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When I joined Servest Multi-Service Group, the soft facilities provider, in August 2009 the business had a skeleton HR team. Tasks such as checking ID were handled by the payroll team. But with 2,500 employees and plans to grow further, Servest’s board recognised that the group needed a professional HR resource. All seven members of our current HR team, which includes two people working in an HR shared services admin function, joined the company at same time. With a background of working in HR in large organisations, I joined Servest with ideas about introducing talent matrices and the like. But as a team, we soon realised we needed to go back to HR basics. This meant, for example, conducting a staff audit and asking all staff to provide documents proving their right to work in the UK. We then started to build the group’s management capability. It quickly became apparent that while managers were strong operationally, many lacked the essential skills to manage and motivate staff. But then we discovered that these skills had not been part of their job descriptions; not only that, but they did not have full job descriptions. We quickly put that right, while also giving all managers training in the basics of good people management. We then coached selected managers to a higher level to allow them to become HR champions and to coach and support our less experienced managers. We reinforced this training with an HR guide that gives managers practical guidance in an accessible way. With a more professional HR service in place, we were keen to gain staff feedback, so in November 2010 we launched My View, an employment engagement survey. One of the key responses we got was that staff didn’t feel they were getting enough time with their line managers. So we developed and launched a new appraisal system, which gives staff face-to-face time with their managers. Out of that has grown My Journey, a modular training programme for all employees. Working with Telford College last year, we also rolled out an NVQ training programme to help our staff communicate effectively. We are planning to launch the Servest Apprenticeship Academy in the next 12 months, with the target of signing up 25 per cent of our operatives onto that scheme. In addition, we hope to introduce the Servest Graduate programme within the next 18 months.Our investment in these and other training initiatives has demonstrated to staff that we value their contribution. As a result, our retention rate for employees who have been with us for 12 months or more has gone up from 60 per cent in 2009 to 96 per cent in 2011– an unusually high level for the facilities sector. The number of grievances has also fallen significantly, a trend we hope will continue once we roll out an in-house mediation scheme that we have already used informally. However, Servest is a low margin business, which pays a limited wage to workers such as cleaning operatives and security guards, who will often go elsewhere for an extra 5p an hour. So we have to work hard to create a culture where staff are loyal to the business. This is an ongoing process, as we are constantly dealing with Tupe transfers from new contracts and from acquisitions. In October 2011, for example, we purchased Turners Cleaning and Support Services, which increased our staff numbers by 3,000, bringing the total to 8,000. A more professional HR service is helping Servest rise to the challenge of integrating new groups of employees into the organisation.