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Annie Hayes

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HR Practitioner’s Diary: HR eats in Hell’s kitchen

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Seasoned HR Consultant, Sue Kingston files her latest report from the HR field including her hand in turning around the fortunes of a food production business on the brink of failing a safety inspection, dealings with a suicidal chef, the latest politicking at ‘South Fork’ and more on those vital weight, chocolate and wine stats including news on Sue’s romance.

Month: February 2006

It’s amazing, the shops are full of Easter Eggs already and the snowdrops are flowering. Staff are booking their annual leave in droves but forget ‘bird flu’, at the moment there seems to be a plague of ‘human flu’. Unfortunately February has also involved a visit to the “heartbreak hotel”, but that’s another story! Here’s what 2006 has had to offer so far:

At the crossroads:
Benny, Miss Diane and Amy Turtle still haven’t produced their business plan, but they have had a ‘roller coaster’ start to the year with business and recruitment efforts improving they are also launching new products and finding that there is a receptive audience. It’s all good news for a company which appeared to be on a slippery slope to nowhere!

The innovation meetings we held towards the end of last year seemed to have produced some very good ideas for new products for the packaged food market. They have been quite bold in the food combinations offered and seem to be making a comeback – hurrah!

January saw the need to recruit half a dozen production staff to help with customer demand on a new chicken product. As a result I have been helping them at least two days a week on their HR and health and safety issues.

The only cloud on the horizon now is their forthcoming EFSIS (European Food Safety Inspection Service) audit due at the end of March. Together with their technical consultant I have carried out a pre-audit screening only to discover that the training records, company procedures and policies have not been recorded and updated for two years. You can imagine that this has really hit the ‘panic’ button in a big way for them. If they don’t pass their EFSIS audit then they will not be able to produce processed food and the business would automatically be shut down. What a nightmare!

As a result both the technical consultant (let’s call her Meg) and myself have approximately five weeks in which to complete work that should have been carried out over the last two years – we love a challenge, bearing in mind we are only providing support two days a week – ten working days to achieve a miracle!

Meg and I have the task of updating all of the policies and procedures which will then leave me to produce an induction pack and providing employment contracts for all staff. Some staff have been with the company since 1997 and have never had a contract! Another key aspect is updating the training procedures and logs – given that there are five areas within the business (kitchen, production, packaging, storage and despatch), each requiring 31 subjects to be trained in – you can imagine this is a huge task. Certainly the skill of delegation is going to come in very useful indeed!

I’m still optimistic that this company, although it lurches from one crisis to another, somehow will eventually make it happen.

South Fork hit by ‘whirl wind’!
It never rains, in South Fork, it pours. Last month Pamie resigned as she’d had enough of the internal politics and jockeying for position.

It left my client wondering whether to replace her or not and as a result they came up with a totally drastic decision.

They decided to make the telesales team and admin staff redundant as a whole and then absorb the three remaining creative marketeers into the holding company as an ‘in-house’ resource for marketing purposes.

The beautifully refurbished building they had all been housed in is now being rented out to an alternative tenant and as a result the overheads have been reduced drastically.

Two of the staff had less than one years service, so were released immediately to seek alternative employment. These two were also the focus of a lot of negative internal politics, so in very cold terms, it was a quick fix way of removing a problem before it became a bigger, longer term issue!

Sadly two other casualties were longer serving, loyal members of the team so taking them through the redundancy consultation process was rather more difficult and emotional for them.

Once the dust had settled, fortunately both ladies view changed to that of a positive outlook, in that they could now re-evaluate their next career step and perhaps consider doing something they had always wanted to do, but either put off or didn’t dare do until now. The old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining” is often very true of these very situations.

I think there is an important message in this particular scenario, as the ladies at the centre of the power struggle were convinced they had the upper hand and that the company bosses would bow to their demands and emotions. These ladies have now learnt a sorry lesson, in that a company does not and often will not tolerate being held over a barrel. Astute Directors will often find creative solutions to these types of problems and it’s a real win-win if they also heftily reduce overheads.

No-one is indispensable!

Hell’s kitchen in the sticks!
I had an emergency call to one client who had a member of staff suffer an emotional breakdown on site.

Floyd was a very creative chef, if not a little sensitive and emotional at times if the pressure was on or things didn’t quite go his way. Not quite Hell’s Kitchen, but on this particular day it came close!

In the lead up to the actual ‘crisis’ day Floyd had made a number of mistakes with customer requests which appeared to be down to a lack of concentration on his part that is attention to detail. He also attempted to cut corners to save costs on some products that resulted in the customer complaining of inferior quality products. Floyd’s manager (Gordon) did speak directly with him regarding these errors and the corrective measures to avoid a re-occurrence.

However, it would appear that Floyd’s confidence was diminishing with each knock – he took the criticism destructively rather than constructively.

The final straw came early on a Tuesday morning, when again, Floyd had made another mistake and Gordon spoke with him in a way that totally rocked Floyd’s confidence. Gordon suggested that Floyd give serious consideration as to whether he was in the right job for him or not as further mistakes simply could not be tolerated due to customer pressure and the credibility of the company and its products.

Over the ensuing hour Floyds spirits fell through the floor and he was found in the gents toilets crying, declaring he had had enough of life and just wanted to “slit his wrists” – he had one of his chef’s knives with him, which thankfully he handed over. A number of staff became aware of his plight and state of mind and alerted Gordon who then took Floyd into a ‘quiet’ office.

The poor chap was inconsolable and was not in a fit state to cycle home, so Gordon phoned Floyd’s wife and asked if she could come and collect him. He clearly could not continue with his work that day! Floyd’s wife, Delia went on to ‘scold’ Gordon over the phone, saying she could do without the bother of this and she had had enough of the company treating her husband in a less than acceptable way. Delia would not elaborate on what exactly she meant by this. Eventually she turned up and took Floyd home.

The following morning I was called in to assist in the whole dilemma as Gordon was unsure what to now do with Floyd and the entire situation. I suggested I phone Floyd at home and speak informally with him regarding how he felt and what would be the best way forward for him.

Thankfully Floyd had given very serious thought to his plight and when I spoke with him we agreed, amicably, that he would resign. He had been with the company less than one year, but I made the gesture of increasing his notice pay by one month to help him during his search for alternative employment. Thankfully within one week he had secured a temporary position which was more his forte a square peg in a square hole so to say.

With Floyd’s help I was able to identify that his skill set was not entirely suitable to the role he had been placed in with my client when they employed him. As a result I have discussed this role with them and we have refined the job specification to give a more accurate reflection of what it truly involves. I’m delighted to say that they have since employed a new person who now fits the mould perfectly and she is settling in well.

Again, this highlights the need for employers to exercise a duty of care when recruiting to make sure you get the right fit as Floyds example shows a real extreme in the negative effect a square peg in a round hole can have.

Thank God he was found in the gents before he took his chef’s knife to his wrists! Which did raise a further point – at least we had two fully trained first aiders on site! How many companies out there have not yet got around to training and appointing first aiders? I’ll bet there are a few who keep putting it off, maybe Floyd’s story might encourage you to do something about it now!

Part two

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