HR strategy forum

our experts. Personnel Today would like readers to send in their strategic HR
dilemma. All questions will remain anonymous and will be forwarded to our strategy
forum members, two of whom will provide step-by-step advice in the magazine.
Send your dilemmas to [email protected]

The dilemma
Command and control culture

A call centre employing 500 people has been in operation for five years, but
forms only one division of a financial services business. It offers a 24/7
service to customers and has managed to achieve high levels of customer

It has an annual employee turnover of 45 per cent and has difficulty
recruiting the right calibre of staff. It is situated in an area of low
unemployment and faces increasing competition for the pool of available labour.
It offers reasonably attractive salaries for a call centre and its terms and
conditions are quite generous, when compared to its competitors.

However, there are some serious issues around management style and a culture
that is more command and control than empowering. The business environment is
becoming more competitive, putting increasing strains on senior management.
This strain is being transmitted down through the very minimal layers of
management and supervision and is resulting in disgruntled employees seeking
the support of a union. However, the company does not currently recognise the

There is a shift system in operation and many are employed on part-time and
quite flexible contracts. There is a large number of graduates and young mothers
and the age profile is low.

You are the new HR director. The managing director, who was not happy with
the way HR was dealing with the likely encroachment of the union, squeezed the
previous incumbent out.

What are your priorities in your new role?

Solution 1
By Ralph Tribe Ralph Tribe is vice-president of HR, Getty Images

Step 1 Although the MD’s reaction to the possibility of trade union
recognition is important, attempting to ‘fight’ the union is almost certainly
the wrong thing to do if your ultimate intention is to avoid a recognition
claim. You need to mobilise the MD and senior team in devising an HR strategy
that addresses the employment issues and work environment that are causing the
workforce to seek the support of an external body in preference to the
management team.

Step 2 So forget the trade union, and get the management team focused
on the rather more important issue of how much money you are losing by being at
best, an average employer. How much could the business could be making if it became
the best employer in the region? Concentrate on the costs associated with
turnover, retraining and low productivity. Identify the revenue and
productivity gains associated with high workforce loyalty, engagement and

Step 3 Having secured the senior team’s commitment to improving your
organisation’s employment proposition and brand, you need to start talking to
staff quickly. Avoid falling into the trap of corporately defining what the
organisation’s new, compelling employment proposition will be from a ‘top down’
perspective. The employees need to define it – your role is to provide a method
or tool that allows the organisation to capture and prioritise its feedback.

Step 4 Having done so, you need to lead the process of building a
plan that quickly delivers improvements in the four to six areas the workforce
has defined as being most important. If your objective is to differentiate
yourself from other employers in the region among a young workforce, you must
keep the plan simple and obvious, as they are likely to have little basis for
subtle comparisons.

Step 5 If empowerment (or the lack of) comes up as an action item, a
quick win with obvious bottom-line benefits might be to engage staff in
identifying opportunities for simple cross-selling or outbound selling in the
call centre environment.  An improved
sales model offers the opportunity for more challenging and interesting work as
well as improved, affordable financial rewards for employees in the form of
sales incentives.

Solution 2
By Paul Kearns Paul Kearns is director, PWL

The solution offered here is based on an assumption that you have carried
out your own analysis of problems facing the business. Like most call centres,
this is still a relatively young business and, as such, has had little or no
strategic HR input.

Step 1 The first task is to bring the board up to speed from a
strategic HR perspective. This will include taking a longer-term view, so that
some of the underlying management issues (that is, management style) can be
addressed. You should also link whatever you plan to do directly to business
performance indicators. Any HR strategy should be able to articulate how it
will impact on costs, efficiency and customer satisfaction in the medium to long-term.
This is crucial for board commitment and buy-in.

Step 2 The priority will then be to get an agreement from board
members that the union is not a welcome development. You must add, though, that
the union, per se, is not the real issue but a symptom of it. The real issue
surrounds loss of trust and motivation in the workforce, which is having a
damaging effect on the business as a whole. HR strategy is always about dealing
with root causes. Terms and conditions are already at an acceptable market
level, so the underlying issue will not be related to pay or conditions.
Nevertheless, these may well become issues if employees achieve union

Step 3 Once the board is behind you in principle, you need to
identify the key strategic steps. This might include identifying sections where
there are serious cases of employee disengagement. These should be identifiable
through inefficiencies or deteriorating levels of service, absenteeism or
higher turnover. A big strategic question is: do the managers who helped set
the business up have the right skills for managing in a much tighter
competitive environment?

Step 4 One advantage you have as the new HR director is that you
could address a meeting of all employees to give your personal commitment and
that of the board to trying to resolve their problems. This may buy you some
time so that the big question of union recognition can be delayed long enough
for you to be able to put your strategy into effect.

How the forum works

The HR Strategy Forum, which is supported
by some of the industry’s most experienced people (see below), is Personnel
Today’s major new initiative to help readers become more strategic in their
day-to-day operations.

Over the coming months, Personnel Today will give a unique,
developmental opportunity to hone your strategic skills using a wide range of
HR scenarios submitted by senior HR professionals. Each week, our panel of
experienced practitioners and consultants will provide solutions to a typical
strategic HR dilemma. You can get involved by sending in your own problems,
marked ‘strategic dilemmas’, to [email protected]

Duncan Brown, Assistant director general, CIPD

Paul Kearns, Director, PWL

Jim Matthewma,n Worldwide partner, Mercer
Human Resource Consulting

Andrew Mayo, Director,MLI

Louise Allen, Director, LAPartners

Penny Davis, Head of HR operations,

Marie Gill, Head of organisational
development, Asda

Neil Roden, HR director, Royal Bank
of Scotland

Ralph Tribe, Vice-president of HR,
Getty Images

Dilys Winn, HR director,
Gloucestershire County Council

Margaret Savage, Head of HR strategy,

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