
Other relevant initiatives underway included:

  • Implementing a balanced scorecard for measuring performance at all levels and a ‘5S’ housekeeping program
  • Improvements to postie recruitment, induction and training, and safety and wellbeing initiatives
  • Systems upgrades, e.g. work measurement system
  • Business Unit Incentive Program
  • Delivery branch amalgamation programs.

Implementation

The development of the GOAL programme involved an initial research phase and the delivery of a comprehensive report detailing the findings and proposed initiatives to senior management.
However implementation faced an early obstacle. Senior management had concerns that the project had no measure of progress or completion. They also suspected it would cost time and money to implement without providing a direct business benefit, particularly financial, at a time when other changes (noted above) were being introduced. The response to the first concern was to design an accreditation framework to measure and recognise those sites implementing GOAL; this also provided a further opportunity to educate senior managers and others about the programme. The response to the second was to propose a pilot scheme to demonstrate its worth.

Accreditation

The accreditation process was designed to fulfil three functions:

  • Education: to provide a detailed picture of best practice in Delivery leadership to help those involved understand the purpose of GOAL and to assist in implementation

  • Measurement: offering a mechanism to monitor implementation stages

  • Recognition: recognising the achievements of Delivery sites in completing the programme

Accreditation involves an interim review, after around twelve months, followed by a formal audit of practice against defined criteria relating to six key areas.
These are Leadership (including communication, team meetings); Planning (goal-setting and action plans); Customer Focus (communication and use of customer data); Information and Resources (e.g. analysis of performance data); HR Focus (e.g. job design, recruitment, induction and succession planning, performance management, training and development, safety and well-being, and employee engagement); and Process Management (management control and risk frameworks). The Accreditors observe actual practice, interview staff at all levels, and review relevant evidence (e.g. meeting notes, planning documents, Individual Performance Planning documents, development plans).

Piloting

The idea of the pilot was to demonstrate results, both in terms of tangible business outcomes and to show what the new ways of working looked like in practice. The first site was Christchurch City branch, where a GOAL programme manager worked alongside the regional and site leaders to implement the initiative. One of the key learning points of this exercise was the difficulty of undertaking a significant culture change programme in a ‘live’, high-pressure business environment. First, operation pressures diverted attention from implementation. Second, staff may be suspicious or resistant to change. This means that implementation needed to be clearly resourced.

Unfortunately, early progress was impeded by a company-wide restructuring in mid-2006. This meant that existing projects were terminated, transferred to a new Business Improvement Division, or handed back to business units with the risk of ‘business as usual’. The latter was decided for GOAL, and the initiative lost its programme manager. Nevertheless, Christchurch City was accredited in early 2007, with the Delivery Business Leader there summarising the benefits in the following terms (table 3)

Table 3. Christchurch City pilot results

Team Leader Development Training and progression of TLs into higher roles
Improved TL Direction and Motivation Better understanding of role responsibilities leading to more
committed, motivated and effective TLs
Continuous Improvement TLs operated as a team themselves, sharing ideas for improvement
Adaptability Better communication structures helped ease the pace of change
Higher Thinking Leaders were exposed to wider business information

The GOAL programme was therefore handed over to the Delivery business HR function to continue implementation. Given the lack of dedicated resource, subsequent implementation sites were chosen where regional leaders were supportive and benefited from a high level of local HR support. By the end of 2008 three more Delivery Branches had implemented GOAL: Te Puni (Petone), North City (Porirua) and Marua Road in Auckland. The latter is now generally seen as a ‘best practice’ operation and, given that it began life as one of the most problematic sites, its success encouraged national-level senior management to adopt the GOAL framework for running branches as a standard.

The Marua Road Experience

Delivery operations began at Marua Road in October 2006 following the amalgamation of five branches. It became the largest branch in the country with 120 posties working in five district teams. The Delivery Group Leader, Rachel Hathaway, was recruited from outside the delivery business and welcomed the opportunity to use GOAL as a framework to introduce best practice to the site. She arrived immediately prior to the amalgamation and was supported by the new regional leader, Jon Andrews, who saw the programme as an opportunity to remodel delivery operations in South Auckland. Also key to implementing GOAL was Rebekah Blake, the local Leadership Consultant who had been asked to take over responsibility for the programme within the Delivery business. Blake spent four months at the branch to assist with GOAL implementation and deal with a number of industrial relations problems that followed amalgamation.

