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Implementing Standardisation

By Rachelle Peard. Published on 24 September 2014

Here’s our featured article on pages 16-17 of this month’s HR Grapevine magazine.

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Patricia Williamson is an interim manager with an HR Director background. She works with Eton Bridge Partners, the interim management and executive search firm. Here she discusses a recent assignment.

What was the brief?
The Company, a healthcare organisation, had grown rapidly through acquisitions and had not fully integrated those acquisitions so there was a plethora of different  employee terms and conditions in operation, and in some cases, different organisation  structures.  At the same time the company faced financial pressures as local authorities, its main source of revenue, sought to reduce their costs.

One aspect of the project was therefore to create greater standardisation of the employee terms and conditions and organisation structures; the second objective was to reduce costs.

I led a small project team of interims, with one HR business partner seconded from the company, and we tackled the work in two phases; first we addressed the terms and conditions of supervisors and team leaders, and secondly the terms and conditions of support workers, of whom there were more than 4,000.

For one of the recent acquisitions the Company also wanted to implement the standard organisation structure, so after consultation those employees were required to apply for roles in the new structure and go through a selection process; some also chose the alternative of redundancy.

All of these changes required consultation so Employee reps were elected and attended a series of meetings. In the case of support workers the impact of the changes was quite significant; new contracts of employment reflecting the changes had to be issued and accepted.

What were the particular challenges of the assignment?
There were three main challenges; the first was dealing with a dispersed multi-site workforce with limited access to company technology; the second was the largely negative impact of the changes; and the third was the very tight timescale against which we had to implement the changes.

Healthcare organisations operate a business that’s 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The company wanted to treat as many days as possible as just ”normal” days, only paying a premium for key bank Holidays such as Christmas and New Year.

This meant one of the targets was that all the changes had to be implemented before Easter because of the Easter bank holidays and further holidays in May.

We issued the new contracts for support workers on 7 March and they had to sign and return them by March 14. If they hadn’t returned them by then, we issued a dismissal and re-engagement letter on March 17. The vast majority of people were on four weeks’ notice and four weeks from March 17 was the Monday before Easter; if an employee hadn’t signed their contract by then they were potentially leaving the business.

As at March 17 almost half the employees had not signed the contracts so we issued approximately 2000 dismissal  and re-engagement letters and had to follow up on those employees via local offices, checking whether people might return their contract at the last minute or continue to work without signing.

In the end, of the 4,000 plus support workers issued with new contracts, just 66 did not accept the new terms and left the organisation, which was a very good result from the company’s perspective.

What legacy did you leave behind?
The business achieved the savings that it was looking for. They are delighted as the money has been saved and will continue to be saved on an annual basis. The project has improved their margins which has put them in a better competitive position.

We achieved a much greater degree of standardisation of contracts which will make running the operational side of the business much easier, because managers won’t have to worry about employees on different terms. Also, we transferred some knowledge to the HR team, via our seconded HRBP and through regular briefings of the HR team regarding progress, issues arising and so on.

We also created a “history” of the project. We wrote a document that summarises the two phases, what was involved, what we did and what the key milestones were in the project and the outcomes.

Alongside that we’ve created an online library of all the documents that we’ve produced, all the consultation papers,  presentations, the minutes of the meetings and every letter that went out to the employees.

This means the HR team has a resource available to them in case they need to dip back into what happened. But equally, if they wanted to undertake another change programme or do another consultation exercise for instance, there’s a template there for how they might go about doing it.

What are your thoughts on the role of the interim in the current market?
I think the market is improving actually. I think if the economy is picking up a bit, companies may be more inclined to do projects that they’ve put on the back burner for a while. Interims can bridge gaps for companies whether it’s a capability or capacity gap that they just haven’t got the resource to tackle a particular project.  Interims can also bring fresh thinking and valuable new perspectives.