Change management? Nay lad, just sack the lot of ‘em!

Here’s a story that will appeal to some of the more cynical among you.

Have you ever been involved in a culture change programme, or sat through an Appreciative Inquiry event, or listened to a consultant go on about stakeholder management and the need to win hearts and minds to bring about organisational change?

Have you ever spent hours word-smithing employee communications to give an upbeat message about the coming changes, while trying to avoid saying anything that might offend anyone?

And I bet, at times, you have found yourself thinking, “Why can’t they just get on with it? Why do we have to tie ourselves in knots to get everyone on board? Why don’t they all stop moaning and just f**king do it?!”

In your weaker moments, you may even have thought, “Sod it! Let’s just sack them all and start again.”

Well that’s exactly what the Museum of London did, as People Management reports:

The Museum of London has “radically improved” its visitor experience after replacing the entire front-of-house workforce, its head of HR told PM. Mark Merka-Richards said a previous attempt to change the visitor service function – from the traditional role of “invigilation and security” to one of “active interaction with customers” – through training had been unsuccessful.

What? You mean there are some things you can’t solve using upbeat positive engagement events?

He said the only solution had been to “start again from scratch” with the team, including management.

The transformation began last year after a redevelopment project forced half of the museum’s galleries to close. Visitor service staff were given the chance to apply for voluntary redundancy and after two phases all 24 signed agreements. At the same time a major recruitment exercise took place, with “fundamentally different job descriptions and person specifications” developed to focus on customer interaction. More than 200 people applied for the 14 new posts. Successful candidates went through a three-week induction and training programme for their new roles as “museum hosts”.

Merka-Richards said timing had been critical to ensure front-of-house operations were maintained, with the old staff leaving on the same day as new employees completed their training. He branded the reform “a total success”, but added: “It was not easy and we faced resistance. But sometimes things have to be broken to be rebuilt.”

I don’t know of many places where the sack-’em-all-and-start-again strategy has been used, at least, not since the days of Bradley Hardacre, but I bet there are still plenty of managers who would just love to give it a try.

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12 Responses to Change management? Nay lad, just sack the lot of ‘em!

  1. There is something to be said about starting from scratch. In a lot of cases though, it’s the managers that are responsible for causing the problems to begin with (to include the most senior levels). So the cancer may remain. If that is so, after a honeymoon period, another sweep may be required.

  2. hrwench says:

    This is awesome!

  3. Gallimaufry says:

    Perhaps the geniuses in human resources (a dreadful term reminiscent of the recycling technology in Soylent Green), should also be sacked as they proved themselves 100% unsuccessful at recruiting and developing the staff involved. But how often do hr take any responsibility?

  4. Well, this post appealed to me, so I guess I must be one of the more cynical among us.

    Assuming they really tried to change attitudes and behavior, getting rid of everybody sounds extreme, but not shocking. Training isn’t the solution to all problems and sometimes employees don’t want to change.

    I just smiled at the mention of “fundamentally different job descriptions and person specifications”. Having dealt with a couple of redundancies in the UK, I understand that they want to make this very clear to everybody who may hear about it…

  5. About time too – front of house at this museum was woeful, inattentive and surly. Well done for being brave enough to do the necessary and good luck with the new crowd – couldn’t be worse!

  6. Peter Cook says:

    I read the PM article myself with some questions:

    Surely the management should have sacked themselves having poorly diagnosed the need and the idea that training could address that need?

    I must go to the Museum to be surrounded by shiny happy people!

    Peter

    Self Annointed Dean of the Academy of Rock

    Author ‘ Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’

    p.s. Tom Peters has some interesting things to say about Bruce Springsteen and Leadership

    http://www.tompeters.com/entries.php?note=010549.php

  7. All around I can imagine people throwing their hands up in horror….

    How often has your experience of any place – office, visitor attraction, ticket booth , hospital reception – been adversly affected by the behaviour of the very first person you meet? I am looking forward to reading the follow up story about how the fortunes of the London Museum have been turned round through this change.

    Maybe the people who took the redundancy package were just waiting for the chance to jump ship( which might explain why everybody was so blooming miserable). Everybody is happy then!

  8. tbrrob says:

    I believe Reagan did it with the whole of air traffic control back in the 80′s. Maybe worth looking up.

  9. I don’t think that Reagan was trying to fundamentally change attitudes and behaviours with the air traffic controllers any more than Maggie was trying to do the same with the miners. Their job description in both cases would not have changed much in either cases other than to reduce the numbers employed and the terms and conditions under which they worked. The Australian Government did this with wharfies as a way of breaking the union and changing work practices. The basic work tasks didn’t change at all.

    Seems that this strategy was a fundamental change in job description with very little overlap in fundamental core competencies and made sense in this case.

  10. Danny says:

    I have to say I must be one of the cynical ones as well cos I’ve had exactly the same thoughts myself – the only problem is that HR told me I couldn’t do it due to the risk of an employment tribunal.

    The result? I still have a bunch of lazy and change-resistant staff!

    If people won’t change then change the people seems like a good strategy to me.

  11. neil says:

    I’m not in HR but in many cases I still suspect “sack them all & start again” is actually more reasonable than “Why don’t they all stop moaning and just f**king do it?”

    If the new role is different enough to the old, why automatically label everyone lazy & change resistant, for not wanting to fill a role that they didn’t apply for?

    In this case it seems obvious that someone who applied for a role all about “invigilation and security” isn’t necessarily going to be enthusiastic about the idea of “active interaction with customers”.

    That doesn’t mean those staff have inherently bad attitudes or behaviour, just that you no longer have a place for them.

  12. Urug the Unprofessional says:

    Having worked in HR for many years, albeit mostly in Australia rather than the UK, I think that many of the comments about managers being to blame are probably right.

    Although we have to remember it is rarely the managers who decide to make the change who created the problem in the first place – that tends to be a legacy inherited from poor managers in the past. Generally HR ends up picking up the pieces of poor management behavior and poorly thought out decisions and has to make the best of a bad situation. Ironically then everyone blames the HR team for the problem anyway (see above)!

    I notice that it was not only the staff but also the managers who were made redundant in this case so that gives a good hint as to where the problem lay. It is probably more cruel to try to force square staff into round holes than to have a clean sweep and start all over again. An interesting article and certainly one to make us think.

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