Helen Bass, Childbase Partnership
Name: Helen Bass
Position: HR Director
Organisation: The Childbase Partnership
Time in post: 5 years total/1.5 years as HR Director
Number of employees in organisation: 1,350
Number of people in HR department: 4 + HR Director
Latest financial figures/performance indicators:
Turnover has grown from £21.1m in 2006 to £32.4m in 2011 (up 67%)
Profit before Tax for the same period up from £1.3m to £3.5m (up 161%)
Statement by Mike Thompson, Chief Executive, The Childbase Partnership, one of the UK’s leading childcare providers.
In the five years she has been with The Childbase Partnership, Helen Bass has been instrumental in shaping the company as a successful, sustainable and ethical organisation.
Awards and national recognition for the Partnership have followed the implementation of her innovative policies and practices which have impacted not only staff engagement levels and quality of service provision, but also trading performance.
The measure of Helen’s success can be quantified in the double-digit growth the company has experienced in each of her five years at the HR helm, during which time she has secured award-winning pay and benefits for employees and actively carved out a more proactive role for them in the running of the company.
The correlation between increased commercial success and staff engagement is undeniable and particularly noteworthy because the 1,350 employees of the Childbase Partnership are scattered in 42 locations with day nurseries from Nottingham to Winchester and a Head Office in Newport Pagnell.
“Helen’s relaxed and open manner masks a steely determination to keep employee wellbeing at the very heart of everything we do. A hard-working and inspirational leader, she is, quite simply an ‘employees champion’; commanding respect, admiration and genuine affection throughout the company. There couldn’t be a more deserving winner of this award,” said Mike Thompson, CEO of The Childbase Partnership.
On her arrival at the company, Helen took an employee representative group concerned with airing minor frustrations and transformed it into a 42 member Partnership Council empowered to determine, for example, bonus payments and effect positive change in the company as a whole. This emphasis on informed decision-making and collective responsibility has proved so successful; the council are now regular and valued contributors at main Board meetings.
Recognising the demanding nature of the work involved in caring for children and the need to provide employees with a better work/life balance, Helen is the architect of a phased plan introduced in April to reduce the working week from 40 to 37.5 hours. With Partnership Council backing and company-wide consultation, Helen has ensured that all staff, part-timers included, have seen an increase in their hourly rates to maintain established levels of pay and benefits.
It is this ability to really listen and then actively seek creative ways to meet employee needs, without sacrificing commercial objectives, which resulted in Helen’s appointment to the main Board and to the Childbase All employee Share Plan Board, with responsibility for administering and promoting employee ownership of the company.
Helen has presided over a significant growth in the numbers applying for shares – just over 70 in 2000 rising to 653 last year – because employees can see their ideas in action and are actively encouraged to take a greater share in the success of their endeavours.
Always available to employees, Helen operates an ‘open door policy’ at Head Office; conducts ‘listening lunches’ for small groups in local restaurants and recently became ‘a nursery practitioner for a day’ in two nurseries as part of a job swap initiative designed to increase her understanding of employees’ work and in return give them greater insight into her role as they ‘shadowed’ her at Head Office.
Commercial success, reduced absenteeism, the retention of talented staff and improvements in the quality of service provision – 45 per cent of the business is now rated Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ which is achieved by only 12 per cent of the country’s early years providers – are all direct results of her innovative schemes which recognise and reward excellence and hard work and invest in employee’s personal and professional growth.
That Helen has made employees feel valued and committed to the continuing success of their company is further evidenced by the fact that The Childbase Partnership is one of only 113 UK organisations to be awarded ‘Extraordinary’ status this year by the workplace engagement specialists, Best Companies.
Year on year success in the Sunday times Best Companies to Work For Lists – another barometer of employee engagement – culminated this year with The Childbase Partnership, the only childcare provider listed, attaining 13th place. Since Helen’s involvement, the company has risen 77 places in the rankings in the last three years alone and consistently achieved top 20 scores nationally in seven separate categories, including the pride employees feel for their company; the fact that their skills are valued and careers developed (3rd place) and satisfaction with pay and benefits.
Helen’s influence and tireless pursuit of excellence in everything she does can also be measured by the following company achievements:
- EducationInvestor – Nursery Group of the Year (2011)
- Childbase rated ‘Extraordinary’; (2012) identified as ‘excelling in Creative Rewards’ and used as an exemplary best practice case study (2011) in the Best Companies Accreditation Awards.
- Childbase was a finalist in the Employee Benefit Awards in June 2010 and recognised as a champion within the industry for its Employee Share Ownership scheme.
- Childbase holds four National Training Awards – with a range of bespoke in-house and external learning and development programmes relating to all levels from Modern Apprentices through to Managers.
- Baxendale Award for championing the cause of employee ownership – joint winners with Waitrose.
- Childbase is on course for Investors in Diversity Accreditation which recognises companies demonstrating best practice when managing equality, diversity and inclusion.
Helen’s ideas in action:
- Benefits include up to 50 per cent off the cost of childcare for children up to the age of five.
- Bonus based on company performance. A record £650,000 bonus paid to employees in 2011.
- Dragons Den (based on the popular television programme) where employees pitch for a company investment to help them achieve a personal or professional goal. Last year a total of 53 employees applied for a share of £5,000. A total of 14 pitches were successful including an 18-member head office team who were awarded £450 towards a ‘team-building’ evening class at The Inspired Gourmet Cookery School, in Milton Keynes.
- Once in a Lifetime Experiences – all employees are given the opportunity to expand their horizons. In recent years, company sponsored teams have visited orphaned children in Bulgaria, taken part in the New York Marathon; a ‘Best Practice’ conference in California, and this year a team is currently in the South Africa townships (April 2012) sharing expertise and visiting charity projects financed by fund-raising at home. There are more examples.
- Rewards – Hard work, dedication and excellence are rewarded through a scheme that allows Childbase employees to choose ‘gifts’ from thousands of possibilities ranging from fragrance to holidays. Managers, employees and parents of children in the nurseries are encouraged to nominate deserving individuals.
- Increased communication – Editor of the staff and parent magazine, Talk and Share; staff intranet.