Treating others as you would want to be treated

Treating others as you would want to be treated: John Craggs, chief executive at Gentoo Group, give an outline of his experience of change management

We all know that we’re working in a fast changing and uncertain climate. Events over the past 12 months have proved this. The adage of, ‘the future ain’t what it used to be,’ seems ever truer, with ambiguity being the name of the game.

I read the results of a recent survey by Hays Group which suggested that morale amongst housing staff has slipped markedly.  Organisational change, caused by rent reductions, welfare reform, potential merger discussions and the like, are all causing uncertainty.  People are not able to be at their best, when they’ve got one eye on a future which might not be there at all, or a substantially changed one with the stress that we know evidentially will be caused.

The best managed change plan will still be subject to the ‘ups and downs’ of people.  How leaders and managers deliver a difficult message – and – how the message is received by the individuals and teams who are on the other end.  The relentless drive forward in the ease and power of both technology and social media means that managers and leaders have to take this into account when communicating change, or Facebook will have done the job for you before you get to the second briefing.

If this is the case, ask yourself, ‘does this pass the ‘how would I like this to happen to me, test?’

On a recent recruitment drive for a senior position, a ‘high-flying’ business leader in the north-east responded to one of our job advertisements.  They were drawn to apply, as we are a ‘values driven organisation’, and we put our people first and foremost.  The particular candidate previously ran a huge organisation.  Whilst going through a redundancy exercise there, they had emailed their entire workforce with a message: ‘if you haven’t received another email by 6.00pm this evening, then you can assume that your position is safe from redundancy ……!’

Needless to say, this person was unsuccessful in their application – given that their claim did not align with their actions. To have employees nervously watching their emails and hoping that nothing ‘pinged’ by a certain time, is a massive misalignment between stated or claimed values and actual behaviour.

In going through our own organisational change programme over the past 18 months, we have taken many million pounds out of our running costs. As a result, more than 300 staff have been made redundant, with a further 260 leaving the Group through other channels and for other reasons.  I was insistent that the manner with which we undertook this transformation task, was as important as making sure we hit the right financial target. The only way that this could be done was by all staff getting the same message at the same time, from me. Luckily we have a venue in Sunderland which is able to accommodate 1600 bums on seats (and our usual choice of venue for my annual staff address). My language was unambiguous, simple and clear.

Timescales were articulated and staff left with a mood of, ‘well at least we know where we stand ….’ On top of this, my executive leadership team met weekly to share key information between themselves and we produced bi-weekly (sometimes weekly) newsletters for staff with the aim of keeping them up to date with the work that was being undertaken to save money and protect as many jobs as was financially possible. We also ensured a strong relationship with the trade unions and our the representatives within the business, which was another way of ensuring employees were kept up to date with accurate information.

Over the months that followed my briefing, all line managers were kept fully up to date and when the time came to make an announcement, our HR Team did not take the lead. Instead, the HR team led on the training of line managers – whom received some quite extensive training on individual emotional response to change (or Change Curve) – i.e. – what it is, how to spot it and what to do about it.  That was HR’s critical role – to map out the process, give managers the tools to do the job and to be there in a supportive and consultative way – especially when the bad news was being given to colleagues.

We’re nearly at the end of that difficult journey now.  Morale is high, customer service is improving, we’ve got a healthy development pipeline and have recruited virtually a new Board and executive management team, albeit much smaller than the previous team

I’ve just read a quote today from Richard Branson, which reads…‘There’s no magic formula for great company culture.  The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated’.


Simple and true.

John Craggs

Chief Executive Officer, Gentoo Group