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Enabling Staff in Response to Challenging Times

Dr Michael Butler
Dr Michael Butler

Thursday 16 July 2009

Aston Business School held the fourth in its successful series of ‘Challenging Times’ events which saw over 60 entrepreneurs and representatives from Midlands businesses come together to discuss the future of business in the region.

The event, Enabling Staff in Response to Challenging Times, included presentations from Dr Michael Butler, Senior Lecturer in Management in the Work and Organisational Psychology Group, Aston Business School and David Crundwell who held a senior management position at Vauxhall Motors during the closure of the Luton Car Plant in 2000.  Delegates were therefore given both a research perspective and a practical perspective on some of the issues around maximising employee commitment during challenging times. 

In his presentation Michael highlighted the importance of effective communication during difficult times, stating that you “can’t do change without thinking about people.”  He suggested that during a recession, people can bend and flow, according to the changing circumstances, and Human Resource Management (HRM) practices can be used to stimulate positive attitudes.  He looked at research on commitment which compared the attitudes of those employees who felt the ‘need to remain’ (i.e. because there alternative options were limited), ‘ought to remain’ (i.e. because they had received training) and those who ‘want to remain’.  Delegates were also shown research findings which suggested that different practices are required when developing men and women within their work roles.

Michael stressed the need for HRM to be strategically linked to the core business areas.  He argued that during a recession organisations have an opportunity for transformation through innovation.  He gave examples from Honda and Tesco, where an experimental, no blame culture was being developed, and suggested that organisations which adopted new ways of thinking perform well.

Delegates then heard from David Crundwell, formerly of Vauxhall who talked about his experience involved in managing the closure of the Luton Car Plant, which led to collaboration with Aston Business School and Cranfield and the development of the Model of Facility Closure Management.  The model which outlines the stages for closure or downsize of a major facility draws parallels with the bereavement curve, or cycle.  It was suggested that by comparing the process and the emotions involved to that of bereavement, it is possible to initiate the right interventions at the appropriate stages to minimise the impact on employees.

This was a participative event which asked delegates to think about their own experiences and share examples of how they’ve supported and developed staff and colleagues during difficult times, and how effective these interventions were.  The key message from this event is that people are capable of extraordinary activities during challenging times.  HRM practices can deliver commitment, trust and high performance. But HR should be strategically interlinked.

Employable Graduates; Exploitable Research