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Cameron Bird

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Redeploying employees – how to develop a successful strategy


Restructuring has been an increasingly necessary tool for HR to help organisations survive in the recession. However the trend is not over: how do you do this effectively? Cameron Bird, HR Operations director at Santander, explains.

The challenging economic circumstances that we have experienced in recent times have forced many organisations to re-structure. According to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) this trend will continue in the next few months as most public sector employers plan to cut jobs. While cuts in the private sector are expected to be less severe, the report still predicted that more redundancies would be made in the first quarter of 2011 than in the previous three months – with 30% of private companies planning to make redundancies.

Making a single worker redundant can cost more than £16,000, according to the CIPD, making it an expensive option for employers who may need to recruit staff at even greater cost when business improves. It is not surprising then that many organisations look to redeploy staff in a bid to minimise the negative impacts of the restructuring process.

But how can organisations redeploy employees effectively? What tools can be employed to help this process? And what are the challenges?

When restructuring, many organisations undergo a process known as ‘structural mapping’ to enable them to get a clearer view of where job opportunities exist, and where vacancies could be filled within an existing talent pool. At Santander this process works by developing a release / demand matrix which enables us to identify the potential opportunities to match one to the other. We look at the employees’ current activities, skills and competencies and whether it is reasonable to expect them to perform a different role, with a suitable amount of training.   

It is important to engage and educate managers about the benefits of looking more generally at the skills and personal attributes a candidate could offer. In my experience it is better to upskill people from within the business who may not have all the skills currently but could be trained, than to recruit someone externally who is unfamiliar with the company’s working practices. Job evaluation frameworks and job descriptions are essential tools as a basis to assess suitable alternative roles for affected staff. At Santander we have successfully redeployed 30% of employees affected by business changes last year, many of which have moved into different job roles. For example, we have transferred employees who previously worked in head office roles to customer service positions in our branches and call centres, to support our growing business.   

It can often be the case that the timing of business plans may not align. For instance, the business area recruiting may need people earlier than the business area that is reducing and vice versa. The HR role is critical in developing solutions to close these gaps. This could include a phased earlier release of staff or temporary resourcing to bridge the gap. Forecasting and planning is of course vital to this process. This should be carried out at least quarterly to get a clear picture of what each business unit is planning with respect of changes that may result in having to recruit or conversely release staff.   

There is often a challenge in persuading employees of the benefits of remaining at an organisation – the opportunity to learn new skills and to take on new challenges. Communicating effectively with employees whose job role is under review is vital therefore in keeping their morale and motivation high whilst at the company. It is crucial that someone in the HR team talks to the employee directly.

They need to highlight the opportunities to remain within the business and ask them what their preferences would be with regards to a new job role. At Santander, company-wide vacancies are available for all staff to view and apply for online. Moreover, in regional centres, relevant vacancies are posted directly to the staff affected so that there is an immediate proactive list of relevant options for them to consider. Line managers also hold regular one to one meetings with the staff involved and review the vacancy options with them.

Providing employees with up to date and relevant information is vital to keep them engaged. An online portal which enables employees to view vacancies and recruiters to upload opportunities is an excellent tool to aid this process. At Santander we are developing an intranet portal dedicated to employees seeking redeployment.

Many employees are naturally concerned that they will be placed in an alternative role that they do not want or feel incapable of doing. Others are concerned that the new jobs will require a change in conditions such as greater travel or different working patterns. Communication between the individual, their current and the receiving manager is critical to reassure them of the support and training that will be provided, and the protections afforded to them.

Many people, whose job role is under review, feel that they have been personally selected and that the decision has been made because of their own personal performance. There is still a stigma attached to redundancy which is difficult to tackle. It is important to remind the employee that it is the job role, not the person that is being reviewed. To reinforce this message, the current line manager should act as sponsor for the employee and talk in person with the receiving manager to share positive insight about the employee’s skills and experience. It is important to explain to the receiving manager the circumstances that resulted in the employee being at risk of redundancy and to emphasise that this is not a reflection of their personal job performance. On this last point, it is essential that managers in the organisation trust their colleagues. If a manager uses the redundancy process inappropriately to address under performance, this can undermine the redeployment process. Simple but consistently applied performance management tools are therefore essential, including regular, documented performance reviews.

A well thought-out redeployment strategy can result in substantial redundancy and recruitment cost savings. Moreover, there are many indirect benefits such as the positive influence this process can make on staff morale and the re-energising effect moving job roles can have on employees. However, this is not an easy process and there are many challenges that need to be overcome along the way. The key to success is to take an active and pre-emptive approach – both with regard to the way that you communicate and the practical systems that you put in place to facilitate the process. Organisations that take a pro-active approach to redeployment will reap the rewards; creating a dynamic working environment for employees that inevitably helps the business to succeed.

Cameron Bird, HR Operations Director, Santander UK


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