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"From the Top"- an article by Carole Pemberton
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Article by Carole Pemberton about the Human Resources policies and programme of the LDDC in its closing years

First published in The Guardian on Saturday 21st March 1998
(Appendix P to the Final Personnel Annual Report)

Make the connection between Drusillas, a childrenís zoo in Alfriston. East Sussex, which operates on a 75 per cent temporaryy workforce, and the London Docklands Development Corporation  which will close at the end of March. The answer isnít a lack of career prospects but an ability to manage career dilemmas they face.

Drusillas wins awards for its customer service and catering. It consistently delivers high quality by addressing the tension between two realities. They have to offer high quality because they are competing against alternative family leisure attractions such as Legoland.

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They cannot operate economically with a high permanent staff ratio. They manage that tension through providing staff with a sense of connection. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to the whole business. Anyone can come along to brainstorming sessions on theme events. The creative can con≠tribute ideas to publicity materials. The result is a seasonal workforce with a 25 per cent turnover rate, when alternative student employment options such as Pizza Hut have turnover rates of 147 per cent. 

LDDC has been managing the dilemma of how to sustain performance when facing closure and unemployment, They meet the problem head-on through acknowledging the reality of human behaviour: increased absence levels, early departure of the most marketable, anger and stress among those with fewer opportunities, all resulting in productivity decline.

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By acknowledging this they were able to put in place a strategy covering pay, health and training, The result has been a business meeting performance targets, absence levels below the national average, and demand for counselling reducing.

Central to their approach has been a focusing on helping people to understand their skills and how to manage them, so that they leave when they know their next career step, rather than hanging on for a redundancy payment followed by a career void.

All organisations face career dilemmas. But the frustration of managers at the slowing of their career progress since hierarchies flattened is unlikely to result in those levels being reinstated. Despite a desire to attract the most talented. the most talented are likely to he the least organisationally committed.

Employee complaints that there isnít a clear career path any more clash with the organisationís counterclaim that the speed of change makes it unrealistic to build one. Finding an answer lies in acknowledging the tension and seeking the best realisable solution. Itís what Professor Gareth Morgan of York University, Toronto, calls the 15 per cent option.

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According to Morgan. the 15 per cent are the cracks in the pavement where the slab can be levered up. For Drusillas, the crack is the attraction of working with animals.   For LDDC, the 15 per cent is the commitment to addressing the reality of what people are facing, allied to the influence of the human resources director.

IF he had been less credible, it is unlikely the organisation would have applied itself to ensuring ties between performance and motivation. Had the issue been less business critical, the effort needed to sustain a coherent people strategy would have died away.

Given that every business change produces career dilemmas, career management skill needs to acknowledge both horns of the dilemma in order to produce 15 per cent solutions which both sides can live with.

Carole Pemberton is managing consultant, Career Matters.  Managing Career Dilemmas In the New World of Work by Carole Pemberton, John  Refausse abd Clive Evans is published by Financial Tines Times Management on March 26

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