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056 | How to do a great job with collective consultations for redundancies, with Pete Colby
Episode 5614th October 2022 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
00:00:00 00:31:16

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Whether you’re experienced at handling collective consultations for redundancies, or it’s something you’ve never had to do before – this episode is packed full of advice to help.

HR Career Coach Fay Wallis is joined by Pete Colby, Director & Lead Mediator of Pragmatism, who shares his experience and advice for doing a great job in what can be a very challenging time.

Key Points From This Episode

[01:25] An introduction to Pete Colby

[01:52] The development of Pete’s business ‘Pragmatism’


[05:44] Understanding redundancy and the effects it can have


[07:28] Pete explains what consultation really means


[09:09] Pete shares his personal experience of making large-scale redundancies 


[15:00] How to ensure you are having a genuine consultation


[20:23] Pete offers advice when handling a large number of redundancies


[24:03] Why preparation is always key


[25:48] Fay mentions Pete’s series of YouTube videos that share more of his redundancy consultation tips


[26:28] Pete shares his book recommendation - Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William URY

(Disclosure: this book link is an affiliate link which means Fay will earn a small commission from Amazon if you choose to purchase the book using it)


[27:21] Fay and Pete talk more about Pete’s mediation training course


[29:11] How to connect with Pete


[30:25] Fay refers to previous episodes based on handling redundancy:



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Transcripts

Fay Wallis:

Welcome back to HR coffee time, a weekly podcast to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR career without working yourself into the ground. If we haven't met before, I'm your host Fay Wallis. I am a career coach who specialises in coaching and supporting HR and people, professionals. And today, I have a fabulous interview for you with Pete Colby. Pete very kindly joins me to talk through how to handle collective consultations really well. Because I know this is something that you may be worrying about if you are in the situation of having to make more than 20 people redundant.

Fay Wallis:

And this is going to be the quickest intro that I have ever done on the podcast because I've actually managed to come down with COVID. So I'm feeling quite grotty today. And I'm worried this isn't going to be the most sparkling of introductions. But I recorded the interview with Pete a couple of days ago before I got ill. So I promise, the rest of the episode is going to be really good to listen to it's just this intro may not be as compelling as normal. So with having said that, I'll stop now. And we can move on and crack on with the main part of the show. Welcome to the show, Pete, it's wonderful to have you here. And it would be fantastic if we could just start things off by you introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your background.

Pete Colby:

Yeah. So I'm Pete Colby, I run a business called Pragmatism. We specialise in mediation. So mediating disputes, and we also train people in mediation skills as well. My background is predominantly HR with an element of operational factory management thrown in as well.

Fay Wallis:

Would you be happy to share your business story? So how pragmatism came into being?

Unknown:

Yeah, so pragmatism was bought, Well, not the philosophy. I think that's a bit older than my business. But the business pragmatism was, I spent the last 10 years of my corporate career at Rolls Royce, and unfortunately, was made redundant. So my role was made redundant. And I, I decided to do something I've been tempted to do for many years, which was to set up my own business, I believe that you should run a business doing things that you love, because usually the things you love and what you're best at. And getting involved in disputes, and avoiding grievances is my passion.

Pete Colby:

I hate grievances seem as a complete waste of time, money and stress. And so that's why I decided to focus on on mediation, initially, and then training people internally in organisations to avoid grievances, and have an issue with resolution approach. And also, we also train accredited external mediators as well. So the reason it's called pragmatism is throughout my career is probably the word I've used the most. I don't believe that any policy law process tells you the answer when it comes to people, because everybody's different, and every situation is different. So you need that pragmatic approach and the name wasn't taken in Companies House. So bonus,

Fay Wallis:

That's always handy. Well, thank you for sharing all of that background. It's really wonderful to hear such a positive story emerging from redundant fee. I've supported so many people with redundancies over the years. And I think a lot of the time when you're going through it, it can feel devastating. And like there will be no good ending, but actually, looking back so many people then go on to say to me, it was the best thing that could have happened or an amazing change has come about because of that.

