Meet the winners of the CIPD People Management Awards 2020

We reveal those pronounced victorious at this year’s slightly different virtual ceremony – including a council tackling racial equality long before this became a headline issue

Meet the winners of the CIPD People Management Awards 2020

Best diversity and inclusion initiative and overall winner: Bristol City Council (pictured)

When the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown off Bristol’s quayside in June as part of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees found himself being asked the same question: why, despite petitions, debates and proposals for reworded plaques, did the statue still stand? And why did some roads, schools and other buildings still – despite several others dropping it – bear his name?

But Rees’s understandable sense was that the question was being misdirected, and the situation much more nuanced. “The BBC asked me: ‘Why didn’t you take down the statue?’” Rees, Europe’s first directly elected mayor of black African-Caribbean descent, told the Guardian back in July. “I said: ‘Wait there, it’s been there for X number of years, I turn up and suddenly it’s my fault there’s a statue to a slaver in the middle of the city?’”

Rees’s reaction to whether the statue coming down in the way it did was a good thing or not also encapsulates the unavoidable complexity of the issue for many. “The world is full of contradictions and truths that are difficult bedfellows. I have to uphold order at the same time as... saying I’m not going to mourn the loss of the statue to the plinth,” he said.

The story of Bristol and racial equality is a necessarily knotty one, then. What it isn’t, however, is a story of the authorities turning a blind eye to problems – but rather tackling such complexities and an uncomfortable past head on long before this summer’s events made the city headline news.

In fact, it was Rees’s election four years ago that catalysed a D&I initiative so ambitious, wide-ranging and successful that it scooped both the best diversity and inclusion initiative award and coveted overall winner prize at this year’s CIPD People Management Awards. Deputy mayor Asher Craig relates to People Management the significant equality challenges – both in relation to the council and wider city – confronting her and Rees when elected in 2016. 

“The first day of being able to access the annals of the local authority, I wanted to see what the make-up of the organisation was,” Craig, a campaigner on racial injustice, says. What she found was, despite good headway before 2010, ethnic minority staff had “literally left in their droves” since a change of government and austerity measures, with representation particularly lacking at senior level. “I found some semblance of an equalities team, but no one was paying it any attention,” she says. Added to this, think tank Runnymede had declared Bristol one of the most unequal cities and one of the worst in the UK for racial equality. So action was needed not just in relation to the council’s workforce, but citywide. 

“We organised a conference called Inclusive not Exclusive. It was a roundtable of about 60 colleagues from the local authority and beyond, and some black staff, attended by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, to start talking about actions to move the dial,” says Craig. The real lightbulb moment came when Craig met Professor Christine Bamford, CEO of Women’s Coin, at a women in leadership event. “Christine approached me and said: ‘I’d really like to help you and Marvin.’ I went away and did a quick Google search and thought: I need this woman in my life.” 

Over the next year, Bamford and members of the HR and equalities teams at Bristol Council worked together on designing Stepping Up, a programme that would be open not just to council staff, but those at a wide variety of employers in the city. Job one was to go out to the first 50 employer partners to get them on board and to access in-kind support, such as venues, mentoring and help with stretch assignments. “We didn’t have to sell it to them because they really wanted to do something about the diversity in their organisations, they just didn’t know how,” says Cherene Whitfield, equality and diversity specialist at the council. “They recognised the value of diversity of thought. We’re not just going in with the moral argument but also with the business case,” adds Helen Sinclair-Ross, talent and resourcing HR  manager. She says that once one law firm and one bank joined, for example, many followed suit.

“It was a matter of co-creating the programme; it was a negotiation with the employer partners,” says Bamford, highlighting the importance of a training contract all employers signed up to agreeing to release staff for a set number of days. She also points to the importance of specifying that people did not need their managers’ permission and that their management experience to date could have been gained in voluntary posts: “We wanted to access people who had lots of talent and experiences, but not necessarily on the job because they couldn’t progress. That opened up a huge talent pool.” The model was such that free places could be offered to those whose employers couldn’t afford this, again widening accessibility.

The final programme provides 27 days of learning, including a leadership development programme, external mentoring, stretch assignments and career workshops. The first cohort of 57 in 2018 were all ethnic minority individuals, with this broadened to women and disabled workers in 2019. 

The results are impressive. An external evaluation found 100 per cent of Stepping Up participants indicated an increase in self-confidence and improved leadership capabilities, 50 per cent had moved into a more significant role, 20 per cent applied for magistrate opportunities and 15 per cent secured non-executive and trustee positions, with one even elected town councillor. Additionally, some participants have founded their own spin-off programme, supporting Somali women in Bristol to also step up. 

Everyone has their favourite example of success. Sinclair-Ross highlights a former MoD employee who, within the first three months of the programme, had colleagues commenting that even his walk had changed; he’s now moved into a very senior position at a building society. “There are others I can think of who in my own environment in the council have gone for a promotion and just oozed confidence, and then just really flown,” she adds. 

