February 13, 2015 in Events (live blogging), HR Directors Business Summit 2015

HRevent15 – Guide Dogs – Extraordinary partnerships through extraordinary people

Steve Vaid, Deputy CEO started by telling us more about Guide Dogs: They started in 1931 in Liverpool with just four dogs, all German Shepherds and have now trained over 30,000 guide dogs. There are 4,900 guide dog owners in the UK and they are breeding 1,300 pups each year. They do not receive any government funding.

To understand the work of Guide Dogs, we watched a video of Konrad Galen-Bisping, a former soldier who lost his sight as a result of an attack, talking about the impact his guide dog has made on his life:

Steve talked about how Guide Dogs have been on a journey of focusing on their wider mission. They realised that their underlying mission wasn’t to provide guide dogs, it was to help people with sight loss to be mobile and independent. This realisation had a major impact on their work and they way they went about it. They started to change the way they worked, focusing on finding best solutions, being person centred, working collaboratively, having sector-leading technology, forward-looking funding, being innovative (looking at alternatives to guide dogs, like person-to-person guiding), working Lean, empowering people, and encouraging diversity.


Jo Sullivan (Head of People) talked about how they made this a reality, through their people strategy (building extraordinary people):

Moving from person-centred to client-centred solutions:

  • Client led
  • Pull not push – what does the client need, which may not be a guide dog. Not just rejecting (aka ‘career changing’) a guide dog – e.g. one that wouldn’t go into a car – but thinking creatively about where that dog could help.
  • Putting people at the centre
  • People-centred reward and recognition

Uniqueness – Our values and culture make Guide Dogs a unique, innovative place to work

  • Values embedded – in everything: used in recruitment, used to evaluate end of probation period, awards are given at annual people awards for living the values, all managers are briefed on the people strategy.
  • Exemplar employer – at one point, they were struggling to retain staff who were blind and partially-sighted and there were some things that needed to be addressed to really help people and be an exemplar of good practice.
  • Co-production: Not to impose solutions on people, but to develop solutions alongside them.

Partnering – Operate seamlessly as one organisation, internally and externally

  • Effective partnering – Now have partnerships with Cities Unlocked and Microsoft  – new technology solutions
  • Single point of contact – being good at internal partnering
  • Progression – helping people to  have a career path, developing talent

Restless – Our people strive to be the best they can and we will not rest until blind and partially sighted people have the same freedom of movement as everyone else

  • Service improvement programme
  • Lean – focus everything on adding value to end customer and scrap other stuff, simplify processes. E.g. a major change to simplify the expenses policy to – “you’re never out of pocket and you never profit”, with more still to do.
  • Smarter Working – not just making people come to the office if they can work better at home or in a ‘coffice’ (coffee shop office).

Empowerment – People have the capability to carry out values-based decision making

  • Data – Equip managers with the data they need to know what is going on
  • Accountability – similarly, invest in managers
  • Up-skilling – equip people for their roles
  • Right people – getting people with values and the right skills into the right role


Where are Guide Dogs up to now? They are now providing services to 10,000+ and working with 2,000 children, are making year-on-year improvements to staff engagement and are focusing on continuos improvement (with each people team asked to introduce 2 improvements/year).


We finished by watching Josh’s story, a young man for whom a guide dog wasn’t the right solution and different types of help were provided.



I thoroughly enjoyed the session; It was practical, but showed what you can achieve when you get under the skin of why you do what you do, get clarity of the underlying mission, get clear on what you do and don’t do, and align everything around that. Great stuff.

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