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Whats going on at British Gas? (the power of 3)

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

The first thing to ask is this... What are the properties of a triangle ?

  1. They’re strong - Geometrically, it’s the strongest, most rigid shape.

  2. They’re efficient - There is no wasted lines, and most other shapes are combinations of triangles.

  3. They are attractive - Humans are drawn to symmetry in faces that resemble a triangle

‍So what's not to love? With all of the applications in nature and engineering, it’s only right that the triangle has a place as the symbol of a well run business too. A theoretical under pinning of operational decisions, that will help ensure your business remains in the best shape for the future.

That is triangle shaped

You see, the operations departments of any business has three unique stresses put upon it daily: efficiency, profitability, and accountability. These 3 stresses are brought about by; your team of employees and the job they do, your business stakeholders and the returns you promise, and your wonderful customers' expectations, which are critical, especially if you want them to remain loyal.

If any one of those 3 areas lags behind the other 2 - your business gets thrown out of whack, and ends up on Toilet Town super highway, heading directly for UBend Street...

I hear the cynics amongst you now, muttering words like garbage, gibberish and bullsh*t, but I assure you it is absolutely true. Think about this. Leaders are constantly measuring the efficiency of their operations. Every new recruit, every piece of technology, and every training certification is designed to improve efficiency in its respective department. If it doesn’t, the cost of each of those will be considered a waste.

It is January 2021. More than ever as we move to a post COVID19 World, with all of those extra stresses being placed on the business operations unit, it’s imperative that companies are able to balance efficiency, profitability, and accountability. I know, that with effective management of each of those issues, businesses can make the right decisions, and can turn challenges into strengths.

do you not think its time we started to be at least some small bit curious about how to change the tide

I also know that already, too many companies are making stakeholder decisions, without a thought for employees welfare, or in turn the treatment the end user (customer) will receive... with a forecast of 6 million UK workers unemployed, do you not think its time we started to be at least some small bit curious about how to change the tide... this piece is so close to my heart.

And so, here is the rub;

The importance of balancing decision making for Employees, Stakeholders, And Guests

Take a look at this post seen on LinkedIn recently.


My reason for sharing this is thus: this story is not uncommon. This story is being played out everywhere, in boardrooms, on shop floors and across all industries. Company leaders in all sectors, blindly follow the leader, and implement a strategy of redundancy to 'right size' their business. As though just cutting cost out of the labour line is the only consideration - all be it one of the biggest costs. Though this is morally upstanding in some instances, as there are a few businesses that understand the future requirements, and what is meant by viable jobs. In many examples, the company have no idea what the right size is right now, let alone in April, when the furlough scheme actually ends. Even worse then, that the people fortunate enough to keep their job in these businesses are subjected to pay cuts under the guise of 'saving more jobs'. Keeping loyal and good employees bent over the corporate barrel, implying that they should be grateful to have a job at all..

British Gas are a prime example of this. Rather than a well thought through recovery plan, that is felt across the board, and so accepted as being fair - they employ a 'Fire and Rehire' tactic aimed at their front line, that will ensure they completely destroy their workforce morale, whilst at the same time refilling shareholder pockets. Then in a final display of contempt, greasing the palm of an already overpaid CEO with a massive financial incentive. It feels like extreme Communism. The two classes are the proletariat (the workforce), who make up the majority of the population within the British Gas society and must work to survive; and the bourgeoisie (the senior management), a small minority who derive profit from employing the workforce, through private ownership of the means of production.

It is happening right now - search social media for #stopthebritishgasfire . More about this in my case study later.

I am almost certain, that right sizing to the extent that it is being done in general, is premature. I am absolutely convinced that you don't reward your best people with a pay cut, unless you have placed your business on suicide watch first. Your FD and stakeholders might be back slapping at their worthiness today, as they save a few quid to protect their dividends. But when we get 6 to 8 months in to recovery from this COVID-19 driven nightmare, what then ? That is when your best people leave, directly because of the total contempt you have shown them today. That will be when your business wallows in your self made pit of negativity, after its own self imposed restriction on the ability to increase revenue. That will be when your customers, guests or clients have started to shop elsewhere - because your lack of service etiquette, and spineless approach to recovery, encouraged them to do so. Where will the back slapping in the boardroom be then ?

That isn't a well balanced triangle... In fact that isn't a triangle at all.

Nobody wants a race to the bottom line. The workplace impact of COVID19, is unfortunately not a temporary one, and organisations that seize this opportunity to change up their return to work strategies and change how they operate / how they work - will outpace their peers in recovery. This is a serious time, for serious people, and the best ideas for growth of the top line, will always hold preference over the tried and failed red pen across the middle part of a P&L in my opinion. Profitability should fall through from top line growth, and a well managed cost base. Sadly, in rough times, a well managed cost base may include some significant impact to workforce - and indeed a significant number of redundant roles - but well managed also means fair and equitable.


CASE STUDY: So what is happening at British Gas ?

