The one with the Rock Virgin

Wednesday saw me attending (and taking part in) the CIPD’s HRD conference held in London’s Olympia. I owe thanks to Johanna Ratcliffe and the team for my ‘blogger blogger’ invite and the opportunity to enjoy some really interesting sessions. Some of the blogging contingent (Sukh Pabial and Doug Shaw) took a ‘live blogging’ approach to the event but I warn you now the HRD theme will run for about a week as I ‘ruminate and cogitate’ over what I saw, heard and have thought about since.

If you remember back to September 2007 the words austerity and credit crunch were nowhere near the venacular but in a few days the wheels came off the economic wagon and what has been a very ‘interesting’ few years began. The first really big milestone was the first run on a British bank for over a century and an instituion that had been the 5th largest mortgage lender in the UK and much admired for it’s profitability became a symbol of the credit crisis that was to follow. As Bernadette Bruton, Head of HR Strategy & OD asked the session yesterday, who remembers this photo?

What I hadn’t really considered until listening to the session yesterday was the people who were actually part of Northern Rock. Not the board of directors or the people responsible for the bank’s capital strategy but the thousands of other people who were part of an employer who was much respected in the North East and how it impacted the pride they had felt in being part of that organisation.

What has followed since has been inevitable headcount reductions on a massive scale and restructuring the bank not just at a corporate level (the ‘good bank’ and the ‘bad bank’ being now seperate legal entities) but also in how you continue to operate what remains following the maelstrom that must have followed behind the headlines.

It was interesting to see Burke & Litwin’s model for OD (1992) being part of the process of providing clarity but also the realisation that despite the external factors at play (you know Lehmans, offshore vehicles, sub-prime etc) there were issues both in culture and structure (e.g. too wide a span of control and too many layers of management) that needed to be resolved if the bank were to move forward.

From the sound of things the organisation is moving forward and to the individuals who have lived through the process what follows (in the words of Ms Bruton) not a new chapter but a new story with the purchase of the ‘good bank’ by the bearded wonder Mr Branson. The new story of course involves a whole new set of HR challenges with integrating the existing Virgin Money business with the acquired organisation but what was heartening was hearing of the enthusiasm with which the process has been recieved by the individual employees and the opportunity of giving them something they can yet again be proud of.

As a taxpayer I may have a couple of other questions about return on investment but I’ll leave those for another day because it would be a shame to end of good story with some tough questions…

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