Welcome to this weeks Guest Blogger. Paul Myers is the HR Manager for a local transport company. He has initiated significant change in his organisation and has managed to keep his staff on board. He is a people centric manager who has considered how to increase and harness employee engagement at every opportunity. Below he charts just one of the organisational changes he has led to transform the organisation.
The Steps to great organisational change
I moved into my current post as HR Manager 4 years ago. The company had at that time transferred from a deep cultured public sector organisation to the private sector. Invoking TUPE had meant the process had already involved a painstaking consultation period with trade unions. .
The organisation is complex. After the transfer, one of my objectives was the harmonisation of 28 shift patterns across 3 distinct teams, with varied terms and conditions linked to them.
The issues and reasons for harmonisation included.
- Varying and different shift patterns being operated between three operational areas.
- Not all shift patterns supported 24/7 working
- New equipment meant a reduction of workforce and also a requirement for new skills.
- Possible further reduction in workforce due to a new project.
- Company commitment to minimising compulsory redundancies
The objective of the consultation was to mutually agree the harmonisation of the shift patterns, to agree one pattern for all. The consultation process was a time for all parties to gather and discuss the need for change as well as place suggestions for consideration, counter proposals and refinement. The objective was to mutually agree the way forward. The range of the consultation reflected the number of employees affected and the extent of change need to be implemented.
The outline of the consultation process was to:
- Undertake consultation period with affected employees and their representatives.
- Outline the need for change and timescales.
- Set a period of time for suggestions of ideas, proposals and counter proposals
- Reviewing and giving consideration to the proposals
- Answering and addressing concerns and questions.
- Agreeing the way forward.
- Getting ready for change such as training and agreeing terms
- Implementing change
- Monitoring and reviewing the change.
Often with consultation and change programmes, it is difficult to get all parties and employees to agree to the changes in the working practices and terms of employment. If the changes had not been mutually agreed, an impasse may have resulted between the employees, their representatives and the company. If an impasse had resulted, then the organisation may have had to take the decision to invoke and enforce change. Whilst it is was hoped that an impasse was not reached, as long as the organisation had endeavoured to consult before enforcing change, this is likely to be valid with any employment tribunal.
The organisation launched the proposal for change for Economical, Technical, Operational (ETO) reasons. In these circumstances, when it can be proven that consideration has been given to all alternatives, or there has been refusal and objection to mutually agree the way forward, then the change is enforced by giving the contractual notice under the old terms of employment, advising and offering new terms of employment from a set date.
If reaching an impasse and enforcing change, the company may be at risk of breach of contract claims. This is as a result of the change and terminating the terms of employment, which exist. To defend such claims the organisation needed to prove the ETO reasons for change; that it had tried to implement due change on reasonable grounds; and that should the change not occur the business would suffer a severe detriment.
The organisation knew that at that time there was an increased risk of industrial action. This was to be avoided as well as was the leaking of any changes to the local press and media.
Achieving the Goal
Transparency with the Trade Union
I met with the union explained the plan we wished to peruse and set out our reasons. Also suggesting measures we could implement to effect the changes
Full staff Engagement
We stated our commitment to full staff engagement: Involving them fully in the decisions about their jobs to make it work
Accepted the need for disagreement
We used disagreement as a stepping stone to initiate full discussions to reach mutual agreement
The process for change
We started with staff meetings, which was a logistical nightmare due to 24/7 shifts patterns and getting the staff to participate in the meetings.
We worked in partnership with the union. We held meetings which were quite heated at times, although we were committed to coming to agreement.
Initially we reduced the 28 shift patterns down to 15, covering 24/7/365. A great deal of work then took place, evaluating salaries, allowances and leave entitlements. This information together with the advantages and disadvantages of each shift pattern were verified with the unions. .
We then conducted further meetings to discuss the various shift patterns to reduce the 15 to smaller number, to where we could then go into more detailed negotiations.
In the next stage we considered 3 different working patterns. We carried out further meetings to discuss the issues. The staff were asked to vote. One team was reluctant to agree and at that stage refused to reach agreement.
We initiated further discussions which revealed that the team identified a problem which meant that any of the patterns could result in a perceived detriment to their work/life balance. We suggested some slightly different terms and conditions which had a small cost but in the overall scheme was worth the investment.
Initially they refused to agree this renewed offer. We recognised however that we had been fair, transparent and given fair alternatives, so we advised them we had no option but to invoke an impasse and force change although we had been clear we had tried to avoid this throughout the process. We also suggested that we would remove the additional terms and conditions offered. At the eleventh hour the team agreed the newly offered terms and conditions.
We have now been working the shift patterns for 2 years, and they have been a great success. This is largely because we have continued with an open door policy with the staff and unions. As a result of the process we have successfully changed the culture in line with the current needs of the organisation.
The transparency of the process and the good employee relations built in that time helped in a subsequent change when the workforce was reduced by 52%, We had followed the same principles and feel we added the human factor into our HR practice, when dealing with those selected. During this time, we have also reduced sick absence from pre-transfer from 16% to a remarkable 0.8%.
I firmly believe to be effective in organisational change you must be open transparent and honest with employees and the trade unions to gain maximum effect.