Pete Colby:

Yeah, actually, I've so I've been through it twice. Once found it quite early in my career. And I would say that for both times, it was the most devastating thing that could have happened to me at the time. And then in hindsight, it's the best, both of them were the best things that could have happened to me because it gave me a change in direction that that I would not change.

Fay Wallis:

I think with any source of career transition, I just wish I had a magic wand that I could wave that would show people where they're going to be in the future and on what date because so much of the stress and worry and feelings of negativity are very much based around the uncertainty of not what's, of not knowing what's going to happen, but I better rein myself in or start talking about coping with redundancy news for too long. Instead, it seems very fitting then, but that's the story behind your business. And you're actually here to talk to us today to help anyone listening to handle redundancy consultations really well.

Fay Wallis:

And I really appreciate you coming on board to share your expertise with us today because despite the fact that I have supported by hundreds and hundreds of people now who are being made redundant through outplacement services. I have never actually been on the other side of it. When making large scale redundancies, when I was in my HR career, I only ever had to handle small scale redundancies, so with less than 20 people, which means I've never had to go through a collective consultation process. So although I've tried to, you know, understand it as much as possible so that I can support the HR teams who invariably have booked me for support with outplacement over the years, I just know that you have got a wealth of expertise in this area and some fantastic tips that you're going to share with us.

Pete Colby:

Yeah, unfortunately, I do. And that's a strange thing to say. But you know, I am quite an old man. Now I'm 52 years old, and I started my career, HR wise at British Steel. And and unfortunately, I became known as the hatchet man, because I, a big part of my role was making people redundant, unfortunately. And made, I made, I personally made over 3000 people redundant in British Steel. And I always say to people apart from, unfortunately, I've dealt with a few fatalities, and they will always be the worst thing I've ever dealt with.

Pete Colby:

But the next most difficult thing is making people redundant. I think it's the hardest thing you can do because you you are dismissing people from their employment, and they've done nothing wrong. They've done nothing to deserve it. And I think a lot of what we'll probably talk about today is you can either do it as well as you possibly can. Or you can do it terribly, and it makes the world a difference to people. So yeah, it's I do have a lot of experience in that area. And I've seen it done really badly as well. And it's terrible.

Fay Wallis:

Gosh, 3000 people, I'm sorry to hear about your nickname of the hatchet man, if it makes you feel any better, I was called Fay the fire. In one of my roles, I know working in HR, we got some really delightful nicknames over the years. I think that was probably my least favourite.

Pete Colby:

Brilliant, brilliant. Excellent.

Fay Wallis:

So starting off on our topic today, then of redundancy consultations, will be great to hear from you what your biggest piece of advice would be to anyone listening today who knows that they're going to have to start up this whole process?

Pete Colby:

I think, I think my biggest piece of advice would be understand what consultation really means. I think it's back to what he said about the reason why businesses called what it's called, you know, we have, we have policies and laws and things that tell us to do things. And I see a lot of organisations consulting, because they're told to consult for 30 days or 90 days, or whatever it may be. And it's almost, oh, gosh, we've got to hold these meetings for a whole 30 days or a whole 90 days. Well, actually those, those meetings should be those consultations should be the core of what you're doing. And, and consulting properly. I often talk to people about because I get involved in some disputes, and whether it's redundancies or whatever, but with trade unions and things, and people often don't know what consultation means.

Pete Colby:

And you know, I often describe the difference between information consultation and a negotiation and consultation in that middle is so, it's so important. Yes, it's a discussion between a number of parties. And yes, somebody has to make a decision. But that decision should be a really informed decision. And the whole listening to people's views and listening to people's alternatives and things like that is such a critical part of that process. Because yes, there's a proposal to make a change in an organisation. But I've been involved in many reorganisations, including at Rolls Royce, where we initially thought we were going to make X number.

