Restructuring To Meet Post-Covid Challenges At Chilfen Group

When Chilfen Group needed to reduce its headcount to stay competitive, it brought in People Puzzles to make the process as professional and trouble-free as possible.

At the start of 2020, business at the Hertfordshire based bespoke joinery and timber packaging company was going well. However, by March, the implications of the pandemic were becoming clear; like many companies at the time, Chilfen Group needed to contract quickly in response to the sudden economic downturn.

Why bring in a Portfolio People Director?

The company directors had already come up with a restructure plan that would keep the business moving in a post-Covid world. However, they wanted to make sure the restructure was carried out in a fair, compassionate and professional manner. Acting on a recommendation, the directors got in touch with People Puzzles and People Director Nick Lawson-Williams began working with them in May 2020.

Nick helped Chilfen Group to:

  • Carry out a restructure to futureproof the business against the economic downturn
  • Ensure that the process complied with employment law by advising on procedures and dealing with queries as they arose.

Restructuring to futureproof the business

The restructure entailed reducing the workforce of 120 by a third across the three businesses that make up the Chilfen Group. It also included closing an entire site and redeploying staff where necessary. With so many staff redundancy consultation meetings to initiate and follow up, a comprehensive plan was needed. After liaising with the directors, Nick mapped out a detailed schedule for the whole process, working with each of the business’s three sites separately.

Nick then facilitated all of the consultation meetings, ensuring that each followed the same process and providing expertise when needed. While some communications with staff were face-to-face, many of the meetings, particularly those with furloughed staff, had to be carried out remotely. ‘Different people have different issues and will react differently depending on their circumstances,’ he says. ‘These all needed to be taken individually.’

By keeping to a strict schedule, everyone knew where they were in the process. Nick made sure it didn’t go off course by unexpected challenges that came up along the way, and the process concluded as planned at the end of September – with no major issues arising.

Legal compliance and board-level support

There are many risks associated with restructures, and employers can find themselves facing expensive tribunals if staff feel they have been unfairly treated in the process. ‘It’s essential to show that selection criteria have been applied fairly and consistently across the workforce, and that staff concerns are given fair consideration during the consultation process,’ says Nick.

As well as providing legal expertise and valuable experience, Nick provided much-needed reassurance and support to the directors, who at times found the process stressful and emotionally draining. ‘Sometimes you need someone to keep you focused on why you have to do this, and accept the decisions you have to make,’ he says.

One of the major benefits of having Nick on board to support the process, according to joint Managing Director, Michelle Dear, was knowing that correct procedures were being followed at all times. ‘If there were any difficult questions or concerns, these were always dealt with in a professional manner, working with the needs of the business but also complying with employment law,’ she says.

As well as the peace of mind that comes with having an expert on board, Nick also brought a neutral stance to the process. ‘An external People Director meant that we could credibly engage with our staff and offer support and knowledge to what is a difficult process,’ Michelle adds.

“Chilfen Group created their business plans upfront and worked to them, which really helped”, Nick says. ‘We actually had a couple of individuals who thanked us at the end of the process as they thought they were treated fairly.’

At People Puzzles, we really encourage you to build on your strengths and continue to do what you do well, whilst having the flexibility to adapt to change, and can help you ensure your business is future-proofed and ready to thrive over the next few months.

If you think your business could benefit from a People Director like Nick – or you feel you need support to restructure your business, we’d love to have a complimentary one to one chat with you about your people challenges and help you work through the best plans to grow in the current new environment. Call us on 020 3239 3307 for your complimentary call.

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