One of the least enjoyable aspects of working in HR is telling people they are about to lose their jobs. Most people spend weeks preparing the announcements, but Dale Cox had to be the bearer of bad news just six days into his interim role as head of HR at Ofsted, the government's education watchdog.
In late November last year, he found himself on a train to Birmingham, ready to stand with a senior manager and tell staff that their office was to close and they would no longer be employed.
"It was certainly in at the deep end," he told Personnel Today. "But it was a credit to the work that had already been done that I was able to step in with a week's notice and pick it up."
The work included hundreds of Q&As being prepared, along with extensive information for the department's intranet and pre-written scripts. "People were ready for the announcement and had time to think through the options open to them," Cox said.
Office closures and job losses are the headline-grabbing aspect of the Improving Ofsted change programme, which involves moving to a regional delivery structure for the department's core inspection services.
Ofsted underwent a large expansion back in 2001 when it assumed responsibility for the regulation and inspection of childcare. As a result, staffing levels rose from 550 to 2,500 within six months.
With the recent publication of the government's Every Child Matters Green Paper Ofsted has also been given the lead in inspecting children's services in healthcare and criminal justice.
The change project underlines the government's commitment to maximising frontline delivery of services, as set out in the Gershon report. But the director of the Improving Ofsted programme, Andrew White, said: "We were working on proposals in advance of Gershon, looking at ways of improving efficiency in Ofsted. The report agreed with the principles we were coming up with."
White and his team outlined the changes to staff in July last year, explaining the rationale behind them and what would happen next. Over the next three months a number of working groups looked at different areas of the organisation.
"On the whole it was a tremendously positive experience because, despite the obvious consequences for some people, what they came back with were rational and feasible options about how we could take the organisation forward," he said.
It was then decided to announce the results to a