And the team isn’t content with profound change as a city, but is hopeful – spurred by a comment from McGregor-Smith to this effect – that Stepping Up will prove a blueprint for the rest of the UK, with dialogue currently ongoing with Liverpool and Milton Keynes. Which isn’t to say there isn’t still much to achieve at home. “Bristol is a tale of two cities,” Craig says. “We talk ourselves up but we hide some dark secrets. So we continue on that journey. But people now feel they can just get on and do stuff; they don’t need permission. I keep saying: ‘Bristol City Council doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of delivering on this agenda. You have an idea? Roll with it. We will support you in any way we can.’”

HR/L&D team of the year: Hyperoptic

Hyperoptic’s head of people development, Natasha Griffin, was the first in her team to find out they had won – because she was the only one connected to the firm’s gigabit broadband. “I was saying ‘we’ve won, have you not seen it yet?’” she recalls.

Since 2018, Hyperoptic has been part of the UK’s push to roll out superfast broadband nationwide. To do this, the company needed to grow fast, tripling in size from around 340 to 1,000 employees across the UK and Serbia over a 15-week period. For the HR and L&D team, this meant attracting the right applicants and developing an “agile, scalable, repeatable training programme”, says Griffin.

Throughout the process, the business’s values were key. Applicants didn’t need a telecoms background “because we were going to train them”, Griffin says – but they did need the right mindset. “We wanted to make sure anyone who works with us or for us understands our values and how that translates into quality of service,” she explains.

The company put its value framework, called ARIZE (agility, responsibility, intelligence, zeal and excellence) at the heart of everything. “Even during the hiring process we talk to candidates about ARIZE, so it’s a language they know.”

The people team is now focusing on its employee life cycle, revisiting everything from quality of hire to onboarding. “We always look at how we can iterate and how we can improve,” says Griffin.

Best SME people management initiative: Leek United Building Society

Making up 99 per cent of all firms in the UK, SMEs are vital both to the economy and the working lives of many. With more than 150 years of history behind it, Leek United Building Society is a veteran SME, having negotiated several recessions and financial crises during its time. And in a situation not uncommon among SMEs, at the start of 2019, the 200-strong organisation found itself with a people strategy isolated from the wider business strategy.

Following the appointment of a CIPD-qualified CEO, Andrew Healy, and HR director Tracey Johnson, the board supported a concerted programme to promote the Staffordshire-based organisation’s people agenda: From Peripheral to Pivotal. At the time, the HR department cut an unloved figure within the company, with no seat at the executive committee table and just one page of the society’s 94-page strategic plan devoted to people matters. One of the associated impacts was that senior manager retention stood at just 58 per cent, with key losses over the previous year including two finance directors. “Our HR processes were outdated,” says Johnson. “There was no business partnering and managers felt they didn’t really have the authority to manage people matters. It was like HR was some kind of policing department.”

But the elevation of HR to the strategic table at the start of 2019 was a major statement of belief in the importance of  Leek’s people to delivering sustainable business performance, high customer satisfaction and strong staff engagement. Addressing staff in February 2019, Healy shared his belief that the organisation’s competitive strength lay with its people and promised to bring them “into the centre of our business”. 

An exhaustive programme of 53 separate workshops and a series of pulse surveys followed to identify the society’s ‘point of departure’ in terms of people and culture – the results of which made for sobering reading. Employees didn’t feel listened to, induction was considered poorly applied and internal communication scored a satisfaction rating of just 28 per cent. 

A broad range of initiatives were key to improving this, including a focus on internal communications and a refresh of the company’s values, with willing input from staff. The step-up in internal communications has been particularly important during the coronavirus crisis, with Leek being seen as a leading organisation in communicating clearly and putting its people first. There have been daily messages to employees updating them on all matters and a weekly video from Healy. “Our staff have seen how much we value them,” says Johnson. “I would say no organisation has cared more for its employees than we have.”

Additional measures have included a complete overhaul of the performance review process. Recruitment and induction processes were redesigned, a new diversity policy was implemented and a wellness support programme for staff was introduced.

The results have been outstanding. Tangibly higher business productivity has been delivered and customers have never been happier, with 95 per cent stating they are satisfied with their experience. But perhaps most importantly, employees love working for the organisation. Almost nine in 10 staff are proud to work for Leek United and retention of key employees has improved to 100 per cent.

Best reward or recognition initiative and best change management initiative: Sainsbury’s

In a highly competitive market, it’s often said your staff are key to success – and Sainsbury’s HR team kept this idea front of mind when creating its Winning Teams initiative, which scooped two CIPD People Management Awards. Produced entirely internally, the initiative aimed to pull Sainsbury’s 116,000 employees together across 1,400 teams to incentivise high performance and promote a future-fit culture, grounded in fairness and with trust at its heart.

HR and operations worked together closely – which transformed the way they collaborate in the business – while the communications team produced a clear narrative for staff. An extensive consultation period also ensured every employee had a say in the change. 

