Moving the Department
I arrived for a coaching session with a senior manager for IT services at a chemical company near Frankfurt. As his assistant showed me in, he said: “a couple of things have changed since we spoke a couple of days ago. First, we’ve been taken over by locusts. Secondly, I have to move my operation over 200 Km to a less attractive location, with no interruption in service.”
Most of the session was spent listening, while he talked the shock out of his system. Then we sketched a force field analysis of the challenge on his whiteboard; this helped him to identify three concerns: first, how to keep the service levels up, secondly, how to negotiate any changes with the Works Council; thirdly, how to retain staff during the move (he expected to lose about 13 of his people).
He handled the first topic with his management team. We spent one coaching session on how to prepare for the discussions with the Works Council. His breakthrough was to learn how to view the Council as a partner rather than an opponent. This shift helped the discussions to run constructively.
He asked me to design a small organizational process for the third topic. After putting myself in their shoes and talking to some members of the department, I understood that it needed to contain three main components. We began by visiting the new site, to see the offices (where some people were able to choose their office furniture) and the canteen. On the return journey in the big bus, we had over two hours of war stories – what they’d been through together at the old site over the years. Finally, upon our return, we ran an Open Space workshop to catch all their concerns and – where possible – to develop solutions together.
The move went smoothly. All but two staff made the move and there was no service interruption. This resulted in savings of €50—200 K for finding replacement specialists and further savings of about €330K for the temporary consultants who would have been needed to maintain the service levels until the replacements were in place. An intangible benefit: morale in the department improved.
 A locust is German slang for a private equity investor. It derives from a speech by Hans Muentefering, the then Minister for Labour.