Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > providing creative space, petty politics; more from the leadership front line

providing creative space, petty politics; more from the leadership front line

The benefits of providing free space for workers to network and enjoy some refreshments was the subject of a news item on one of the TV breakfast shows last week and they had wheeled in a pundit to vouch for said benefits, the person concerned citing the restaurant as a great place for such networking to take place. This caused some hilarity for the Berkshire Belle for she, like me, recalls only too well the occasion when I was almost sacked over that very issue.

Sometimes I come over a bit vitriolic when talking about Human Resources (or Personnel, Organisational Development or whatever they call themselves where you are) and this issue of people networking was a classic illustration of why I have that tendency.

To set the scene we were a business unit with some 500 people on the books of whom around 350 worked for me and what my team did made up about 85% of the £120m per annum that we turned over. The parent business was going through one of those phases where a good business discipline was being run over us to squeeze out any fat that might have been in our cost base and the HR team were one of those under the cosh with the threat of around three jobs being lost. As I had all of the big numbers the HR Director felt that I could lose three more bodies without too much trouble whereas if she did it could mean that her job level would be downgraded and so she kept on pushing for me to drop the three extra jobs that would have saved her doing it in her area.

The historic tea break had long gone in practice, but the restaurant was open in the middle of the morning and afternoon for people to buy something to take back to their desks, but my front line managers were spread over four buildings on a 42 acre site and so they would frequently sit in the restaurant for 10 or 15 minutes and plot loaning each other people or might collar someone from another discipline; Finance, HR, Purchasing or whatever and have an impromptu meeting. All good and fine stuff and very much what the TV pundit was advocating, but my HR Director colleague had other ideas.

When the call came to present my new proposals for cuts to the MD I found that my HR colleague had been to the big chief and reported that all of my management team were taking a 15 minute break twice a day. Allowing for time taken to get to and from the restaurant I was presented with a done deal; tea breaks were to go and the resulting hours saving meant that I could lose, yes you’ve guessed, another three posts.

How we managed to cope with the additional cuts is not a story for here, but the reason that I was almost sacked was that I recognised that my people were not so much taking a break when they met in the restaurant (and very few went there more than about three times a week in any case) as doing good work within the team. I didn’t use my office too much by then and so I turned it into an unofficial coffee bar for use as and when folks wanted it.
When I was rumbled things got ugly, but before things went too far the MD was moved out to another division and I stayed.

Twenty years ago maybe we were just ahead of our time in our thinking.

What are your stories of corporate turf wars or where you have been ahead of your times? Feel free to leave your stories in a comment below.

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