It was certainly not an auspicious start for the project. The amalgamation brought together staff from five branches with different cultures and levels of performance, and there were early power plays between team leaders and different union representatives drawn from two competing unions (PWUA and EPMU). This atmosphere (described by Hathaway as ‘toxic’) compounded employees’ usual suspicion of change and there were a number of disputes, mediations and petitions in the early stages. Fortunately these dissipated over time and the implementation of GOAL proceeded in February 2007, with completion (fully operational status) a year later. The branch achieved accreditation in September 2008, which will last until a review in September 2010.

Implementation involved new job descriptions and a consultation process undertaken prior to the appointments for TL roles. All leaders and support staff attended GOAL training courses which included practical on-the-job application of principles learned. Development plans were drawn up for each individual and this was supported by daily reinforcement from their leaders and a formal monthly one-to-one meeting for team leaders and above. Business results and progress against plans are also discussed at these meetings against a balanced scorecard approach, with action plans agreed for the next period. Team leaders were issued with desks on the shopfloor and support workers were appointed to takeover daily administration tasks. The TLs were required to maintain a daily performance dialogue with their staff. Formal one-to-one meetings are also held for every postie on a quarterly basis to discuss performance and the requirements of the role.

A business impact review conducted in April 2008 used a range of statistical measures to assess GOAL, with very favourable results as summarised below.

  • Financial performance: Marua Road achieved an impressive 4.3% favourable budget variance (ie a saving for the year of $205,000) against a challenging budget for 2007/8. This reflected improvements in productivity and a 50% reduction in overtime. The measure of unit costs used (cents per letter equivalent unit, LEU) improved by nearly 12%, from 15.49 to 13.64, against an upward national trend.
  • Productivity: The postie productivity measure steadily improved throughout the GOAL period, climbing to 98.52% from 84.79%. This approximates the national average and is significantly above comparable Auckland branches

  • Resourcing: The measure of hours used, compared to a standard rate, for the mail volume processed also showed steady improvement over the year, from 31.17% to 15.06%. At that time, it remained behind the national mean but is statistically significantly better than comparable Auckland branches

  • Customer complaints: Again, a steady decline in complaints which halved from 23.28 per million LEUs to a mean of 12.08 since February 2008. This is above the national mean but again significantly better than other large Auckland branches

  • Employee engagement: Gallup runs a 12-question employee poll (branded as ‘Pulse’) covering perceptions of growth opportunities, teamwork, management support and basic work needs. The mean score was 3.60 in March 2007 and 4.07 in March 2008. This represented the largest improvement for any branch in the country. This has translated into reduced employee absence and turnover. Absenteeism fell from 3.36% to 1.80% February 2007 to February 2008, and compares favourably to the 3.0% of comparable Auckland branches. Turnover rates remained high, in what was a buoyant labour market, but a rate of 34.34% compares well to the 43.72% observed in comparable Auckland branches. In addition, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (Number of Lost Time Injuries per 200,000 work hours) fell from 15.49 to 4.97 over the same period.

The results therefore demonstrated continued improvement and lent strong support to the argument that implementation of GOAL can eventually be cost-neutral. To some extent this level of improvement could be attributed to the inauspicious start, but progress was maintained such that the branch now compares very well to similar operations. It also delivered this performance improvement in a difficult financial year.

The success of the GOAL programme was also supported by qualitative data. The regional Delivery Business Leader and Delivery Group Leader reported huge behavioural changes in leaders and support staff transferred from the old branches. Communication has been transformed, with discussion of performance (in terms of productivity and resourcing) now the norm on the shopfloor. Team leaders are also much more comfortable in managing poor performance and applying appropriate coaching and disciplinary interventions. The Delivery Group Leader also reported that she had more time for business planning and for the development of team leaders rather than day-to-day operational management.

