The curious case of the non-redundant apprentice

Lisa Mackay provides two examples where encouraging staff feedback can literally change lives.

One of the requirements of a consultation process (as legally required when making employees redundant) is to give employees the opportunity to provide feedback.

All too often I am working with businesses who somehow think that their staff either won’t work out that they need to change things, or that they don’t have anything of value to add – how wrong can they be! 

Here are a couple of cases where feedback had a significant impact:

1. The non-redundant apprentice

Last year I was working through a restructuring process with company X.  We had discussed at length what needed to be achieved, and agreed that costs needed to be cut and non-chargeable staff needed to be minimised or eliminated wherever possible.

The net result of this was agreement to:

• Reduce the number of electricians.

• Disestablish the local administrator, and centralise these tasks.

• Reduce the number of apprentices from two to one.

The decision to disestablish the apprentice was one that was definitely not taken lightly. The apprentice who was liable to become redundant (due to length of service, skills and knowledge, ability to do chargeable work etc) was a 16 year old who showed great potential; had only been with the company for a few months; and really and truly should not have been taken on at a point when work was diminishing.

Unfortunately no alternative to redundancy was identified by the management team.

During the feedback process the staff team took a very dim view of this proposal, and sought to present an alternative, of which they presented two:

• To ‘share’ the apprentice with another company. The staff had gone as far as to identify a company that was willing to discuss this possibility further.

• To negotiate with a major client to enable the apprentice to be at least partially chargeable on a particular site. Again the staff had gone as far as muting the idea with the client manager.

After consideration of the feedback it was agreed to postpone the decision about the apprentice position for six weeks whilst we further explored the proposed alternatives.

The net result is, 10 months later, the apprentice is still there, and he has proved to have every bit of potential that we initially identified!

2. Empire building?

It is all too easy to get caught up in solving the problem, and miss an alternative solution. Feedback also gives you the chance to sit back and reflect on the proposal.

The issue with Company Y was that regional managers were getting dragged down into the detail and not getting the opportunity to see the big picture. 

After a whole day of debating possible solutions a management structure was agreed which ensured that the day to day tasks were taken care of, and each regional manager would have the space to get on with the job of running the region. This involved the creation of a new role within the management structure, which we felt could be filled from within, and therefore created opportunities for staff, even though we had to also make some redundancies.



The proposal was put to the staff, and one piece of feedback was ‘isn’t that a bit top heavy on management?’ 

There was the initial, and inevitable response, ‘of course not’, but it did give pause to consider ‘is there an alternative solution?’ The answer was, yes – rather than create a new role, why not train the existing team to do their jobs more effectively? 

This was the solution we ended up implementing – saving us a management salary, but still enabling the regional manager to get clear of day-to-day tasks, safe in the knowledge that these were being taken care of.

Having their say

Though we may decide on a proposal for the best possible reasons, and may have debated at length before arriving at that conclusion, there is always another view/solution.

Give your staff the opportunity to have their say, and listen carefully – you will frequently be pleasantly surprised at what you hear.

Lisa Mackay is managing director of HRtoolkit Ltd. Phone 09 361 6323 or visit the website www.hrtoolkit.co.nz




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