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.