Unprecedented challenges require unprecedented approaches to workforce management. As British Telecom moves away from its traditional approach to redeploying staff, accepting higher redundancy payments instead, we need to think about how we handle redeployment procedures in organisations.
The standard redeployment policy in public sector organisations has traditionally worked on a ‘pool model’. This means that when an individual’s role is made redundant, they are put into this pool and given priority access (or in some cases are simply slotted) into any new vacancy. This has proven to be a fantastic way of avoiding compulsory redundancies. When I worked at the Department for Work and Pensions we used this kind of approach to reduce the workforce from 130,000 to 100,000 over three years with just one compulsory redundancy.
The controversial point about redeployment pools with managers has always been that rather than competing the new vacancy openly, if the person in the redeployment pool can meet the ‘essential’ criteria of a job description or person specification, they get the job. This means – and it is no secret – that a manager is forced to take somebody who may not be the best person for the job.
The challenge that BT are faced with in 2018 is how sustainable this approach is when, in the case of significant restructure, you could end up with very large numbers of people being redeployed into posts for which they are not the strongest candidate. The dangerous irony of course being that, in an attempt to protect employment, the future of the company and certainly its competitiveness is brought into jeopardy.
The reason that BT is also a good example is that they are a company dealing with the challenge of new digital skills and infrastructure. Arguably, it is in this area that redeploying people whose skills were developed for a previous world creates the most risk.
None of this is to suggest that people whose roles are made redundant should be thrown on the scrap heap. Organisations do have a duty to those who they have no role for anymore and the current level of statutory redundancy pay is very low in many cases. Is there perhaps mileage in increasing levels of redundancy pay to help people bridge the transition to a new role and acquire the new skills that they need. Not only would this give people more appropriate support in a post-‘Job for Life’ world. It would also give organisations the freedom to move quickly, to be agile and to be on the front foot in increasing their productivity and competitiveness.
In Britain’s new role in the world, simply meeting ‘essential requirements’ will not be enough.