Three of the original TLs left the business during GOAL implementation. These all occurred early during implementation when individuals made personal decisions about working in a new way and to a new job description. Their replacements came from within the Delivery business, but found that they were much better equipped with GOAL to make the transition to being a leader. These TLs also said they were attracted to the positions given the emphasis on teamwork, communication and development compared to elsewhere, a view of the role echoed in interviews by the other three team leaders. One of the Marua Road TLs has also gone on to run a delivery branch, demonstrating the success of leadership development. Finally, a survey of posties also showed a favourable perception of the workplace compared to previous branches, especially in terms of communication, team work and approachability of team leaders, and individual support. These elements were seen as subjectively important in contributing to a positive work culture, given the relatively large size of the branch, as well as in achieving tasks efficiently.

Industrial relations have also improved. In contrast to the relatively high levels of conflict observed in the initial period (everything from disputes over car park facilities and which radio station should be played to threatened legal and industrial action, petitions to change management decisions etc), managers have been able to address and resolve difficult issues (such as bonus targets) constructively both through union channels and focus groups of employees. Team leaders are not so much now consumed with ‘fire fighting’ as they would be in other similarly-sized delivery sites, and they benefit from clear expectations and coaching.

As Rachel Hathaway put it:

“Team leaders had previously had very little support or development in their roles and even though they had been running their own smaller delivery branches really did not understand performance expectations or processes. There was a huge amount of resistance to GOAL and what it meant to them, whether it was extra work, team size, desks being out on the floor with the posties, managing disciplines or simply holding daily performance conversations. There have been some very honest and tough conversations with team leaders. There have been letters of expectation given to team leaders which I think has been a huge shock as they have never been exposed to that level of expectation before. I think the change in business results and the feedback from the posties, support staff and team leaders really show the benefits we have gained from implementing GOAL at Marua Road. I do not think that this branch would have worked without GOAL as it provides structure and clarity of accountability”.

Jon Andrews agreed that the initiative had contributed to improved performance at all levels:

“I believe GOAL has delivered a number of improvements and opportunities. What is key for me is that everyone – from team leader right up to my role – is operating at the right level. The ‘hygiene’ tasks have been removed from mine and Rachel’s roles and it’s the team leaders who run the branch on a day-to-day basis...

I have seen significant improvements in business results and I am convinced this is because of the way the branch operates. The GOAL accreditation framework provides a practical ‘map’ on how to be an effective leader in our Delivery business – what it is our people need to specifically do to create a site where leadership is effective. At Marua Road it clearly set the expectations for the team leaders and enabled us to manage the performance of those who were not at the level we required...Having everyone working at the right level means that if someone leaves or is seconded from their role, the performance of the branch continues...

For me what is most impressive is that what we have created is sustainable. GOAL has enabled us to create a sustainably successful frontline operation for our Delivery business where performance is actively managed at all levels with the result of sustainably improved business results; standard operating procedures are followed and risks are reduced; and new initiatives are easily trialled and rolled out.”

Conclusions and learning points

The programme made a major contribution to turning around the performance of Marua Road and the success of the initiative ensured that it continued to be rolled out at other sites (though the label GOAL has disappeared to reinforce the message that this should be the normal way a branch is run). The programme generated business improvements as measured by budgetary and productivity indices, reduced customer complaints and better staff attendance, safety and turnover rates. Posties and team leaders also came out of the process with higher levels of engagement than before.

The case therefore illustrates the results of what can be achieved though a best HR practice approach based on rigorous recruitment and selection; job redesign and teamworking; communication and performance management; training, development and succession planning. There also wider lessons to be learned from the careful approach to design, implementation and review undertaken in this case. First, significant culture change initiatives take time to develop and implement and are likely to generate resistance from those affected, at leadership levels as well as shopfloor. Hence it is essential to obtain buy-in and ownership from senior business management to maintain credibility and momentum in often challenging circumstances. In this case, GOAL was driven by a partnership of HR and operational managers at all levels and at each stage of the project, from conception to accreditation. Second, senior management need to see results if they are to continue to support initiatives of this type and scale. This can be done by piloting at test sites and, importantly, demonstrating improvements through clear (ideally quantitative) evidence. Third is that such projects need talented champions who are committed to the exercise and able to convince others, as well as personally persist and overcome obstacles to success. Such was the case at Marua Road with, in particular, Rebekah Blake and Rachel Hathaway.

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Chris Fitzgerald for co-ordinating and providing assistance; any errors of fact or interpretation are of course my own.

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