Is the lack of people planning at heart of BA’s current woes?

A leading people expert has said the industrial unrest at previously
state-owned organisations British Airways (BA) and Royal Mail could be down to
the lack of a clear people strategy when first privatised.

Caroline Waters, director of people networks at BT,
which was privatised in 1984, said the company "took a clear path"
early in its corporate life and decided its people strategy had to be integral
to business success.

"I would say that we [BT, BA and Royal Mail] probably all started from
similar positions, with a blank canvas," Waters said. "If you’re
talking to your employees and talking to the unions, then actually it’s only
going to be in a very severe breakdown that you will get industrial

Waters told Personnel Today that BT had been through a huge amount of change
and had lost more than 100,000 people in the past 10 years – but without a
single day of industrial action.

This was demonstrated by the fact the majority of BT staff are represented
by the Communication Workers Union – the same union as post office workers, she

"The Royal Mail has had more [industrial action] than most companies
put together, but wherever possible, we have worked with the union," she

"That has been all about our ability to sustain a dialogue. There is a
huge amount of respect and we are never dismissive of their views," she

"It’s no coincidence that successful companies have good HR functions.
Key to a successful people strategy is presenting a compelling vision that
staff want to be part of."

Waters also suggested a lack strong leadership might be a contributing
factor in preventing disputes. "BT has been fortunate with its leaders. We
have individuals who are respected and can have the right sort of dialogue with
people," she said.

By Mike Berry

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