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Becky Norman


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Meet the finalists for the Culture Pioneer of Innovation Award

The time has come for us to reveal the finalists for the Culture Pioneer of Innovation Award and share their inspirational stories!

When launching the Culture Pioneer of Innovation category, we were on a quest to discover those truly pioneering companies that are embracing unconventional practices to ensure the business and its people can thrive.

These three finalists are our judges’ top pick of leading-edge businesses making truly progressive change, driven through an innovative culture.

Continue reading to find out what our finalists for the Innovation category have achieved to make the judge’s shortlist (in no particular order)! We’ll be announcing the winner at our virtual awards night on 18th November, so please do join us for an evening of storytelling and celebration.

Do also let us know which stories inspired you, or which reflect your own initiatives or future plans on our social media feeds using the hashtag #CulturePioneers.

Jessica Leigh Jones MBE and Tom de Vall, iungo Solutions Limited

Founded in January 2020, iungo solutions has been shaping its culture while facing the challenges of being a bootstrapped start-up in the midst of a pandemic. With its mission to improve social mobility through providing data-driven, personalised career pathways, it’s no surprise that the company built inclusion, development and innovation into its culture from the get go. “It is our ultimate quest to crack the recipe for developing exceptional people,” says Jessica Leigh Jones, Founder of iungo.

From recruitment through to retention and development, every process, policy and practice Iungo crafts is through an innovative lens.

The team’s ‘AAA’ recruitment framework hires people based on their Attitude, Aptitude and Ambition, rather than their previous experience and knowledge. This helps prevent unconscious bias from impacting hiring decisions and supports Iungo’s mission to boost social mobility.

The start-up also launched its pioneering policy ‘Everyone is an Apprentice’, which enables all employees to invest in themselves with an apprenticeship (without the terrible pay package).

Based on employee feedback, the company is now also enabling portfolio careers to help their people fulfil their broader professional objectives. “We believe that supporting our employees to develop portfolio careers – rather than prohibiting them as in many corporate employment contracts – will help them to develop their skills, improve their employee experience, and make them more likely to stay and give their all to our mission,” says Jessica.

Our judges were impressed with the passion, creativity and bold approaches Iungo spearheaded in a testing period: “At a time of hard-pressed start-up and scaling ambitions for Iungo, it feels like innovation was fuelling every key decision and applied way of working,” says Culture Pioneers Judge Perry Timms.

Deryn McIntosh and team, RCI

As the global leader in holiday exchange, RCI was one of the many companies in the travel sector hit hard by the pandemic. With a pre-pandemic adage of  “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”, Senior HR Director Deryn Mcintosh and the HR team knew this had to change to survive such a tumultuous climate.

“The business needed to respond fast and engage associates (employees) in looking at ways to keep the business trading in uncertain times. It was the catalyst for bringing an innovative culture to life at RCI,” says Deryn.

To enable and empower its people to present new ideas, suggestions, and ‘light bulb’ moments was business critical for RCI. The company therefore took an old ideas-sharing programme that was no longer in use to create ‘Spark’, a platform that enabled RCI’s 3,000 employees to collaborate and make innovative ideas come to life.

The transparent, easy-to-use platform allows colleagues to view, vote, and comment on other ideas submitted; and to stay informed on which ideas have been selected to test and implement. As of the end of June 2021, 604 ideas had been submitted to Spark. Many of these ideas have subsequently been transformed into actions that have been driving top line revenue, helping realise cost savings, improving the customer experience and supporting Covid-19 recovery.

“The RCI’s entry showed multiple perspectives – product, client and colleague innovation – making this an all-systems pandemic response driven by creativity and activism,” says Culture Pioneers Judge Perry Timms.

Rachel Squirrell and team, Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

With protecting employee wellbeing and mental health being paramount over the past 18 months, Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (SFHFT) got creative to provide an inclusive offering.

To ensure there’s support for everyone, the SFHFT’s wellbeing offering is co-designed with a multi-disciplinary group of colleagues representing a wide range of services and staff groups. As a true champion of the employee voice, one chaplain even walks round the hospital armed with sweets to encourage employees to share feedback that can be translated into action!

SFHFT adapted a WHO evidence-based approach to underpin wellbeing, including a partnership with Trent University to support ‘decompression’ activities and capture organisational learning. These learnings were then used to develop and deploy agile and targeted wellbeing interventions. The results? In 2020, SFHFT had the third best staff engagement scores in the NHS Staff Survey, and the best scores in the Midlands. 

“We believe that this innovative and person-centred approach translates across into indicators of quality, to name but one – SFHFT ranked 10th of 117 Trusts in NHS for lowest emergency care waiting times in April 2021,” says Rachel Squirrel.

“Diverse, inclusive, relevant. The Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust shows innovation in a practical light yet still with vivid, imagination-led approaches to people’s health and wellbeing,” says Culture Pioneers Judge Perry Timms.

Find out who made the shortlist for our other Culture Pioneers Awards categories here.

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Becky Norman

Managing Editor

Read more from Becky Norman