Pete Colby:

I remember one programme in Rolls Royce, where we were going to make to set over 2000 people potentially redundant. And we ended up not making one person compulsory, redundant. And that was through really good consultation. And it's not a case of just, you know, bowing down to trade unions or whatever. It's a case of listening. And a lot of things we do in mediation is listening and understanding and seeing those perspectives and listening to those views. Because as managers, we don't always know the right answer. Often the employees do.

Fay Wallis:

So it sounds like what you're saying is let go with any preconceived ideas as to how everything is going to go or what the final plan will actually look like.

Pete Colby:

Absolutely, absolutely. As I'm, a, but you've probably haven't seen any of my videos or anything but I did a video once about saying to people be a pole vaulter rather than a limbo dancer. And, and what I mean by that is a lot of organisations sort of wallow in the, in the mud and sort of stretch to the minimum standards of what, what the law tells them. i, okay, we've got to tick a box for X number of days to consult, when actually, if you're a pole vaulter, and you go way above that, you forget what those the laws telling you as regards minimum standards, you do the right thing by people.

Pete Colby:

And you talk to them, you engage with them, you listen to them. And yes, you've got to make a decision. But you'll explain the rationale for that you'll explain why. And for me, just just seeing your proposal is what it is, it's a proposal that you want to talk to the employees about. But listen to their views, listen to their alternative suggestions. Because it's really important, and not just for their employment, but actually for the business. Because they know the pitfalls that your proposals might lay in the future for you. And it happens all the time.

Fay Wallis:

Yeah, it's so interesting to think of all the brilliant ideas that everyone working in those roles can come up with that we just can't necessarily see ourselves because we're not in the weeds of the work of what they're doing enough. And I suppose that can also help avoid things happening that I've seen before, where you do make a role redundant, and then you realise, oh, my goodness, we've lost all of that knowledge, that person has just gone, help.

Fay Wallis:

They were the only person who knows how to do X Y Zed, or that role was way more critical than we had realised. And actually, there's a different role that probably if we did have to make redundancies would have made more sense, you know, again, it's that whole thing of hindsight, isn't it?

Pete Colby:

It is, and, you know, I mentioned Rolls Royce and some of the potential redundancies there, you know, I supported the finance director of Rolls Royce, who was, as part of a whole programme was going to be making some big reorganisations across the world, which involves potential redundancies. And when we went into the consultation process, and actually listened to people properly, the guy that was leading it, the finance director, he was he was fuming, because somebody had put in an alternative proposal.

Pete Colby:

And the reason he was fuming was because it was a very junior person based in Darby. And she had suggested something and explained what his proposal would do. And he was absolutely angry with himself, because she'd realised that and he hadn't. And I remember saying to him, but why would you know this, you're looking across the world, you're, you're looking at things from a very high macro level. She's on the ground, she knows, she knows what that will mean.

Pete Colby:

And he changed the whole structure across the world, because of what that one lady in Darby had said, and, and she was right. And yes, it saved a couple of jobs. But really importantly, as well, for the business, it saved her potential quite significant issue, and they would have been recruiting again, and they would have been scrambling. So yeah, it's just the right thing to do. For everybody.

Fay Wallis:

It's great to hear such a positive outcome from your involved, Involvement piece.

Pete Colby:

Yeah. Well, you just, that's what our role is, sometimes, isn't it to help people to? Because managers often think, right, I've thought about this, I've given it good thought, I know what I want to do. And then the consultation process is almost this pain in the backside thing that they've got to do. And they've got to get over that hurdle before they implement what they know is their right is the best idea. And it's helping them to listen and engage with people.

Pete Colby:

That's it's such an important. And to me, if if the law tells you to consult for 90 days, and actually you need to a really good consultation will take 200 days, we'll do it. Because it's effective conversations. It's the right thing to do. So yeah, it's just, it's just doing the right thing by people. It's not, it's not rocket science.

