How I made a difference: Heather James, HR director, Vantis

Managing internal capacity in a downturn, the main aim is to retain people and minimise the risk to jobs.

Vantis is nicely placed because we’ve got a counter-cyclical business. In these tough economic conditions, our business advisory and corporate finance work will become quieter, but at the same time the business recovery and insolvency side of the organisation has boomed.

So when we realised that we needed to get more people into business recovery services, we decided to redeploy internally. There were also two secondary business drivers.

One was around developmental opportunities – by organising secondments and redesigning jobs, we were able to give people new skills. The other was to do with wider promotion of opportunities for flexible working. I also implemented a new recruitment approval process, so that we had a strong sign-off on any new recruitment, meaning that we looked internally first.

We had to overcome some real reservations around the business. For instance, in business recovery services, the line managers were concerned about the ability of people to transfer there from other functions. They initially had a strong preference for experienced internal people.

Staff had a number of questions and reservations, such as the impact on their careers if, as newly qualified accountants, they moved into business recovery. Within our senior leadership, there were concerns that more movement between functions and increased flexibility would make things more complex.

We began by reviewing best practice, and talking to people throughout the business, before coming up with detailed proposals. From there it was a case of recognising the importance of communication. We developed career days for newly qualified accountants, and had people from our various service lines talk to them.

Around flexible working, we spoke to people on an individual basis. Ultimately it was about persuading line managers to give redeployment a try. When they did, it worked very well, and people were very enthusiastic.

This is embedded within the organisation – we now have people from business recovery approaching us to ask for people to be seconded to them. It’s become part of the way Vantis works. And it makes sense to keep this behaviour even after the recession has ended.

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