Hannah Sargeant, head of HR change at Sainsbury’s, says Winning Teams has helped employees be agile throughout the pandemic. A new colleague ‘deal’ was also made that saw the scrapping of legacy contracts, and would attract great talent while motivating existing staff.

Best resourcing initiative: North Yorkshire Police

As the UK’s largest single police force, North Yorkshire Police knew it needed to prepare for the ever-changing threats to society – from cyber crimes to terrorism – and increased demands for policing. And that meant an agile, innovative and forward-thinking approach to future proof its policing. The development of a 2025 vision revealed traditional approaches to recruitment and assessment were not reflective of this vision. 

With the help of management consultants Cappfinity, North Yorkshire Police embarked on a transformational journey in September 2018, developing and implementing a strengths-based approach to tailor recruitment for different levels across the force, ensuring that content and candidate experience were appropriate for the role. The team also introduced innovative assessment tools – including online immersive assessments and virtual reality – to kick-start a cultural shift and change  perceptions of how to pass an interview. 

The new assessment process is now used across all promotion boards, the team realising candidates were able to bring their best selves to the interview and demonstrate their true potential.

Since the changes, almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) candidates rated their experience as excellent or very good, and nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) felt the promotion process was fair and consistent, compared to just over a quarter (28 per cent) who thought the same of the previous process. 

But the force isn’t stopping here. Talent and development manager Kerry West says the project will serve as a “blueprint” to help boost innovation within other parts of the force. “We have the opportunity to learn from what we’ve achieved in this project, and we can take that forward to other areas of the business, including other police staff and our fire service colleagues,” she says.

Roll of honour

Best apprenticeship scheme


There’s no stronger proof a firm prides itself on an exceptional apprenticeship scheme than the current CEO being a former apprentice – and that’s exactly the case at UBS, which over the past two years has unleashed its workforce through an innovative upskilling programme.

Best change management initiative and best reward or recognition initiative


See above

Best coaching and mentoring initiative:

Sponsored by Imperial College Business School

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company

The Motivation Informed mentoring scheme, praised for its “impressive rigour and scale”, was developed in 2012 (and revamped in 2017) after an untapped pool of leadership expertise was identified. 

Best digital/technology initiative 

Sponsored by Imperial College Business School

Avon and Somerset Police

The dynamic staff survey analytics platform this force created exemplifies the power of digitisation to unleash people – and business – potential. 

Best diversity and inclusion initiative and overall winner

Bristol City Council

See above

Best employee experience initiative

Hearst Magazines UK

When the business realised many of its brands were operating in silos, it launched a strategy to champion employee voice through a central ‘get involved’ theme, empowering staff to make their own mark on the business.

Best health and wellbeing initiative


The housing association’s 2020 people strategy was devised with improving employee wellbeing at its heart. The result: mental health sickness falling, with days lost to this reducing from 335 to 137, and the strategy paying dividends during lockdown.

Best HR/L&D consultancy

Connect Health and Tailored Thinking

What impressed the judges was the HR consultancy’s innovative and evidence-based approach to the job crafting initiative delivered for Connect Health, which encouraged staff to change, improve and personalise aspects of their jobs, and ultimately “improved working lives across the organisation”.

Best HR/L&D supplier

Aldi and Team Academy

The Best Version of Us initiative for Aldi was designed to ensure excellent customer experience to future proof the business. The programme has paid business dividends, and feedback from staff indicates the level of impact it has had throughout the company.

Best L&D initiative – private sector

Mitchells & Butlers

Overall winners last year, the business has gone and done it again, continuing to refine its talent and L&D strategies in close relation to each other to ensure a future pipeline of staff amid challenging times. The judges praised the “excellent holistic programme” and its huge impact on individuals and the organisation.

Best L&D initiative – public/third sector

RHP Group

In response to the need to improve leadership capability, housing association RHP developed Luminous – a leadership programme that judges said “truly lights the way for others to follow”. Employee engagement increased from 85 per cent in April 2019 to 94 per cent this year, and in the same period customer satisfaction jumped from 78 to 83 per cent. 

Best resourcing initiative

North Yorkshire Police

See above

Best SME people management initiative

Sponsored by Investors in People

Leek United Building Society

See above

Best talent management initiative

Crown Prosecution Service

In response to the many challenges brought by austerity, the body created a dedicated talent team and a strategy commended by judges for its future-focused and evidence-based talent transformation. 

HR/L&D team of the year

Sponsored by Edenhouse Solutions 


See above

Michael Kelly outstanding student award – advanced level

Lisa Morgan, NICS

The Cabinet Office advising NICS it needed to ensure Northern Ireland was ready for both a deal and no-deal Brexit was the challenging climate for Morgan’s impressive initiative: an audit of Brexit resourcing needs across nine departments, using a network of business partners to engage with contacts to understand their requirements. 

Michael Kelly outstanding student award – intermediate/foundation level

Julia Melvin, Ubisoft Reflections and Ubisoft Leamington

Project Brave – designed to destigmatise mental ill-health, offer support and promote a refreshed, open culture – just wouldn’t have been the same without Melvin’s efforts.