February 4, 2014 in Events (live blogging), HR Directors Business Summit 2014

HR at the heart of the organisation – Connecting business and people strategies

talk by Wendy Cartwright, former Director, Human Resources – Olympic Delivery Authority


Wendy Cartwright joined the Olympic Delivery Authority in 2006, right at the outset, and was there for the whole lifecycle (7 years). There were many challenges; public scrutiny, a finite lifecycle which was longer than a usual project, and sizeable construction projects. Wendy described a real feeling of pride when she was at the games and looked at the Olympic Park which has left a real legacy.


People challenges including rapidly moving through different organisational phases (design, delivery, handover etc.), attracting and retaining talent for a finite period as well as ensuring that high performance would be consistently delivered in a high-pressure environment. The organisation itself was a ‘thin client’ with only approx 200 employees.


The people strategy included the normal elements you would expect to see (L&D, Organisational & Team Effectiveness, Wellbeing and engagement, Leadership Vision & Values etc.) but also included ‘leaving the organisation’ right from the outset. One of the key HR principles was to get the right people at the right time, engaged and quickly performing at high levels. I got the impression that the ability to cope with (and succeed in an environment of) ambiguity was key. The talent pool was built on flexible sourcing so that talent came from many different sources.


The exit strategies aimed to ensure that people would choose to stay longer with the ODA, even knowing that they might not have long left, as they recognised the amount of growth they would experience.


I’m delighted to see the emphasis on resilience, and they ran a programme called ‘Athlete at Work’ to help people perform at their best (including an emphasis on sleep, nutrition, how to be your best). Supporting line management and extensive communication were also seen as key enablers of resilience.


The project lessons were captured in a learning legacy paper (from Imperial College Business School) and highlighted the investment in HR & Organisational Development as key points that contributed to the success. The ODA had their values written on the wall (as do most organisations) but the learning review found that these values were really embedded as norms in the organisational culture (the way we do things is as important as what we do’).


Personal lessons for Wendy included focusing on the key priorities (and not tinkering too much), having good project management skills in HR and recruiting well.


Learning legacy website: http://learninglegacy.independent.gov.uk


A really interesting talk on the people strategy behind a great success.

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