I learned it is very important to be part of the project team from the moment when the project pre-assessment starts. This ensures that all HR/LR aspects are being considered within the total project approach before a final “go-ahead” will be given.
There are a lot of project and HR/LR issues that need to be considered, I will limit this overview to a few important LR topics, starting with some that occur during the pre-assessment and feasibility phase.
- Have the HR/LR vision ready and approved which defines how the company wants to treat their employees in situations of change. For example, the principle “Our ambition is to give clarity to individuals potentially impacted as soon as possible” will oblige the project team to be as clear and transparent as possible when announcing the project.
- LR constraints of the project. It is important to educate the project team early on, on the concepts and implications of the European social dialogue model: what does information and consultation mean, when can decisions be taken, how will project timelines be affected by LR processes….The earlier on the project team members are informed on these aspects, the quicker they can be implemented in the project planning.
- The confidentiality approach. The higher the number of employees that are informed, the higher the risk of leakage of the project. Having a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) signed from day one by all, combined with a registration process, will reduce this risk. It provides clarity and control on who is ‘in’ and ‘out’. But it also provides the opportunity to explain the need for confidentiality (avoid uncertainty, only communicate when ready, save-guarding companies’ reputation ….), thus creating more support and awareness on confidentiality with the project team members.
- The timing of the announcement is not necessarily linked to the day all preparations on the communications are ready. There might be events outside the organisation that, if not taken into account, can influence, delay or even block the implementation of the project. Think of elections of a new local work council or for a new president / government. Is it wise in this company to announce around the holiday season or at the start of the ordering season….?
- HR cost benefit analysis. As different countries are involved at the same time, one cannot have all the insights needed to make a correct calculation. The (HR services) person is responsible for the data collection and calculation, but the local HR’s input is needed. There are too many local variables that are not a legal/formal requirement but that may have an important financial impact. Think of sweet deals in previous restructurings. Think of a local reference company providing a lot more benefits. Think of personal situations (f.e. pension rights) that make the project more expensive.
- European versus local Work Council process. The company may have to inform and consult with the European Work Council (EWC), as defined in the companies’ EWC agreement. An important question is whom to inform first: the EWC or the local WC’s? In case of unclarity, for whatever reason, I prefer “to inform the impacted first”: all effort goes to informing the local WC’s and the impacted staff first. Shortly after, the EWC has to be informed. And unless otherwise defined in the EWC agreement, both processes are not linked: the EWC has to come up with its opinion within a reasonable time and independent of the local WC processes, so a final decision can be made and implementation – where legally allowed – can start.
The next phase in the project planning is the Design & Planning phase: the project becomes likely to happen and the LR preparations are more focussed on the operational level.
Due to lack of space & time, I will not highlight a number of obvious topics in this phase: communication, risk assessments, negotiations…. I would however like to clarify 2 important topics in this phase of the project:
- Communication alignment and consistency of the in-house communication will influence the acceptance of the message. It is essential that the direct people leaders and the local HR’s are fully informed, on the eve of the announcement at the latest. They have to know and understand the communication content, the Q&A and how to react to unexpected or location specific questions. The more the direct people leaders speak the “same language” as the official communication, the more the message becomes accepted by the employees.
- Bargaining Authority process. Conducting an information, consultation and negotiation process in different countries at the same time, each having their own ‘laws, logic and timeliness’ entails different risks: lack of oversight, budget overrun, topics agreed locally that might hinder/delay the implementation…. In the Bargaining Authority process, all local HR teams concerned prepare a standardized information deck with a number of issues, such as -but not limited to-legal context, processes & timelines, local risk assessment and negotiation budget. This information deck is discussed with European management to get an approval on the process and the budget ( which is their Bargaining Authority -BA). During the negotiation phase, Local HR teams only have to report back periodically on the evolution of the process to the LR project lead. They only have to come back to the management team in case they need to overrun their BA or in case an unforeseen problem arises. Upon agreement with local WC/Trade Unions, the local HR team is allowed to sign. As the LR project lead reports on a periodic basis to management, they in turn are informed regularly on all the negotiation processes and issues in 1 report and they know there will be no budget overrun without their approval.
The last step in the project planning is the implementation phase and obviously, this starts with the announcement of the project to the organisation and to the outside world.
- D-day announcement. The set-up that works well on D-Day, is starting the day by local HR’s informing the local WC’s first (legal obligation and courtesy), followed by an announcement to the impacted staff in all locations, in a conference call, by the project communicator. Ideally and also due to translation issues linked to this kind of communication, there will be a relevant manager present in the affected locations, who will take face to face the Q&A session, preferably in the local language. All questions outside the project story line and the Q&A have to be left un-answered – with a promise of a swift reply – and send to the LR project lead. Once all open questions are collected, the LR project lead coordinates and ensures alignment of the replies and distributes them back to all local HR’s for communication to the affected staff.
- Restore trust with local WC / Trade Unions. It is to be expected that the relationships between local HR and local WC / Trade Union, however good they might have been before, will be negatively impacted by the restructuring process. Despite the HR teams’ efforts to deal with the local WC/Trade Union in a respectful manner, the latter in turn have been put in a difficult spot with their stakeholders due to the management decision. It is therefore important that management and the LR project lead discusses this issue during/after the implementation with local HR, to support what needs to be done and prepare the grounds for restoring or improving the future relationship with the local WC/Trade union. (This recommendation assumes the company favours a workable or good relationship with the local WC/Trade Union.)