Delivering The Goods
Interim executives work hard and show great commitment and dedication,Business Services/BPR Articles but getting up at 5am to deliver the post might seem to some to be beyond the call of duty. However, ‘management by cycling about’ is all part of learning what it’s like to be a postal worker at Guernsey Post, and Penny Garnett didn’t baulk at the prospect of rising at dawn as part of her immersion in the business she joined as interim Human Resources Director last September.
In fact, compared to the challenges set by Chief Executive Gordon Steele, who had joined just nine months earlier, the early starts were a breeze.
The business had been in slow and painful transition from a civil service approach and culture to a more commercial operation since 2001.
“It was highly unionised and had a poor track record of industrial relations, which had traditionally been managed by the HR Director,” recalls Steele. “I decided to split the role and bring in someone to manage the industrial relations side of things, and someone else to reinvigorate what had been an old-fashioned personnel department and turn it into a professional HR function. I needed experienced experts, and I needed them fast.”
A step change was required. Not only had the local postal regulator ordered the company to become more efficient to avoid having to put up the price of stamps, but the beneficial tax regime that has attracted a raft of blue-chip companies, including HMV, to Guernsey, is also under review.
“Currently businesses don’t have to pay VAT on packages that cost £18 or less to post, but there are strong UK based lobby groups that want to see that reduced,” explains Garnett. “Around 60% of our turnover comes from bulk mail, and we could lose it at a stroke.”
Steele’s proposed strategy to counter such threats was to diversify into new revenue streams, to increase efficiency through reducing costs and to develop people and capability in the organisation in order to achieve that.
“So a big part of my remit was to strengthen the bench,” says Garnett.
A new Sales and Marketing Director – a key role in the new, more commercial organisation – has just joined the company, and the person Steele appointed to handle industrial relations – another interim, who has spent 33 years with Royal Mail – will become the permanent HR Director when Garnett hangs up her cycle clips after six months in the role.
But Garnett has also improved the bench strength further down the management hierarchy. A “huge believer” in secondment as a development opportunity, she seconded the customer service supervisor into the role of HR Manager when the permanent incumbent went off on maternity leave. “We have helped her develop in the role, and she now wants to stay in HR, which is great,” says Garnett. “It has also created an opportunity to develop the person who has backfilled her role too.”
In addition to seconding people to different roles, Garnett says she is “really proud” of creating a culture at Guernsey Post of advertising jobs internally and training and developing people in their new posts. For example, one employee was recently promoted to the role of health and safety officer, despite having no relevant experience. “We are paying for his development,” she says.