Fay Wallis:

Well, I'm pretty sure that for anyone listening, they will have bought in completely to what you're saying. And I'd love the podcast to be as practical and as helpful as possible for HR and people practitioners. So for anyone listening who thinks right, okay. Pete's absolutely right. I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing. I want to make sure that it's a genuine consultation. How do I actually do that? Like, what do I say? How do I open the meetings? What kind of communication should I be doing? Could you shed any light on all of this for us?

Pete Colby:

Yeah, I mean, it's, you know, some, some people will have trade union representatives and others won't. For me, whether you have or you haven't, it's the same, it's the same type of process. So, you know, with very, very, very small organisations and very small effective populations, you might be consulting directly with everybody that's affected. But often, you're actually wanting to consult with those people, but you need representatives to, to be able to communicate with, with the workforce, you can't talk to, you know, if you've got 500 people, you can't really talk to them all, directly, and you can't get 500 people in a room and consult with them. While you can vary a bit carnage.

Pete Colby:

And I think the first thing I would say is, whoever you're consulting with, whether it's representatives or the workforce directly get to know them, get get get to know them as people and the challenges that you're going to face going forward. Because you know, you're going to it is this team that you're going to be doing now, the managers, the HR professionals and the reps or the employees directly, you're gonna have to work through this together.

Pete Colby:

And often, and we'll talk about this when you come on the training, but for mediation, but often people throw themselves straight into the task, and straight into the job, and they don't spend the time getting to know each other as people. And if you can invest that time, actually, and talk about the challenges you might face. Before you actually face those challenges. In a dispute. I'm often saying to people a dispute is so much easier to resolve before you're in a dispute. So to have that conversation around, you know, we're probably going to come up with challenges with each other, we're probably not going to be agree and etc. How are we going to deal with that? How are we going to best do that so that we stay as a unified team, and we don't fall out and things like that is a good conversation to have.

Pete Colby:

And before that is getting to know people a little bit people as human beings and backgrounds and things like that, because it starts to build that that relationship, when when you actually then get into the consultations, it really is about what I said earlier about approaching it in. This is what we think this is what our ideas are. And this is the implication that we think it has for the business and for people. But it is our initial thought it is our this is what we're we're proposing to do. So be open to those questions, challenges, and really encourage people to spend time thinking about well, what would they do? What what are the pitfalls? What would they do if it was their decision? What does it mean for people?

Pete Colby:

Can they think of any things that it might mean for the for the business, and obviously a real, a real challenge, especially for reps is to represent a number of people. And not just because the chances are that those representatives will be affected themselves. And it's really hard and just acknowledging and recognising what a tough role it is being a rep goes a long way in consultations and actually asking upfront what support they need. Because if you think about the role of a rep, if they're affected by this change, they have also got their family to think about and their job security to think about, but they've also got lots of other people to think about, and they might need to represent views that they might not agree with.

Pete Colby:

And so, so I would think about what development don't mean a training course necessarily, but what support and development you would give to those people and the managers as well. But often the managers are not effective they might be but what what support and foundations would you give to those people before they go through what is going to be a difficult journey.

Fay Wallis:

I'm listening to you, Pete trying to put myself back in my previous role and think, how would I feel what would I do if I suddenly knew that I was going to be involved in making a large number of people redundant. And I've got my day job to do, because that's what I'm always really aware of when I have been brought in for outplacement is just how busy the HR team often are at this point. And when I can hear you saying things like make sure that the employee reps are supportive. Make sure the line managers are supported. I absolutely wholeheartedly agree 100% at all makes so much sense.

Fay Wallis:

But putting myself back in my old role, I'm already freaked out. It's not even really happening. I must be imagining this particularly well, I can feel myself almost feeling a bit panicked, like, how am I going to find time to do all of this? Oh my gosh, how is this possible? So what's your advice for anyone who is in this situation? And is thinking, Oh, my gosh, I'm going to just be working around the clock, this just doesn't feel doable at all to do this really well.

