A prescription for HR teambuilding

by 07 Aug 2007

An effective structure is the key to any successful HR team and its subsequent strategy in servicing the business. Melissa Yen speaks with Tina Hudson about her award-winning team at National Pharmacies

National Pharmacies provides pharmaceutical, health, personal care, optical products and related services to customers. With a turnover of more than $220 million in 2006, National Pharmacies employs over 1,100 employees across nearly 60 locations within South Australia, New South Walesand Victoria.

Team formation

As winners of the Next Step Award for Best HR Team in the 2006 Australian HR Awards, National Pharmacies employs 12 HR professionals operating out of South Australia and Victoria. The retail pharmacy industry is heavily legislated, according to Tina Hudson, general manager of human resources for National Pharmacies, and as such, requires a unique approach to HR.

“From an HR team’s perspective, we work really hard to develop an HR model that’s actually very customer focused,” she says. “So some organisations actually develop their HR approach almost from the top down. We actually start from the bottom up and we work with our customers to decide strategically where the best way is to go.”

The structure of the HR team is closely aligned to business units, and the team is supported and encouraged to work actively with internal customers in order to completely understand and respond to business needs. Through these relationships, the team has been able to develop systems and solutions that are fully catered to customer needs, but also take into account overall organisational objectives and equity issues.

The HR team’s corporate function is to look after employee relations and training and development, while the rest of the HR team is focused on looking after exact geographical regions. Every member of the HR team has a division to support, and each member is fully immersed in that aspect of the business. “The HR team are really the translation between what’s going on in that business and what that means for the organisation from an HR perspective… We then assess how we can work together as an HR team to try and manage the implications of that,”Hudson says.

For example, the team is looking to renegotiate enterprise agreements within National Pharmacies. In preparation for this, affected employees have been surveyed to find out what they want in the agreement and in the organisation, both in the medium- to long-term. “So the organisation is very focused on its values,” says Hudson.

Values behind rewarding

National Pharmacies’ values provide the platform for the culture of the organisation, and the HR team works to promote a culture based on these values. “These were developed many years ago and the values are fundamentally linked to all of the activities that we participate in within the organisation – not just from a HR perspective, but from a total perspective,”Hudson says.

The values were created through an extensive consultation program which took more than a year to complete, in order to ensure that each employee had been engaged in the process and contributed to the values of the organisation. “We went out and we spoke to every single one of our employees about what’s important to them, what they think our values look like, and more importantly, what behaviours are associated with those values,” Hudson explains. “I think our engagement in that process led to the values becoming such an integral part of our business. We then used the values on an ongoing basis to assist us and guide us in relation to our decision-making.”

National Pharmacies’ values are as follows: “We strive for excellence as we: create value for customers; act professionally; encourage innovation; communicate effectively; achieve through teams; show respect for all; celebrate and enjoy life.”

A reward and recognition program has also been developed to reward those employees whose actions and behaviours reflect the values. This program runs throughout the year and culminates in the company’s annual dinner. The “Rewarding our Values” program supports any employee or team to nominate any other employee or team for displaying behaviours consistent with the organisation’s values.

People recognised through this program receive a reward (such as a gift voucher) and an award certificate to display at their workplace. These people also become nominees for annual awards, which are presented at National Pharmacies’ annual awards dinner.

More than 70 per cent of the company’s 1100 strong workforce attends the event. The theme for 2005 was “the National Pharmacies family”. National Pharmacies employees created a video for the evening to reinforce the relationships that bring the whole business together. The video link between Melbourneand Adelaide also supported the notion of a single team and allowed all employees, regardless of where they live, to share in the achievement and success of their colleagues winning awards.

This process has been instrumental in assisting National Pharmacies in developing a culture of respect, teamwork, communication and celebration.

Key successes

The positive contribution of the HR team is reflected in the organisation’s employee survey scores. In the 2005 survey there was a 51 per cent response rate. The overall score as an organisation was 75 per cent, a slight increase on the previous year, with employee feedback positive in areas relating to culture and teamwork.

The HR team are also having a positive affect on organisational KPIs. In 2004, with the assistance of an employee working party, the team developed a customer service program called “BEARS”, which was attended by all employees. “BEARS [represents] the five letters that remind people what our customer service program is about. It stands for: Be switched on; Engage your customer; Accurate information; Reliable and consistent; and Sell the whole solution. One of the keys to our business is product knowledge and the BEARS acronym is really designed to help people remember what the focus is in relation to providing customer service,” says Hudson.

This has been followed up in 2006 with stage two of the National Pharmacies customer service initiative, known as the “Turning Service into Action” program. National Pharmacies is also a Registered Training Organisation and the program is linked to the nationally accredited Certificate II in Community Pharmacy. Significant improvements at store level have been registered in KPIs, such as the BEARS mystery shop scores, average cost per transaction and average basket size. This customer service initiative is also having a positive effect on customer service feedback and sales results.

As a result, the key to the success of National Pharmacies’ HR team revolves around its active involvement with customers. Hudson says the majority of the HR team of 12 are often out onsite, working with customers and employees. “I’m part of the senior executive team and I attend board meetings, so I feel that I’m absolutely a partner in the business. A lot of my role is actually not about pure HR, it’s about business aspects and because we have such a good understanding about what the business requirements are, then that makes it easier for us to implement policy and procedure that we know is going to be well accepted,” says Hudson.

Challenges along the road

“I guess part of the challenge is about how you engage people in bringing them with you,” says Hudson. “There are often some people who are new to the organisation and don’t understand it yet. Over the last few years we’ve grown by acquisition so we’ve got people who have joined us through the acquisition process that don’t necessarily understand the organisation, so it’s about how we bring them in with us.”

On the other hand, Hudson says it is important to also keep those who have been with the organisation for many years engaged in the functions of the business. To combat this, the National Pharmacies HR team work hard to involve employees in decision-making within the business and through a range of processes. “If you communicate really well about what you’re trying to do and where you’re going and you communicate not only the good news but also the news about what the challenges are, then you keep people engaged.”

One of the big challenges for the HR team at National Pharmacies is in ensuring they bring people from all aspects of the business together often enough to communicate, despite geographical gaps. This allows Hudson to find out what each team is doing so that they can leverage innovations.

“A fairly structured team process is in place. Local teams meet regularly about what’s going on in their team area. That kind of cascades up so that we have regional teams and we have divisional team meetings in order to make sure that people have the opportunity to develop that kind of cross as we’re very geographically spread,” she says.

HR team essentials

Having a clear understanding of the business is essential for a successful HR team, according to Tina Hudson, general manager of human resources for National Pharmacies. Communication, both within the team and organisation about what's going on, is also important, she says.

"It's making sure there's a really strong communication flow so that you know what the organisation's doing and you can talk to the organisation about where you think it needs to be going strategically from an HR perspective."

In the HR team at National Pharmacies, Hudson says they ensure that they're talking to each other constantly so they remain as a whole despite working in different parts of the business. "It is important that they are feeding back not only what their part of the business needs, but also what they need as individuals."