Delivering Value Innovative use of ESR Case Study June 2014

A Case Study from NHS Property Services


NHS Property Services was created by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. On 1 April 2013, 3,200 NHS staff transferred from former SHAs and PCTs across the country, making the company a major employer. The organisation inherited a range of strategic and operational teams requiring rapid establishment of new managerial relationships and functional business processes feeding vital HR and payroll records.

The Project

During project scoping, it was clear that NHS Property Services would employ people geographically spread across the whole of England. A paper-based solution would have been inherently problematic, so making optimal use of electronic data management was vital to avoid delays, errors and loss of sensitive personal data.
NHS Property Services’ strategy envisaged human resources providing professional advice and support – high added value – rather than transactional services. In that context, it was important to ensure effective use of appropriate shared services partners for payroll and recruitment. When NHS Property Services was initially formed in August 2012, the company faced a number of significant challenges:

  • Procure and select a payroll provider, agreeing a contract and establishing an effective partnership;
  • Design suitable business processes, delivering efficient operations and effective control;
  • Manage the transfer of people into the organisation;
  • Support people through the anticipated change - help them learn how to operate effectively in the new business.

It was agreed self-service solutions for all HR and payroll records would be an essential feature of the HR service within NHSPS. NHS Property Services commissioned project support and NHS Shared Business Services was selected as the payroll partner and work began in September 2012 towards a go-live in April 2013.

From the outset it was clear the organisation faced a serious challenge - a change of culture for most front line managers as well as corporate teams in HR, finance and payroll. This would require:

  • Commitment from senior leaders to act in ways that inform, support and reinforce the planned changes;
  • Clear messages on the benefits for the business and its people;
  • Clear communication on responsibilities of managers and corporate teams;
  • Certainty about the business process and key controls (anti-fraud, accuracy, consistency);
  • Help for managers reducing dependence on HR for routine admin tasks;
  • Help for HR and payroll to let go of trusted controls, adopting a different stance and new behaviours.

The Vision

Providing access to ESR Self Service for frontline managers empowers people to perform their existing responsibilities for maintaining the employee and work records of their team members using new tools and business processes. Managers are encouraged to update employee records through ESR Self Service in a timely fashion – aiming to change the records as soon as possible. Experience with self-service has demonstrated giving people direct access and control over information has a number of significant benefits – including:

  • Giving control of data and processes to the people already responsible for managing them – the immediate manager;
  • Providing the control managers need to do their job effectively;
  • Improving accuracy and timeliness of data about employees – management information is more reliable and supports decision-making;
  • Supporting working in remote locations for more effectively than paper-based processes;
  • Reducing the amount of time spent on record-keeping (for managers and corporate teams alike), taking into account initial updating, handling queries, errors and delays.

In May 2013 NHS Property Services launched self-service without the benefit of face to face training programmes using support material and a central helpdesk, and local HR teams to support managers.

NHS Property Services adopted a Change Support Model, establishing a vision and clear benefits delivery linked to process redesign, clarity on roles and responsibilities, systems configuration, guidance and support for change. The Change Support Model is comprised of the following elements:

Vision and Strategy – Create a compelling vision plus the identification of key levers and outcomes to make this a reality.

Benefits Planning – Decide which benefits are priorities for the objectives and identify changes needed to deliver benefits.

Process Redesign – Agree new business processes and workflows, different ways of working to deliver benefits.

Roles and Responsibilities – Review team structures and responsibilities so jobs, focus and effort would support new ways of working.

Operations – Configure systems to work as we expect. Prepare guidance so people know what to do and how to do it.

Change Support – Invest in support to minimise “transition stress” and ensure new ways of working are embedded to deliver benefits.

Six project stages saw key recommendations reported to a joint monthly Project Board for approval. At each stage both NHS Property Services and Shared Business Services (SBS) teams indicated readiness to progress to the next stage and any key risks and remedial actions were agreed.
The key stages were:

  1. Start up
  2. Service design
  3. Technical preparations
  4. Pre live communication
  5. Go live
  6. Post live support

A formal “Lessons Learned” report (given to the NHS Property Services Programme Office) considered successes and possible improvements. The vital contribution of strong working relationships and SBS payroll teams input to Service Design and Go Live transition were recognised. Change support activities have continued with:

  • Improved guidance on the NHS Property Services staff website, and better signposting of the systems helpdesk;
  • Additional events to help managers and back office teams adjust to new ways of working;
  • Reviewing implementation and controls with internal audit and National Audit Office (NAO);
  • Tackling identified technical and communication problems.

