George Archer talked to Sarah Whomersley at Sheffield-based engineering components manufacturer DavyMarkham to find out what challenges the company has had to overcome concerning industrial relations.
GA: What disputes have you had to deal with in the past (if any)?
SW: Prior to the name DavyMarkham being registered in 2006, DavyMarkham was subject to a number of acquisitions and company buyouts. There was a lack of focus in terms of employee relations and communication with the unions which led to an unmotivated and change resistant workforce. Any changes the management team put forward were difficult to action and faced scepticism from the workforce due to an apparent lack of trust.
GA: What exactly did DavyMarkham negotiate to begin with, and what kind of mediation took place? (Did proposals have to be altered to satisfy union members/staff? What concessions did you give?)
SW: Initial talks were held with the unions. At the beginning of this process meetings lasted several hours as there were many irate employees with questions that needed to be addressed. DavyMarkham are now able to work closely with the Unions and have both formal and ad-hoc meetings with Shop Stewards and Full Time Officials so that are constantly updated on business issues.
The apprentice programme was re introduced to demonstrate Management’s commitment to employee development and the ongoing future of the business.
The implementation of tight, but sensible operating controls ensures that decision-making is delegated to a level where individuals become stimulated by having a degree of autonomy in their judgements
The Directors make time as part of their daily role to listen to employees’ views. Any suggestions from employees which are deemed to be beneficial are rapidly implemented and the workforce is made aware of where initial concepts have been developed and the purpose of changes.
GA: Was the outcome seen as successful for DavyMarkham?
SW: Since industrial relations have improved DavyMarkham has seen a significant improvement in workforce efficiency and the health and safety record.
One considerable improvement is the level of on time deliveries which in 2009 was an average of 95%.
During 2009 the Company was awarded accreditation under ISO 14001 (Environmental) and in 2010 achieved OHSAS 18001 (Health and Safety) accreditation. These accreditations together with additional QA enhancements will allow the Company to be considered for prestigious New Build Nuclear Fusion and Fission work.
The duration of union meetings has been reduced to an average of half an hour. The unions are more involved with management decisions and are on board for the majority of company changes. Improved communication with the unions has made changes within the workforce less challenging. The majority of the workforce is able to accept changes as positive actions. The open door policy also defuses conflict between the management and workforce and has helped reduce false rumours by addressing the source of the problem.
GA: What changes have you made to the way you communicate with staff (if any)?
SW: DavyMarkham where ever possible ensure that every employee receives the same information at the same time. The use of team briefs, toolbox meetings and the distribution of all relevant company information (with the exception of personnel information) are considered important motivational techniques.
The effectiveness of internal communications was reviewed by the Institute of Work Psychology at Sheffield University and all recommendations have been implemented.
At the start of each year the management team present the year end financial results and the company’s upcoming strategy for the forthcoming year, to the workforce.
The Union Shop Stewards’ Committee have attended Union organised residential courses to teach them the importance of good communication and employment law. Union meetings with the management have become much more constructive and the time they now take up has been reduced significantly.
GA: Are industrial relations given a high priority at DavyMarkham?
SW: Industrial relations within DavyMarkham have to be given a high priority due to a strong union presence and to secure the future development of the business. DavyMarkham continues to invest in its people with internal promotion and succession being a main priority.
The company having re-established the apprentice training programme in 2007 now employ 15 apprentices as well as last year taking on three graduates and three undergraduates for a placement year. This year DavyMarkham are recruiting another two graduates and undergraduates. DavyMarkham have skills matrices for all their employees and work with them to establish training needs. Ongoing communication with all employees is essential to the success of the business.
Look out for an in-depth analysis of industrial relations in next month’s TM.