Transformation complete: How Europa Worldwide Group has reinvented everything

by HRD Connect

Europa is a shooting star of Britain’s logistics scene. Here, HR lead Elaine Robertson explains how the company has fundamentally rebuilt its people operation and laid the springboard for even more success. 

It’s the dream of business leaders everywhere: all services accessible via a single digital interface, allowing 360-degree visibility and a single source of truth. 

However, for many boards, the reality remains some way off. For all the talk of transformation, numerous companies continue to lag behind. Just look at the recent research from Workday, in which 55% of HR leaders said their digital strategy is overridden by everyday business needs.  

So, it’s with great interest that we read about Europa Worldwide Group, a third-party logistics company best known for its road freight services. The firm’s leadership team is aiming to rebuild its entire HR operation as part of its attempts to achieve £400 million turnover, and digital technology will provide the command centre. 

All HR services are now centralised in a “one-stop HR shop,” which lies at the cornerstone of a holistic transformation that is already yielding results, which is driven by its Board’s ambition to innovate. 

“We’re striving to achieve our targets through the delivery of exciting innovations and revolutionary initiatives from across every area of the business,” Elaine says. “All of this will lead to long-term profitability by improving our services to customers, whilst driving down costs and driving up quality.” 

‘HR should be for the good stuff too’ 

Elaine joined Europa in summer 2019 following the strategic decision by the board to transform its HR approach in line with its anticipated and rapid growth trajectory. Having previously been a consultant and Group HR Manager in the manufacturing industries for 16 years, helping numerous other firms in upgrading their HR practices, Elaine found her new employer was ready to embrace change in the way it supported its expanding workforce. 

Europa has matured  in recent years, going from a relatively small operation to one of the biggest players in its field. Turnover has risen by more than 300% since managing director Andrew Baxter assumed control in 2013, and the staff roster now numbers more than 1,300 people, including 1,100 in the UK. 

However, as Elaine admits, “our ability to communicate and engage with our employees had not kept apace with that growth. The HR function had to catch up in order to support our growing number of people and the organisation.  

“As with any central resource, HR can sometimes be viewed as a drain on the bottom line for little added value. Yet it offers so much more than just the challenging aspects of discipline or dismissals, such as all the positive opportunities to interact around staff engagement, learning and development.” 

 Faced with the aforementioned problems, the Group recognised the need for investment to match the growth of the business. It made the strategic decision to invest in people and policies.  

Previously, Europa had only one HR Manager and one Payroll Manager. Now, they have an HR team of 9 HR business partners (HRBPs), an HR Ops Assistant and 3 Payroll staff. Each is responsible for looking after specific divisions within Europa Worldwide Group’s commercial portfolio; road, warehouse, air and sea, and continental cargo carriers. All 13 report to Elaine, who in turn reports to Board Member and Central Services Director, Tom Jenkins. 

With so much resource now in place, Elaine says the overarching HR function can be blended into each individual team. “By facilitating, supporting, and empowering employees and their managers, the HRBPs and HR Hubs will enable better staff engagement and stronger business partnerships.” 

Indeed, the people leads have created dedicated HR hubs across the business. These provide physical workstation resources at Europa’s largest sites, packed with crucial HR information tailored to each employee. 

‘Building our values into everyday life’ 

Most importantly of all, the increase in resource has allowed Europa to have more in-depth conversations with its staff at all stages of the employee lifecycle, something which is crucial to employee buy-in. As the CIPD has noted, “effective two-way communication supports the psychological contract and [boosts] employee engagement, as individuals feel listened to and valued.”  

What’s more, Europa’s HRBPs can build a rapport with individual business units and tailor their approach, echoing the personalised communications that employees receive in their personal lives.  

“We can support our board by better identifying where our flight risks are,  where we have suffered from early churn, and what we can then do to address it,” Elaine says when talking about the increase in communication. “Our exit interview is in-depth where we do suffer loss, and we use this to better protect the future of our employees.  