Pete Colby:

So So I suppose I'm talking from what advice would I give to a business? Not necessarily, what advice would I give to that group, because everything I've just talked about shouldn't be on the shoulders of the HR person, actually, the HR person is one of those people that the business should be asking that question about, how are they going to support the HR function, the managers and the reps that are involved in, in this consultation process? And part of that is, if they're going to be spending, they will need to invest time in this consultation process.

Pete Colby:

So how do you underpin the role that they're doing, to enable them to have that time, because what you don't want them to do is a really patchy job at something so important. As I said earlier, it's probably the most difficult thing that you can do to somebody is, is make them redundant, or put them through that, that worry of losing their jobs. So it needs, it needs proper attention. And what you don't want is just to double somebody's workload and stress, they're male, and they're, you know, they do they do their day job and the consultation badly. So what I've always advise businesses is, let's assume that you're seconding these people on to this consultation process, what you're gonna do, and often it's like, well, we can't we can't do it full time.

Pete Colby:

But okay, so let's assume that they're going to spend 50 to 75% of their energies on this, what you're going to do to underpin them and almost to other a mini succession planning type conversation. And again, that shouldn't Yes, the HR person would support and, and facilitate that, maybe, but, but it's the business, it's the business owners that need to take accountability for this sort of thing. And I know, it's easy for me to say, but just painting that picture for business owners, and how important that is, is a really key part of, of the whole process.

Pete Colby:

So it's so he's like anything preparation is, is key. Because if you just fly into this process, and then think, oh, my gosh, it's taking all my time, and we ain't got time to develop reps and all this, then it's not gonna be as good. Good a process as it could have been.

Fay Wallis:

What you're making me think there as well, is not only the importance of preparation, and planning for these situations, but also the benefit in bringing in outside help as well. I, I know, often I know, I keep talking about HR team, because we're talking about the whole business. Sorry, Pete, it's because I'm so focused on on the fact that the majority of people listening will be HR and people professionals. I know that when I've worked in, well, not my first HR role, or my second HR role that I was probably in for the longest at that point, it didn't really dawn on me that I really could ask for additional resources to be brought in at challenging times or times when I was dealing with things that were outside of my area of experience.

Fay Wallis:

Like it was the first time I was ever doing that my just thought I just had to knuckle down and do them all myself. And so I wonder if there's anyone standalone listening to this, if, if they feel like that. So I just like to reassure them that actually you can find outside resources to bring in but also when I've been part of a larger team, we did tap into additional resource at times, and it was just hugely helpful.

Pete Colby:

Yes, yeah. And I've also done the same way, where I've worked in smaller organisations and, you know, I would always, if we're going into any sort of redundancy process, you know, the first stage that I would once reps are elected, for example, my first stage would be to get together with those reps not even talking about the proposals, not even talking about alternative proposals or anything, but talking about or getting to know the people.

Pete Colby:

And then talking about what challenges could we face what could go wrong here? What what do we need from each other what you know, and for some of those things, it will be Yeah, well, we can do that. I can do that. You guys can do that. How about if we do this, but there'll be plenty of things that that you think, oh, we can't do that. We haven't got the skills to do that. We don't know or we haven't got the time or whatever it is. And that's when you saw you then working with them about well, what are the solutions on that?

Pete Colby:

And that's what I mean about that, that preparation of, because it's a fairly simple concept, isn't it consultation and everything. But if you deal with it with reality as regards, we're going to have to spend time on lots of things we're going to have to get people to engage in in ideas and things like that. And you start to talk about that, just as regards the principle. There will be a lot of things where you think, well, actually, we don't have the resource to do that. So we need help. And you're absolutely right, there's plenty of help out there in the wide world that can help any organisation.

