Case Studies

Mercian Housing Association

Mercian Housing Association is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation providing affordable housing across the West Midlands. Established in 1964 and now with a strong reputation for quality services and customer focus, they provide 3,300 rented and shared ownership homes. In a market that is becoming increasingly competitive, Mercian wanted to improve their recruitment process to ensure that they were selecting the right people with the right attitude.

We spent time with stakeholders across the Association to really understand the culture of Mercian, as well as the behaviours and values that made their star performers successful. We used these values in conjunction with a selection of activities from our existing task library to create an assessment centre. Hiring managers also went through an intensive assessor training programme, enabling them to objectively assess and select candidates for their teams.

The assessment centres have been a huge success and is now the only way in which Mercian recruit new people for their Association. Mercian now enjoys a low turnover of staff with colleagues who live the Mercian values and fit in with the Mercian way.


Warburtons is the largest family owned business in the UK and they recognised they had an extremely strong culture. “You can almost taste it”, is what you would hear them say.

The business goal was further growth and the target was to successfully grow the business from a regional to a national base but with a strong emphasis on the ‘one big family’ principle. Key to this was the identification, recruitment and successful induction of people whose outlook and attitude added to the Warburtons culture.

Warburtons recognised that the opportunities for process improvement spanned the complete employment lifecycle if the people element of the business plan was to be achieved. The brief was to start at the very beginning by researching what makes a great Warburtons colleague and to use this information to build a new competency framework. This would then be embedded into the HR interventions of assessment, induction and performance management.

Working with local HR Managers, we ran a series of focus groups across the country. Based on the research findings together with the Board aligning the data to their five-year business plan, we identified six core behaviours that together delivered increased levels of performance. Using language and tone regularly heard in Warburtons, we wrote a ‘nutshell descriptor’ for each behaviour that enabled everyone in the business to relate to and share in the meaning. Each also has a set of positive and negative indicators that define what the more effective performers do that the less effective performers don’t do. These indicators were specific to the three different levels of Team Member, First Line Manager and Middle Manager.

With the competency framework in place, we then set about designing a selection event that would measure the behaviours we have identified. Named ‘The Bakery Tour’, the theme and all its component parts reflected the various process stages in a Warburtons bakery. Candidates found themselves visiting different areas of the bakery throughout the event, completing tasks along the way. The tasks consisted of various group activities and problem-solving exercises that enabled assessors to measure behaviour across several different scenarios. In addition, this brief glimpse of what Warburtons is actually like was a powerful insight for many candidates as they had no idea of what happened in a bakery. It also proved a valuable means of showcasing the Warburtons culture.

All would-be facilitators and assessors attended an ‘engagement day’ to allow them to soak up the full candidate experience and understand their roles as assessors on the day. Assessors were taught what behaviours to look for in each task and how to collect and score the evidence. All this was explained in a ‘Facilitator’s Guide’ that they got to take away and study in their own time.

The results of The Bakery Tour are very positive. Feedback from candidates is that they have genuinely enjoyed the experience and feel they get a real insight into the Warburton’s business. In addition, staff turnover has also been reduced through the hire of ‘better fit’ candidates and candidate drop-out rates have been reduced by managing candidate expectations and making the process more enjoyable.

Speedy (Hire)

One of the key areas within the Speedy Hire ‘People Plan’ was to develop a framework or set of guidelines for Line Managers to use to develop and/or recruit anyone over Branch Manager level. Within the organisation there was a lack of process when either recruiting new hires into the business, or performance managing existing employees. Speedy Hire already had an existing competency framework, although it was difficult to understand and apply. What they needed was a consistent and objective way of assessing against the required level of competence for various managerial levels.

We set about developing a practical toolkit for Line Managers to use during the performance appraisal and recruitment process. There was a large amount of information to be contained within the toolkit, as there was to be a ‘performance appraisal’ section and a ‘recruitment’ section with 19 capabilities across four clusters (customer service, developing and growing the business, people relationships and managing operations) and three different levels of management.

Despite the definitions for each capability already having been created, the language that had been used was generic and hypothetical and did not really give managers much to go by in terms of how an individual would demonstrate any one capability. We therefore devised a set of indicators for each capability for each managerial level that would demonstrate positive behaviour; this really brought each capability to life.

For the Performance Appraisal Manual, for each of the 19 capabilities we devised a competency based question for each of the three indicators to help the Line Manager gain more of an insight into how the individual is displaying that particular capability. At the beginning of the manual is a guide on how to score the answers that the individuals give. The Line Manager is also given some development suggestions to help their team member think about each capability and ways in which they can develop to meet the requirements of the next level. An example of an indicator, question and development suggestion will help to demonstrate this. This example is taken from the ‘Networking’ capability:

Indicator: Works to build a strong network of relationships within the business.

Question: How do you ensure that you have a strong network of contacts around you? Why is this important?

Development suggestions: Get to know staff in the support functions such as HR, Finance & Administration; visit some departments which interface with yours in the supply chain to understand what they do and how you impact one another.

For the Recruitment Manual, the indicators for each of the capabilities remained the same as in the Performance Appraisal Manual, although the questions to gain evidence were much more probing. As this was going to be used as a toolkit in a competency based interview setting, the questions needed to be robust in order to measure each capability. Looking at the capability ‘Strategic Analysis’ for a Level 5 Manager for example, one of the questions to measure this capability was:

Give a specific example of when you have produced demonstrable business growth through your knowledge and understanding of your marketplace?

For each question the Line Manager was also provided with positive and negative indicators as to what a good and a bad answer may consist of.

The toolkit was presented in the form of a ring bound folder with loose leaf inserts. With the Performance Appraisal section at the beginning of the Manual, followed by the Recruitment Manual, each double page spread covered one of the capabilities and was then broken down into each managerial level.

Feedback from managers was positive across the organisation, reporting that the manual was engaging, easy to use and could be easily applied in both a recruitment and performance management setting.

BPP recruitment




  • “Rob helped develop a refreshingly new approach to talent measurement that brought a real return on investment.”
    Simon Wright
    (HR Advisor – Whitefriars Housing)
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    Darran Orme
    (General Manager - Fords of Winsford)
  • “Beechwood really got to the heart of our culture and used this understanding to assess, select and develop our people in the best way possible.”
    John Silverwood (Director of Human Resources – UHSM NHS Foundation Trust)
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