As a result of continuous monitoring of self-service activity (contrasted with central input) plus timely action on input (absence, personal information, and contractual changes), review action with audit resulted in additional communication and action for approved business processes.

Benefits and Achievements

Using ESR allows managers to access and update records at all times - there are no payroll closure periods. It removes all potential delays and errors occurring when paper/email transactions are communicated, entered remotely and checked for input accuracy. Deployment gives payroll the control needed to catch high risk or incomplete transactions – preventing problems.

Acting in a timely manner to update employee records minimises overpayments and the potential for work to be forgotten, overtaken by other events or otherwise miss processing schedules.

Better information allows managers to make decisions and act more swiftly in particular situations.

Self-service significantly reduces effort for managers across the whole organisation, as well as ensuring that ESR is the single most reliable information source for all information about the company’s workforce.

Adrian Whittle, (pictured left) Head of Compensation and Benefits and ESR Lead, explained: “In May 2013, one month after our first payroll, manager and supervisor self-service tools were launched. Monitoring self-service utilisation from August 2013 revealed self-service use had climbed from 25% of all transactions in May to 69% in July 2013. By November 2013, this rose further to 88% of all transactions.

“Absence recording was working well - the vast majority of which were ESR Self Service transactions – and almost all expenses and additional payments were being processed through other self-service tools.

“It was recognised that personal information and assignment changes were proving more sticky – people still used paper/email and other unauthorised tools, so some further action was needed.

“Alongside the launch of Employee Self Service in December 2013 (seeing a spike of personal information changes and new some eLearning activity) a detailed analysis of self service and other methods was shared with HR practitioners. This showed the proportion of actions done in self-service and how long it took for data to be inputted after the effective date. It demonstrated late notification of terminations, absences and contractual changes are the three largest routine contributors to overpayments.

“Following a review of processes with audit, a renewed priority to get managers using Self Service was communicated in February 2014 and action to complete the change to new ways of working has begun.

NHS Property Services has not completed the transition to a fully utilised self-service approach, but we are well on the way and have derived many of the benefits within one year of going live on ESR”.

Lessons Learned

From the outset, visible, high-profile, support of both the Director of Corporate Services and the Chief Executive was an essential contribution to delivering change across the business. In addition to proactive communication, both have been early adopters of the new ways of working. This has helped them to engage with senior colleagues based on personal experience, helping to address challenges across the organisation.

Being so engaged these senior stakeholders have also been important support clients quickly highlighting and escalating expressed matters of concern for the project and systems team to address.

Open communication across the business and, essentially, between NHS Property Services and NHS SBS have been hugely important – especially when tackling challenges to agreed approaches and direction.

The new HR Systems Support team has developed a positive reputation and good working relationships with managers and administrators who have taken the time and effort to try new tools and have called on their assistance.

Adrian concludes: “There are a number of important lessons to draw from our experiences, and in fact we have been sharing these with the London NHS Special Interest Group network. Like all organisations, NHS Property Services faced unique and special challenges: a new employer, new payroll, data quality problems, two self-service systems to deploy in tandem and severe limitations on communication and preparatory change support. Those challenges need not prevent deployment action – providing there is effective project management and governance - it’s just not optional.

“It’s vital to work on the case for change and benefits delivery to support successful adoption of new ways of working – we are still working on this and will continue for many months.

“A strong service design, effective project management and change support are vitally important - without them your project will not succeed.

It is perfectly viable to implement self-service without face to face training, which people expect but requires a huge investment. By providing familiarisation, guidance and support you can be just as effective, much faster and more efficient in delivering benefits for your organisation. Clear guidance and continuing effective support are essential for success.”

For more information

To find out more information about NHS Property Services' use of ESR, please contact Adrian Whittle, Head of Compensation and Benefits, NHS Property Services Ltd at