Fay Wallis:

Thank you, Pete, it's just been absolutely invaluable. Hearing all of your advice, I know that it's going to be such a help to anyone listening. And I actually only discovered, Pete had so much experience around this area, because I spotted he had a whole series of YouTube videos, which have got tips on handling the redundancy consultations. So if you would like to hit even more of Pete's wisdom, I will link to his YouTube channel in the show notes. But for now, I'm going to ask you the question I asked every guest, which is what is your top nonfiction book recommendation?

Pete Colby:

Is a funny question to ask me, because one of the things about me is I, I've read very few books in my life. I'm, I'm not a theorist. And I'm very much about practical application. But I have read a few books. And the one that springs to mind is one that I recommend, if anybody asked me for anything up from on mediation as well. And that's, it's called Getting to Yes, it's by Roger Fisher and William Ury, URY, I think that's how you pronounce his name, or, and it's really about negotiation skills. But not really hard. Negotiate is not a really hard negotiating book, it's really about the principles of, of interest versus positions and things. And it's, it's a, it's a very useful, useful book. So yes, if there's one I'm going to recommend that will be

Fay Wallis:

Well, I will put a link in the show notes to that for, anybody who's interested in taking a look at it. And I think I'm going to be very tempted to buy that one for myself, because I know that my negotiation skills are something that I could be enhancing and being better at, which is one of the reasons I have signs up to your mediation training next year. So Pete mentioned earlier on that I'm going to be going on his training course, I cannot tell you how many glowing testimonials and recommendations your mediation training has had. Pete, I am ridiculously excited about coming on the course in February, because I know that I'm just going to learn so much.

Pete Colby:

I feel like the pressure is really on

Fay Wallis:

Just to put the pressure on.

Pete Colby:

Now you'll enjoy it. It's it's one of the reasons you know, we won't do that training online, it's got this sort of thing is there's got to be interactive. And, you know, we all learn like any good interactive trading programme. We learn as much from each other as we do from the actual the standard training as well. So you know, Charlotte, and I run the training. Absolutely love it. And yeah, looking forward to your session in in February,

Fay Wallis:

And I'm hoping I'll be able to tempt you back onto the podcast afterwards say that we can do a whole episode about mediation as well.

Pete Colby:

Well, I think you can lead that once you've been on.

Fay Wallis:

Let's see how well, for anyone who's listening who would love to get in touch with you, Pete or learn more about your work. Can you tell us what the best way is for them to do that?

Pete Colby:

Yes, I'm on LinkedIn. So Pete Colby Colb, my email is Peter@pragmatism/uk.co.uk slips off the tongue. And our website is the same pragmatism/uk.co.uk all through yourself or through these links, whatever. I'm sure you'll you'll find me Colby is not a common name. So I'm sure it's, you'll find me.

Fay Wallis:

Okay, brilliant. Well, I'll put links to everything that you just mentioned in the show notes to make it nice and easy for people to get in touch. And all that leaves me to do is to say a huge thank you for your time today. It has been absolutely brilliant having you on the show.

Pete Colby:

Now you're very welcome. And it's it's good to catch up again and, and have a chat. I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

Fay Wallis:

I hope you enjoyed today's episode and that if you do find yourself in the position of making more than 20 people redundant at any one time that all of the tips and advice in it help you to handle that confidently, and in a way that works well for everybody. This is actually the fourth episode on HR coffee times it has specifically focused on helping you through redundancies.

Fay Wallis:

The other episodes I'll quickly mention now just in case it's helpful to know about them. The first one is episode two, which is called handling redundancies of less than 20 people with confidence. That was with my guest, Julie Jones, who's an employment lawyer. Then we had Episode 27, which was called getting unstuck after redundancy with guest Sarah Archer. In that episode, The tables were turned slightly Sara actually interviewed me. And then finally in Episode 38, it was called redundancy why losing a job feels so hard and how to help with guest Mr. Jones, so you can hop back and have a listen to those episodes if you think that's going to be useful for you.

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