Last person standing!
(please switch the lights off on the way out!)
This is the final instalment in a series of three blogs tackling the subject of redundancy. Our first blog offered practical advice from an experience coach, Linda Steel. Read: Coping with redundancy: advice from an experienced redundancy and life coach.
Our second blog was from a candidate whose role had been made redundant and documented their thoughts throughout the process of getting back into employment. Read Redundancy: a first hand account.
This blog is from my own personal perspective and draws on my experiences from over 20 years ago working at the Rank Group where I was one of the last people standing within my department during a round of redundancies.
The Rank Outsider
Early 1997 marked the year I had my first ever experience with a Recruitment Consultant, and thanks to Linda Steel I moved from DTZ’s property research and started my new role as a Site Location Analyst at the Rank Group – please refer to my blog on How to Win at interviews to hear more about that specific interview process.
I recall meeting with Linda in London and chatting through the role – she had to manage my expectations as I originally wanted to be considered for the senior analyst role which I was clearly under-qualified for. Below is the letter and report that she wrote about me which certainly helped in getting me to interview stage.
I joined a 6 strong team known as Site Location Services (SLS), headed up by Andy Thompson (now Chairman of Anytime Fitness UK & Ireland). It was an exciting time – Rank were planning on putting a Leisure World, a unique under-one-roof concept that pulled together a cinema (Odeon) family entertainment centre (Hotshots), Music bar (Jumpin Jaks), Nightclub (Ikon/Diva/Oceana), Casino (Grosvenor) and a Bingo hall (Mecca), into every large town and city in the country. The group were investing in the team, data and technology – critical in providing the insight to make informed location decisions about the concept.
That was until Rank decided to divest its cinema, bar and nightclub businesses and focus on its gaming operations of Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos. Almost overnight the 50 strong property team that had been assembled to a fanfair launch at Odeon Swiss Cottage (addressed by a chain-smoking MD John Garrett with a blatant disregard for the no smoking policy), with a call to action to dominate the UK with Leisure World, had collapsed. Site Location Services would have to reduce its team from 6 to 3 people.
A friend in need
I recall the nervous anticipation of the outcome of the consultation process on who would remain and who would be let go. There was a lot at stake – this was a new function in Maidenhead (a cost saving exercise known as ‘under one roof’), bringing various disparate head office businesses together. This meant that many people had relocated with their families in order to settle near their new place of work.
The Site Location team had enjoyed a period of 12 months to get to know each other, build the function from scratch, successfully develop a good team ethic and transform the analytical capability that ultimately supported the significant investment decisions of the property function. The six of us were different personalities and experience levels but we all provided something unique to the group. I have personally kept in touch with all members of that team and have made some very good friends (and successful business partners) in the process.
I was one of the ‘lucky’ 3 who would remain in the team – I should have been elated, but I felt like I had also lost out and a certainly element of guilt as I was losing colleagues and good friends. I had to join the other ‘remainers’ to rally round and offer our support to the three who would be leaving. Our support ranged from helping them with CV writing, interview techniques, identifying potential places of employment, and general advice to give them confidence that they would be back in gainful employment in a short space of time.
Capacity Drops, Workload Rises
Our arrangement of desks in one corner of the open plan office seemed remarkably sparse when our three colleagues left in early 1998. One thing was clear – there would be no let-up in our work schedules, in fact, after a drop of 50% in our delivery capacity, the incoming evaluation requests were not adjusted accordingly. This meant that we were more stretched and less responsive to assess potential sites. It is generally accepted that those who remain are the lucky ones but there is usually a greater burden put on those who remain. We have certainly seen a spike in similar conversations with candidates after a round of redundancy. Redundancy initiatives disrupt the status quo (which can be both positive and negative) and can potentially trigger domino effect changes. It certainly is a good eliminator of complacency or false perceptions about job security!
Is there an end to re-organisation?
Re-organisation (a posh word for redundancies/cost cutting) is an all too regular occurrence in the working world. Businesses can get too bloated with headcount and may need a re-adjustment, other times it is a change in focus, typically brought about by a change in leadership, that causes the restructure. These changes are sometimes positive (there are always people who are too comfortable in their roles and are not really helping the organisation progress) but often it results in significant knowledge and expertise being lost from the business.
Those that get left behind, some of whom may have been very loyal to the business, can certainly see an erosion of that loyalty, and an increased fear of ‘I might be next’. Re-organisations are usually done in stages and just because you may have survived one round of redundancy it doesn’t always mean you will be immune to future rounds. The converse can also happen where long serving staff, who have come to the end of their usefulness for their current employer (this does happen!), will not actively seek to move in order to get a significant redundancy pay-out further down the line.
Phoenix from the Flames
The re-organisation at Rank served as a reality check that although as location planning practitioners we may believe that our skills and insights are business critical, the reality is that they are not often seen as such by senior business leaders.
This fear of ‘we might be next’ was certainly one of the drivers behind our decision as the 3 ‘remainers’ at Rank to force our employers to contract out our services back to us in a new entity which would be the start of GeoBusiness Solutions. GeoBusiness Solutions would develop a very credible business throughout the early 2000’s with a number of high profile clients, including Camelot, John Lewis and the Post Office, culminating in a sale of the business in 2005 to MapInfo Corporation. They often say that new business formation peaks during times of recession when circumstances force a change in approach which was certainly the case with us.
Where are they now?
Sadly, two of the original team of 6 are no longer with us, Ken (we used to call him Captain Birdseye) was the elder statesman of the group who provided necessary skills in CACI’s InSite to the team, and Jon Walker, my long standing friend and business partner who sadly passed away 10 years ago this month. Incidentally, as a mark of respect we are having a collection in his memory and his 3 boys (who were all aged less than 10 years old when he died) have nominated Macmillan Cancer Support as our chosen charity, so if anyone remembers him and would like to make a donation:
My other Rank colleagues have gone on to have very successful careers elsewhere.
Nielsen joined CACI in March 1998, enjoyed a very distinguished 19 year career there, and now heads up Geospatial at Deloitte. Colin spent 15 years at Yell Group, nearly 4 years at mobile telco provider Three, and is now an Agile Delivery Manager at CGI where he is looking after significant local government projects. Andy had a stint as head of Head of Location Planning (where he was a casualty of re-organisation there) and has also been responsible for bringing the 24 hour fitness brand Anytime Fitness to the UK and Ireland, where he is currently chairman.
There is little doubt that redundancy is part and parcel of today’s work environment and it is never a pleasant experience for all those involved, regardless of whether you are one to leave or stay. Clearly uncertainty is not nice and can cause significant stress and worry but all I can say is that once you are through the other side you will never look back. All the people I know who have been affected by redundancy have gone on to bigger and better things.
We’d love to hear your views and experience. What did redundancy mean for you?
Author: Steve Halsall