Michael: Good morning Ray. Thank you very much for taking part in this podcast on downsizing, and still managing to keep and build on a company’s motivation. Can you firstly introduce yourself, tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Ray: My name is Ray Jardine and I’m the CEO of the Quad Group which is based in Gibraltar, but we work in Portugal, Spain, UK, generally – Anywhere in Europe.
Michael: And what do you do?
Ray: I feel that my purpose is essentially to make companies more effective through their staff, through their employees.
Michael: And what is the reason that you think this is important – because most people would say that – What’s special about what you do?
Ray: What’s special about what I do is that I really try to keep focus of the big picture when companies are going through periods of change. So for example, frequently when a company is trying to reduce costs they’ll go into very process-driven state, they’ll go into process drive to cut heads and their outcome is to reduce costs. What I try to get them to do is to go beyond that into being a fully functioning, effective company with effective people after the event.
Michael: So say that you were taken on to look after the project of helping a company seriously reduce headcount and keep the staff motivated to what comes next. What are some of the key behaviours you would do in doing that? What are some of the key things that you would do as part of that project?
Ray: Well frequently what I find is that when I’m called in the decision to reduce headcount is a “fait accompli”, and my experience as an HR practitioner of many years now is that in my function of HR it is often the case that we in HR are handed a “fait accompli” to deal with that.
Now I accept the “fait accompli”, but what I try to do is to just call a hault to the juggernaut for a moment, so to speak and I use my rapport building skills, my experience, my confidence to get a short recession from the decision so that I can get them to focus not as being a reduced cost – Clearly I understand why that’s important – but also to leave them with a highly motivated taskforce after the promotion so that their focus is not just on cutting cost, it’s also about thinking about the future and how we’re going to operate afterwards.
Michael: So what sort of typical sequence of steps would you go through in guiding or running that project? Where do you start when you’ve got the task or you’ve been given the assignment? What’s the first thing that you do? Or does it start before you’ve been given the assignment?
Ray: Well I think at one level there is some pre-work going on, and this may be at an entirely unconscious level. I’ve worked in a lot of companies – as a consultant for about forty companies and as an employee for three, and I’m now quite good at walking into a organisation and looking for cultural artifacts – things that give me an impression of the company, or at least a hypothesis of the company that I can test out during discussion.
I then make sure very quickly that I build relationships with the key players, the decision makers, and firstly ask them some questions as to how they view what the future will be. So using my questioning techniques I will get them to focus beyond the cost reduction aspect.
Michael : You said that you can fairly quickly ascertain some of the cultures of the company – How do you use this?
Ray: In essence there is a danger that you can become too prescriptive in this, and I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that that’s what I do – But there is usually quite a lot of data around in operation manuals. It’s more subtle than watching the way that the fish move around in the glass bowl in the reception area. It’s really about gathering data in a conscious and an unconscious level to really get a feel for what the organisation is like. So if it’s hugely autocratic you can pick up clues about that: signs on the door saying ‘Do Not’, for example.
Michael: And taking that forward – If you found that the organisation was very autocratic, how would that change what you do, if it would?
Ray: It changes things in the sense that people clearly are used to being told what to do. So actually pushing the process through might be a bit easier, but what is more difficult in an autocratic organisation is to get them to think about the next stage which is motivating people that gives them the performance that is required.
Michael: Let’s go right back to the beginning. You’ve established contact with the stakeholders, the key decision makers – What do you do next?
Ray: There’s no way of avoiding this but we have to go through the communication and consultation process. Part of the problems with the communication process is that you’re essentially imposing uncontrolled change on people. That is an emotional experience, and they’re usually negative emotions.
Michael: OK, so how do deal with that? What’s your recommendation?
Ray: For me the important thing is getting people to express those emotions. What frequently happens in an organisation is that they make the announcement and some HR practitioners and line managers practically withdraw because it’s such a painful atmosphere and environment that’s been created by the start of the process. People are upset and line managers often don’t know how to cope with that.
What I’ve used in the past is yes, to make the announcement, to recognise that the feelings are going to be very low, the motivation is going to be very low, some people might be feeling quite desperate – and then what I’d do is to run little half day programs on managing your personal change. The fact of the matter is that being faced with those emotions was frequently enough to make people feel a little more relieved, a little better, a little more positive.
Michael: OK. So you give people a chance to express themselves. As far as the actual project of reducing numbers goes, what do you think the priorities are in that middle stage?
Ray: I think for me it’s acting as quickly as the process will allow you to act. Once – if you put yourself in an employees shoes – once your working life is destabilized what you need to do is get some things fixed back in place. The difficulty is that the consultancy process which was designed to protect employees, actually stops them getting information early enough to allow them to make decisions. So they are destabilized for, in some cases, fairly lengthy periods. And that can’t be helpful for productivity.
