The pace of change

I met with a friend, Andy, at the beginning of September.   I’ve known Andy ever since he came as a “temp” to work in my HR department one summer.  He’s a bright cookie and after leaving university he worked hard and is now an established HR manager in a good NHS Trust.

Andy was nervous, yet excited, when he informed me that a few weeks previously he had been asked to lead the HR elements of the cost savings programme within his Trust.  He told me about how fast the project was developing and

“any day now we’ll be starting the consultation with staff”.

I sagely responded that it was almost certainly too late to make cost-savings in year.  Then with my “techie” hat on I starting telling him about some of the obscure NHS financial regulations that HR professionals need to be mindful of when managing large scale down-sizing projects.

Almost like an enthusiastic puppy, Andy took notes as he reassured me that it was “full steam ahead”.  At one point, I sat back and warned Andy that 

“This is the NHS, no major change happens that quickly”.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Andy called me today.  He’s feeling frustated because the consultation still hasn’t commenced, and the Exec team still haven’t decided on some of the key details of the road map.  He’s also worried about any negative comments about HR that might arise from the current delays.     I didn’t have to say anything…but I had forewarned this.

What is happening to Andy is not unusual for an HR professional working in the NHS.  Those of us who are passionate about delivering high quality HR advice are ready to respond to the challenge of making things happen quickly.  But more often than not barriers are put in our way.

There’s always those who want to avoid the obvious conflict that arises out of making people redundant;  there are those who are risk-adverse and so want to avoid any Employment Tribunal; and there are those who are just not very good at making decisions.

I see it as our role in HR to effectively influence and negotiate through these brick walls.  And determining the speed of change is within  our gift.  We just have to have more belief in ourselves.


The unfortunate demise of the Retention of Employment model

Retention of Employment is an interesting employment model which not many people know about.  It was designed to bring about a win-win scenario for public bodies entering in to Joint Venture (JV) arrangements with private sector organisations. 

Under this model, the staff are seconded on a long-term basis to the JV, and therefore, ultimate accountability for the staff’s terms and conditions remain with the pubic sector body.  This has a number of benefits for staff  including the ability to retain their public sector pension arrangements; this is important for all parties, as frequently the cost of bulk pension transfers prohibit any further commercial negotations with the Joint Venture.

The (previous) Government ceased the operation of this arrangement, and I think that this was a mistake.   Although recognising that on average it can take up to two years from the initial tender to “Go-Live” for a Joint Venture, down-stream significant savings alongside income generation can be made from such organisations. 

We are in an era where all public organisations are looking to save money.   The loss of a concept such as Retention of Employment (R0E) means that Trust have one less traditional option when trying to avoid redundancies.   Admittedly, the timescales attached to Joint Ventures may not be attractive to Trusts looking to make cost reductions (yesterday).

So instead, Trusts are now looking to find alternative methods to manage through these rocky times.  I’m hoping that we are going to see some creative cost-saving options, similar to the concepts tried and tested in the private sector 2 years ago.  But that’s for another post….

The NHS Temperature Test

It’s been a few weeks since the White Paper was published. There was nothing in it that was a surprise to those of us working in the NHS and reading the trade journals. I recently reflected upon my conversations following its publication and as a result, I decided to do a totally unscientific survey on how staff in the NHS were currently feeling about job security.

My methodology? The NHS is a glorious institution: if you don’t work in the NHS, you know a family member or friend who does. It is through these loose social networks that I have been undertaking my research. I have traveled to the South Coast, to the heart of Berkshire, 100 miles north of the M25 and of course, central London.  I have also undertaken a literature search by keeping an eye on what’s being said in the Health Service Journal (who have run articles about redundancy every week for the last 3 weeks).

My conclusion is that staff are falling into four  key themes:

  1. Many staff are already working in an organisation that is facing significant financial pressure, and where major organisational change was already on the agenda.  Those staff working in acute Trusts mainly fall under this category
  2. Staff with significant service are taking the pragmatic approach that at least they have a substantial redundancy package to fall back upon.  The HSJ has run an article every week for the last 3 weeks preparing managers for this.
  3. Senior staff within PCTs (both clinicians and managers) recognise their value and the fact that many of the new GP consortia will require their skills.  They see the long-term position of job stability, just with a change of employer.
  4. Junior staff are showing higher levels of anxiety, as they are less clear about the future plans and how it relates to them.  This is understandable

There is one particular anecdote from my survey that I wish to share which highlights some of the above points:  Jane (fictional name) is the Head of Pharmacy in a PCT.  Since university she has worked her way up through the hospital system.  When she reached a glass ceiling, she moved into her local PCT.  In the last three years she has saved the PCT millions in reducing the drugs budget and she knows there is potential for more.  But with the White Paper she won’t be given the chance to see this through.

Jane has achieved her savings through working with the GPs.  She knows the different personalities, and how some are more progressive and forward-thinking than others.   Because of this first-hand experience, she knows how difficult it’s going to be to drive efficiencies into the drug budget for her patch when it’s devolved to the different GP consortiums.

The GPs need her expertise, and so Jane knows she’ll get a new a job working in one of the consortia.  She also has great belief in her abilities.  And in the back of her mind, Jane is aware that if it all goes wrong she has 15 years service and that equates to a substantial redundancy package.

Today, Jane continues to work hard, and like all NHS employees, as she wakes up every day knowing that she wants to deliver the best possible healthcare she can for her patients.

There is anger and fear about the proposals, but’s the subject of a different post in the future.

Thoughts on NHS Restructure – Part 2

Restructure.  That’s the reality of the NHS at at present.  This is my second post about restructure within the NHS,  and highlights another issue that I regularly see when working with different NHS Trusts around the country.

When the finance guys look at the numbers and decide that there needs to be a plan to bring the balance sheet back into the black, the gut reaction is often to take a percentage cut from each division – 10%, 12%, 25% (sound familiar?).

But there are two reasons why this isn’t the best approach:

1. To enable effective organisational change that generates cost savings, resources need to be ploughed into the organisation.  In otherwords, Trusts need to “spend to save”.    In some services it is as simple as making an invest need to be able to realise any potential income generation.

Turning to HR:  By asking a HR Department to cut back on 25% of it’s employee relations team when it’s just about to embark on a major redundancy programme is just madness.

During any major downsizing – it’s all on hands-on-deck if you’re in HR.  There are numerous meetings, letters, calculations and other transactional tasks that need to be taken.  And that’s not even considering the transformational elements that should be part of the mix.

Trying to do this within limit resources means that the organisation is more likely to encounter problems down-stream. Problems that cost.  Either at Employment Tribunals or that fact that the organisational change wasn’t properly thought through and doesn’t work.

2. A flat cut across departments encourages silo working.    Organisations should consider what cost efficiencies can be gained by redesigning a workforce that cuts across the organisation.  Such as moving from a service that is  decentralised to a centralised approach.

When departments seek to achieve a percentage target, the organisation does not give itself the time and space to consider what greater, and perhaps more appropriate savings could be made within the system  as a whole.

There is often a pressing need to identify how money is going to be saved, yesterday.  Decisions are made under pressure, and the impact is that there are lost opportunities.

All the above is easy for me to say, as I’ve already learnt from my mistakes.   However, I am (un)fortunate enough to have already lived through this fight before in the last five years.  Not many of my colleagues have.

Significant savings require a radical, yet carefully planned and thoroughly considered  organisational change plan.  I know that I’m not stating anything new here.   I just felt it had to be said again.