A once stalwart of the British industrial world, reduced to public in fighting, penny pinching, accusations of bullying and much more besides. British Gas staff are being treated with contempt. Threatened with being ‘fired and rehired’ on significantly worse conditions, with no formal consultation, by the company they have served loyally – hundreds of British Gas employees have taken to writing on social media;

“Today I have reluctantly taken part in strike action against my employer along with thousands of other British Gas colleagues across the UK. Reports are going round that this action is about us wanting more money, it has never been about money. When I joined the company they gave me a contract to sign and certain T&C's to abide by, they now wish to take that contract from me by force and not negotiate but by firing me and re hiring me on much worse terms. Extending my working hours and reducing my holidays are just a couple of changes which will affect my work life balance. I will also be forced to try and achieve unachievable productivity at the detriment of safety and the customer”
I have worked for British Gas for 18 years. The last thing I want is a strike at the moment but our senior leaders tried to intimidate, bully and harass us into signing a terrible new contract, right up until Christmas Eve. I cannot accept this contract as it will damage my family, so I have been issued with an ultimatum, sign it or go, no redundancy. Fire and Rehire tactics have left me stessed, anxious and having sleepless nights, but we have carried on, throughout the pandemic keeping vulnerable people warm - Meanwhile our senior leaders have been at home trying to take our long held contracts from us, using every tactic they can. We want to be in work but we cannot accept these Fire and Rehire tactics.

Thousands of British Gas engineers and call centre workers have downed tools as part of a national five-day strike in response to the behemoth of energy's “fire and rehire” business recovery plans.

The GMB trade union called the strike after 89% of its 9,000 British Gas members voted in favour of industrial action following the breakdown of talks with executives at British Gas (Britain’s biggest energy supplier) last year. The union expects the majority of the 7,000 engineers and 2,000 call centre workers who are part of its membership to take part, but will limit picketing due to coronavirus restrictions.

The strike marks the end of months of negotiations between union representatives and energy company executives over plans to reduce the workforce and shift the remaining employees on to new contracts. The union has accused Centrica, the largely faceless owner of British Gas, of “bullying” its 20,000 employees to accept worse employment contracts or lose their jobs as part of a “fire and rehire” plan.

The company, which has lost more than three-quarters of its market value in the last five years, said it has asked all employees to sign up to new employment contracts to help simplify the business. A similar approach was proposed by British Airways last year, alongside staff cuts, but the airline dropped the rather bonkers plans after negotiations with trade unions. British Gas boss Chris O’Shea’s attempts to bully workers into accepting cuts to their pay and terms and conditions has provoked this inevitable outcome – massive disruption to customers in the depths of winter and a stain on the reputation of an historic company and brand. Then, as if to show some kind of defiance, like the SS blaming the Jews, and absolving responsibility for the fall of the 3rd Reich, Centrica try to blame its workforce intransigence, for the failure of a badly managed business to fulfil its obligations to paying (and suffering) customers. A spokesperson for Centrica reportedly said:

“We’ve done everything we can to avoid industrial action, whilst we’ve made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown.”

Well, clearly they haven't done everything, or this wouldn't be happening.

British Gas has said that it has strong contingency plans in place, and that it will prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies. I do wonder how it intends to do this without any engineers on the ground... see below for an example:


British Gas has lost about 1 million customers in recent years due to its absolute failure to respond to fierce competition in the energy market, from a string of cut-price energy supply startups. As a result, Centrica reported a £1bn loss for 2019 before scrapping its shareholder dividend and warning investors there would be a steep slump in revenues in 2020.

The new terms and conditions that British Gas seek to impose, will not only lower the hourly rate of engineers, but will reduce pay by 20% percent if they cannot commit to the 7am until 9pm core hours 7 days a week. Something that must not only be immoral, but also be illegal on the grounds of discrimination towards single parents, or even indirect sex discrimination in the case of single Mothers ? They also want to cut holidays, sick pay, introduce a new performance management measure that could see engineers working extra days for nothing if they don't hit arbitary targets. So, this is not a strike about pay, it's about employees keeping their rights to a family life as well as customers being entitled to exemplary service levels, from highly skilled - and happy - engineers.

The company have used bullying, harassment, intimidation and lies to try and force individual engineers to sign the contract after we as a collective voted against it!
I've worked throughout the pandemic and put my family at risk as I'm committed to our customers! I'd also like to add that Chris O'shea the CEO earned just under a million pound last year!!! #StopTheBritishGasFire

There are always 2 sides to every story... although pretty much in line with every decent MP, business leader and senior figure - in all honesty, I struggle to see the side where Fire and Rehire is is in any way the correct approach to contract renegotiation. Chris O'Shea and the shareholders of British Gas may disagree, but nobody has ever said increasing share value is a guarantee, or a short term investment. Holding your employees and their families responsible for your own failure, is simply wrong.

There is loads of information to read an social media about this case, if you search the hashtag #stopthebritishgasfire .


In summary...

Great leadership will use their company values to develop new ways of working, with high levels of engagement and productivity. They will create a stronger customer and team member experience by investing time and money on the things that matter most. Then, starting from the top, with their leadership team an ethos of 360 degree challenge, a culture committed to accepting fair and reasoned challenge from all levels. A culture searching to reward big, those people that make it through. No job that survives should have an incumbent too afraid to speak up with fresh ideas.

This is a binary choice. You can make the tough, short term decisions, that secure the bottom line now, and receive the shareholder plaudits today. If that is your choice, then good for you. But - wouldn't it be refreshing to be remembered, not as the leader that blindly, harshly and predictably cuts their way to profitability; but as a leader that embraces workplace flexibility and encourages team members into flexible work arrangements, a leader that supports its team to post traumatic success through informed and targeted decision making and a leader that actively encourages customer retention through better local relationships, built on trust and understanding ?

Its time to choose your shape.

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