“We have ‘catch-ups’ with our HRBPs and all of our staff on a quarterly basis now, to ensure we don’t miss any signals that someone’s expectations are changing, [and] our learning and development is captured, recorded, and monitored to ensure its effectiveness in delivering future talent. 

“Europa’s HR restructure has given us the opportunity to refocus on building our values into everyday life. We’ve re-written every job description with those values and deliver those via a simplified appraisal system, all of which sits within our system giving us instant access and allowing staff to mark their journey. 

“We have more feet on the ground and more time as a whole to refocus on our engagement activities and being available to our staff. The entire HR team is now fully embedded within their divisional teams, and we have robust mechanisms in place to also feed any significant workforce issues through to our senior leadership team. 

“By lessening the ratio of staff to HRBP, it’s not a surprise to see our HRBP’s turn up. They do that just to catch up with staff, find out what they are doing and [whether] they are living up to expectations.” 

‘They own their information – and own the journey’ 

However, all this human resource would be nothing without effective technology to underpin the process. For Europa’s system to work, both employees and HRBPs need to be able to plug into a central digital fulcrum where they can find tailored resources and leave their own insights. 

Again, Elaine says this provided a challenge up until recently, because an assortment of legacy systems had come together, so there was no single source of truth or line of information. 

“Even harnessing the information we had on our staff was difficult, ” Elaine recalls. “It was clear that we needed a coherent way of leveraging all of our data.  

“The challenge was… to bring together many different methods of information gathering and the multiple places this was held and by the number of people holding it within the business.” 

So, the people team spent six months working on a board-endorsed solution, anchored by the Ceridian technology. The new application spans every corner of HR – payroll, benefits, workforce, and talent management – and sits in the Cloud, so everyone can access it. 

Indeed, the technology has been implemented across Europa’s 18 sites, and all staff – whether they be based in the office or warehouse, on the road or in their home – will have access. 

Elaine says that despite some early teething problems during the implementation phases, the new solution is now allowing the business to take a “cradle to grave” approach. More  importantly over the longer-term, it will empower employees “to own their own information and their journey with us.”  

By delegating routine HR tasks to the employees themselves, she adds that the new team of business partners can focus on more strategic work, thereby boosting both productivity and commercial outputs across the divisions. 

“The value of the information we contain in one central location allows us to interact with our staff who work 24/7 and are remote or travelling at the touch of a button, creating an amazing level of engagement.  

“And it’s not just information-sharing. Europa’s now created information stations in its warehouse sites so that staff without regular access to IT can do whatever someone who works daily with computers can. If they can’t access that, they can instantly access information about their journey with us on their Smartphones.” 

___ 

Investment in human capital is usually hard to quantify. However, Europa’s core business results are certainly impressive; in its most recent results, Europa Worldwide Group announced a record turnover of £210m for 2020, with target projections of £276m for 2021 and £300m for 2022.  

Profits are expected to be £10m in 2021, an increase of £6.4m over 2020 levels, and as if that were not enough, Europa Worldwide Group has featured in The Sunday Times Top Track 250 for three years running. 

But regardless of the financials, Elaine says the cultural impact is clear. 

“Europa’s priority has been to drive out complexity in what we do and focus on creating inspiring workplaces, with motivated and empowered employees. The outlook is amazing, as we are creating legacies for the future.  

“By building upon and replicating the successes we have seen in the last 3 years, with the acceptance that HR can leverage positive change, the business can move further across the UK and into new market spaces.  

“We are also adding Learning and Development expertise into the mix as well, as international experts, to ensure that the same dedication to delivering professional HR services becomes our global legacy to our growing worldwide family. 

“Europa is committed to continued alignment of its goals to the overarching strategy, ensuring everyone not only owns their part of the journey but understands it. As a company, it’s important to keep its promises by doing what is right, not what is easy, in expectation of setting the pace in the market. 

“These things, along with our strategic desire to continue to work not just as a team, but as a family, and in taking bold steps, will help us reach our cumulative potential to stay ahead of the curve.” 

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