Michael: So you want to tell people as quickly as you can while maintaining all of the legal requirements – How do you make sure people are told?
Ray: I think people prefer honesty. I usually try to make sure that the line manager is there as well as an HR practitioner, and just be absolutely honest. It needs to be done with an air of sensitivity and care, but they need to be clear about what the message is.
Michael: And when people are told, do you make sure, that as a generalisation they should leave straight away? What’s your view on how long before they should leave the business?
Ray: I think it’s purpose is that they say goodbye in a real way. It’s a closing of a chapter for the organisation and it’s a closing of a chapter for the individual. and almost, when one hear’s of people on the ‘At risk’ folder, or whatever strategy the company goes through for fifteen months – I can’t believe that they are going to be motivated for those fifteen months and that them hanging around benefits those that are left, the survivors.
Michael : OK, so you’ve told the people that have got a job that they’ve got a job, you’ve told the people that are left that they haven’t. What do you do to re-engage the people that are there?
Ray: I think that’s a really good question because one of the great difficulties that I’ve perceived in these circumstances is that the same person that has made the decision about who goes, who has given their employees some fairly devastating information – The business isn’t doing so well, they need to cut costs, be smarter – is also the person who stands up and says ‘No we’ve got to make it work.’ and there’s something with me that’s about maintaining a level of involvement between employees that engages them – and that might be as simple as saying ‘Ok, we still have the same amount of work to do, but we have less people – What are the ways that we can manage our process to make sure that we are as successful as we possibly can be?”
And involving the staff in those discussions. My favourite route is to take a bunch of post-it notes and say ‘let’s make sure we understand what the business process is, and let’s see where we can engage people, and reengage people, in wherever the business needs to be.’
Michael: So you’ve now reengaged people. In a normal project would that be the end of your involvement, or is there anything else that you think is worth people planning onto for the future?
Ray: Being a consultant I’m always looking for new opportunities to try and retain some kind of engagement. I think the key is to make employers understand the capability that they have within the business, and if they look beyond the cost reduction, what is the company going to look like in six months time when it’s fully functioning? What sort of human capital do they need in place? What plans do they have for succession?
The number of companies that I go into and ask ‘What happens if the CEO gets run over by a big red bus? Where is your succession plan?’ and there either isn’t one, or it’s covert but there’s nothing active being done to deliver it.
Michael: Very different question. What do you believe about yourself when you’re running through this process? What do you believe about the individuals within the company?
Ray: There are several kinds of attributes or states that I feel that I need to bring. I think that I am the person that can keep the big picture and an eye on the future, and I need to make that live for the directors and possibly with employees – To look beyond the quick fix that the money saving offers. So I can offer that vision, and maybe sometimes on their behalf. I’m a great believer in absolute integrity, and one of the criticisms that I hear frequently is that communication in these circumstances is not very good.
Part of the problem is the legal progress – that the communication process cannot be very good because the consultation process, which is designed to support employees, isn’t gone through either appropriately or it’s rushed. And I think that it’s really important that people are treated with respect, especially those that leave, because it’s what you want your survivors to have is the idea that the company had to do this, that they’ve done it well and it’s people have walked away with respect and integrity.
Michael: And even a higher level question – who are you when you do this? Do you have a personal mission or vision?
Ray: I feel that clearly I’m employed because of my expertise, but you can deliver that in different ways. I choose to do it through education and support and sometimes challenge. That’s the route that I chose to take. Sometimes I have to be a guru to the organisation or the CEO, sometimes I have to be the school mum. There are a variety of roles that I need to take on to get them to focus on the endgame.
Michael: You’ve answered the next question, which is a bit of a fun question – If you had to describe your relationship with the company and the individuals in some metaphorical way, how would it be? And I’ll bring your attention to what you’ve already mentioned – Guru and schoolmum. Is there anything that you’d add to that?
Ray: I recognise that I’m generally only with them for a limited amount of time. And I could just come in and work the process. But I do more than that. If I use the analogy of the snooker table when along comes the cue ball and hits the red balls and they scatter in different directions – frequently that is as a result of my activity as a cue ball. I bounce off people and maybe send them in slightly different directions than if they hadn’t come across me.
Michael: To summarize, and to bring this interview towards it’s end, would you like to say what you think is really important in running a change project like you’ve talked about? And you could take the opportunity either to reemphasise what you’ve said or to say something else that we may have left out so far.
Ray: I think organisations concern themselves (rightly) with these people issues. There is a tendency to cattail their organisational thinking around the end game of cutting costs. What I try to do is to try to think about having a successful, well-run, profitable business. Which is reliant on their ability to motivate their people correctly, and if we treat that as the endgame, there are a few other processes that need to be gone through, other than the consultation period, and it requires managers to motivate and manage.
Michael : Excellent. Thank you.
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