November 4, 2015 in Events (live blogging), #cipd15

#cipd15 – Agile OD strategies to respond to your business needs

Matt Elliott (People Director, Virgin Money), Neil Morrison (Group HR Director, Penguin Random House), chaired by Paul Taylor (NHS Employers).


Matt Elliott (Virgin Money) kicked off by talking about how Virgin Money is built on 40 years of Virgin history, which introduces a big expectation of what you will get from a Virgin company. Virgin Money has been around for 20 years, but things have really accelerated in the last 4 years (following their acquisition of Northern Rock).


Virgin Money focus on an initiate they call ‘Everyone’s Better Off’ (EBO), which focuses on customer, colleagues, communities, corporate partners, and company – recognising that they are all equally important. EBO runs through everything they do, working through.


There have been three distinct phases of the business journey, which have required very different things from HR:

(1) Integration – focusing on integrating two companies

This was a really busy time with a focus on harmonising terms and conditions, and developing new people policies. They also made a big shift in reward and recognition, moving away from traditional sales targets, and rewarding customer satisfaction instead.

(2) Build – build the capabilities and the offering

This was the next stage of the journey with an emphasis on changing flexible benefits (to make them appeal more widely), using an engagement survey, and deploying Oracle HR.

(3) Enhance – continue to improve on what’s there

Continue to deploy EBO and help people to be their true selves. Launched a future leaders programme, apprenticeships, and a careers website. Matt talked about doing things (e.g. an Apprenticeship programme) that loads of other people are doing, but doing some thing differently (such as providing a guidance pack to help people who weren’t successful in securing an apprenticeship with them).


Matt’s learning; keep to simple (no jargon), provide a great work experience, focus on business needs, trust your judgement, be flexible, and be brave!


Neil Morrison (Group HR Director, Penguin Random House) then gave a contrasting view from a very different business. Penguin Random House came about as a result of a true merger (not any kind of takeover) which brought together two successful businesses with strong identities, which people were proud of. The new CEO stated a vision – “I want Penguin Random House to be the place where people who love books, ideas and writing can do the best work of their lives” – Tom Weldon, CEO. With a really clear, inspiring vision this then put the emphasis on how to make it happen. Neil cited the statistic that 80% of mergers destroy value within the first two years and talked about how difficult is was to create a framework as there didn’t seem to be any evidence base for how to successfully merge two organisations.  So, Neil sat and created a framework:

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The anatomy of Penguin Random House:

Purpose – unite everybody around a shared purpose, do a combined charity walk (giving our books) to bring people together, invite all employees to a dinner, and make sure to celebrate successes across the whole of the new organisation.

Adventure – timelines were challenging, and they had implemented one HRIS system within 6 months, and constantly push themselves to do more (e.g. The Scheme really pushed the boundaries), drive innovation, and encourage people to have ‘curious coffees’ (where they sit for a coffee with somebody they wouldn’t normally encounter).

Openness – real candour in conversations can be a challenge for many organisations, and Neil talked about the importance of role-modeling good behaviours.

Trust – They gave people a lot of choice throughout the whole process (e.g. when people were losing benefits, they had a choice of how this would apply to them). In the whole flexible benefits approach, they trusted people to choose what is best for them. Trust also means empowering experts to make the right decisions (and not having to make endless proposals to endorse a decision).

Heart – This is what Neil believes sets them apart from many organisations, and it influences everything the do. Care and compassion for people influences everything, including how they handled people exiting the organisation.



(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition – #cipd15 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)

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