How To

How to become a top employer (and know that you're doing HR correctly, too)

Knowing if your people strategy is in the right place and driving the organisation can be difficult without benchmarking, but there are options out there…

Words by Dan Cave| Design by Jonathan Balallo

Off the record, one leading HRD at a major media brand recently told HR Grapevine that the base state of business is now constant transformation – and it’s only going to get quicker. As a result, HR has to create people strategies to match. These must take into account the employee experience, where best to implement technology, how to deliver development and how all of this dovetails with retention, engagement and attraction – and that’s just for starters.

Josh Bersin, HR’s guru-of-sorts, even recommended, in his latest report, that HR must ‘start a continuous redesign of its function’. This sounds scary – tweaking the strategy so it is in a constant state of redesign? Yikes. Where does HR even start? Well, getting independent self-assessment could be one place. This is what the Top Employers Institute does.

Phil Sproston, Country Manager UK & Ireland at the global certification and benchmarking firm, explains that the global organisation interrogates how a business is using its people strategy before helping it benchmark alongside other organisations. It also looks at how an organisation’s people strategy is performing in six core areas.

He explains: “We use our HR Best Practices Survey which looks at six key domains [Steer, Shape, Attract, Develop, Engage, Unite] within the people strategy to determine whether organisations meet the Top Employer Certification criteria.

“Aside from the benefits of attracting and developing talent, the insight gained from taking part in the Top Employers Programme is invaluable – the survey and validation interviews with employers help us gain insight into what is actually happening with regards to their people strategy.

“We present feedback and share a Benchmark Report, as well as making recommendations to leading organisations – including SAP, Partner & Fosters, Tata Consultancy Services, Travis Perkins Plc and Harrods – who use our data and insight to help inform their people strategy decisions. We believe that by helping organisations accelerate their people strategies the Top Employers Institute is helping to create a better world of work.”


We believe that supporting employees with their physical and mental wellbeing can help our employees achieve their potential both at work and at home


Foster + Partners, an architectural design and engineering firm, claims that the process helped with its people development strategy as, when going for Top Employers certification, the process ‘provokes’ the firm to look at how it can improve. Laggi Diamandi, Head of Learning & Development at Foster + Partners, noted they have qualified over 60 architects as a result.

He says: “The process has helped us directly make changes to the way we run our people operations and indirectly by provoking thought and challenge. Since we started the process with the Top Employers Institute in 2017, we have made multiple improvements in areas such as Onboarding, Leadership Development, Compensation and Benefits, Culture etc.

 “One area that has really grown and continues to do so is our ‘Education in Practice’ programme. Through Top Employers, we identified that our internal processes for supporting the official route to qualifying as an architect was inconsistent and lacked the investment needed to support our people. In 2018, we established the Professional Practice Academy and partnered with the RIBA North West university to create the UK's first formal and internal Part 3* qualification programme. We have qualified 67 architects and currently in our 3rd cohort.”

Certification and recognition by Top Employers is key to demonstrating our commitment to our employees

SAP, who provides end-to-end enterprise application software, database, analytics and intelligent technologies, also claims that the process has helped adjust its people strategy – particularly in the area of culture. Jenny Rautenberg, HR Business Partner at SAP, explains that it helped the business put some of its core beliefs into practise – and resulted in a great performance in the Top Employers 2020 UK awards.

She says: “Over the last year, we have given our culture here in the UK significant focus, putting in place many employee wellbeing strategies as well as a great emphasis on broadening our diversity and inclusion programmes.


“We believe that supporting employees with their physical and mental wellbeing can help our employees achieve their potential both at work and at home. For this reason, we have introduced a number of recent initiatives such as on-site health checks, a gym and games room, mindfulness training programmes and enablement sessions around health issues such as the menopause and testicular cancer.”

SAP has also been working hard to enrich its flexible working programmes by increasing both its maternity and paternity leave entitlements, as well as promoting a better understanding of all of its work-life balance initiatives for those with childcare or other caring responsibilities.

Rautenberg adds: “Our employees are dedicated to fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation and inclusion at SAP. This certification and recognition by Top Employers is key to demonstrating our commitment to our employees and customers, by ensuring we continue to foster a culture in which all of our employees can thrive in a dynamic, innovative and diverse workplace.”


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