Restructuring gets more mindful in tight job market

Companies are keeping a keen eye on headcount and costs amid deteriorating economic conditions in the UK, but widespread labour shortages mean they have also become more precise in their approach to structural reorganisation.
February 13, 2023

Companies are keeping a keen eye on headcount and costs amid deteriorating economic conditions in the UK, but widespread labour shortages mean they have also become more precise in their approach to structural reorganisation.

That’s the analysis from human relations specialist Fiona McKee, who works with both start-up firms and multinational organisations on their employment needs from her base in Glasgow. She said companies are being “very careful” in the evaluation and management of their staffing needs as the tight labour market has fostered a more thoughtful approach.

“It’s not just let’s lose 100 people, it’s more like what can we do with what we’ve got? How can we reduce our cost base to make us more efficient and more future-proof?”

Despite the large layoffs coming out of the US in the technology sector where Ms McKee’s business – the HR Practice – is most active, she said targeted settlements are taking ascendency over mass redundancy programmes.

“Just now in terms of market trends I’m seeing a lot of restructuring,” she said, “but that’s not necessarily en masse for hundreds of people, although there is some of that.

“A lot of it at the moment is maybe just removing a few heads at a layer of management or in a certain area that the business has looked at and realised they can manage without. It might not be ideal, but companies are cutting their cloth to suit.”

Raised in East Kilbride, Ms McKee studied at Glasgow Caledonian University before joining Motorola in the 1990s as an operations manager. There she worked alongside colleagues from human resources on various initiatives that after 11 years led her to decide on a career switch.

In 2006 she joined call centre operator Avance, which in comparison to Motorola had far higher levels of staff turnover and a heavy load of work linked to onboarding new staff. It was there that she cut her teeth in HR.

“I’m glad I did the whole piece in the contact centre because it’s fast-paced,” she said. “I couldn’t have bought the kind of experience that I gained there, and it gave me a good grounding.”

Four years later she moved on to join what was then known as Ceridian, a US-headquartered supplier of human resources software, where she headed up HR at its facility in Renfrew looking after the UK and Ireland. She was with Ceridian up to and through its acquisition in 2016 by SD Worx, and became the combined group’s global director of HR in 2020.

“I was very much part of the project team at the time of the acquisition, so I was working on the transaction from a people perspective, and that really clicked my interest in mergers and acquisitions because that was my first exposure to it,” she said.

“SD Worx is very acquisitive so from there I was involved in other deals they did in Europe, but at the back of my mind I had this idea that I really wanted to work for myself and focus on mergers and acquisitions because I saw a gap in the market there in terms of not a lot of businesses spend time on the people side of a transaction.

“A lot of the due diligence is spent on financials, the legals and so forth, but we know that people make or break a business. You need people.”

Though there is a lot of activity on the restructuring front, she said demand for management development has also remained strong.

“Traditionally when businesses start cutting costs, learning and development would be one of the first to go, but what I am seeing right now is investment in upskilling employees and managers,” she said. “It’s become much more important, particularly for managers, with the rise of flexible working.

“With flexible working there’s more chance of things going wrong because perhaps HR or whoever a manager would go to ask for advice isn’t there on site, so they just make their best guess. Nobody comes to work to do a bad job, it’s just a case of in the moment making a decision, whereas if you were in the office there would be more chance of following the guidelines more effectively.”

Studies from Harvard have estimated that between 70 and 90 per cent of all acquisitions fail, with a lack of attention to the human side being a key reason. It is this that Ms McKee focuses on in projects with large clients, where she emphasises the need for clear communication.

“It’s about preparing beforehand so that everyone understands what is going to happen, and answering all the questions before they are asked,” she explained.

“Do I get a new line manager? Are there going to be redundancies? Is my job title going to change? All of these kinds of security questions, you must try and answer them up front.”


Where do you find yourself most at ease?

At home, especially if it involves having my husband, sons and their girlfriends around – we are a very social family and enjoy spending time together. I also feel totally relaxed when I go long walks with my West Highland Terrier, Mollie, on the beach at St Andrews.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

I’d be an interior designer! I was hopeless at art at school and would never describe myself as artistic but when it comes to home furnishings I come into my own. I love having a home project where I can find fabrics and soft furnishings to really bring the room to life. I am often helping friends with their home interiors and I love it.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

“ If we did all the things we were capable of, we would astound ourselves” – Thomas Edison, inventor. We waste so much time with negative self talk and doubting ourselves and this quote really turns that on its head. I mentor people who are looking to change careers or progress in their chosen field and I always have this quote front of mind.

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

I’m an avid reader so this is a difficult one! If I had to chose one that still sticks in my mind it would be Stolen by Louise Monaghan, published in 2012. It’s a book about a woman who has a child who was abducted by the father and taken to Syria. The mother risks her life to cross the border from Cyprus to Syria to get her child back, she then has to plan how to escape the country with the child.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

My most challenging moment was when I set up The HR Practice and my dad was at end of life. I remember practically living at the hospital and I had a proposal to do for one of my first clients and I was sitting in the hospital with my laptop writing the proposal. I knew my dad would want me to do that as he had a great work ethic.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

That you can change career and what you start off doing doesn’t have to be forever. I started my career in operations and moved into HR. At the time everyone said you’ll never be able to make the transition but that negativity spurred me on to prove I could do it. Within four years I was an HR director, so it can be done!

Original Article: The Herald

Are you planning a strategic restructuring of your staff??? We are here to help, Contact Gareth Allison or give us a call on 02920 620702.


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