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I?n 2009 Brent Council’s chief executive commissioned an external review of the organisation’s staffing. The verdict was that we had too many staff engaged in managing or supporting service delivery and not enough in front-line operations. In response, the corporate management team agreed a set of organisational design principles, including streamlined management structures, to realign staffing arrangements with council priorities. In addition, HR identified target reductions in the cost of agency workers, overtime pay and some allowances. In April last year, the structure and staffing project was launched to lead this race to the future organisation and deliver ambitious in-year savings. Sponsored by our chief executive, Gareth Daniel, the project forms a key part of Brent’s “One Council” improvement and efficiency programme for 2010-14. The project group brought together an eclectic mix of skills and personalities from across our people and development function, as well as from communications and, when necessary, the finance and legal teams. The group included a full-time interim project manager, who fulfilled the essential “bad-cop” role in liaising with a range of stakeholders, while in my role as head of HR, I was the overall project lead. The blend of skills in the group enabled me to keep my eye on the ball and on the long game.Other members of the group included Andy James, recruitment operations manager, who single-handedly adapted the council’s e-recruitment system to support both our voluntary redundancy and redeployment schemes. Julie Douglas Nelson, our lead learning and development officer, designed briefing sessions for over 700 managers, and reined in directors to chair these events – a logistical nightmare but a pivotal part of the project plan. Another key player, Carol Simpson, joined the team as a full-time HR project manager. She became known as the “queen of the spreadsheet”, developing an Excel master plan that has captured every detail of the project. Now reaching the end of its second and final phase – or Wave, as we call it – the project has been highly successful in meeting its objectives. Wave 1, which ran from April to September 2010 and aimed to save £4.5 million in 2010/11, exceeded its targets by 90 per cent for the first part-year and 57 per cent for the full year. Fewer than 5 per cent of redundancies were compulsory, and most staff at risk were successfully redeployed. There were very few appeals or disputes arising from these changes, and staff survey results have actually improved over the past year. Wave 2, which ends in June, is also on course to exceed savings targets. Again, we were able to avoid compulsory redundancies in 30 per cent of the posts we were losing as a consequence of our original plans to reduce staffing costs and of the budget cuts resulting from the government’s comprehensive spending review. Overall, the successful delivery of the project has raised the profile and status of HR, which has succeeded in demonstrating an understanding of both the financial and non-financial benefits of the project. We have learnt to think on our feet throughout the project, and the need to adapt our approach to a fast-changing situation continues to be a key learning point and challenge for the whole HR team.
Key team members