Employee transition project

This case study looks at the Thameslink Programme’s staff transition process following the peak phase of the major infrastructure programme.

Employee transition – key challenges

With the potential of 760 people over several years finding themselves at risk of redundancy at different times, it was crucial that there was a supportive and robust approach in place to help those people to find new job opportunities.

The aim for Network Rail Infrastructure Projects was compelling: to retain key talent, mitigate redundancy and support our employees to remain engaged through a difficult process. The HR Transition Team demonstrated great drive and commitment to achieving this, with support from senior leaders.

By working with numerous stakeholders across the business and industry, the team were able to challenge and enhance the current redeployment process. As a demonstration of success, the team been nominated for four industry-led awards.

The Transition Team were able to:

  • Offer support 12 months before potential redundancy instead of six months
  • Add a closed list process which gave transitionees the opportunity to fill vacancies before they were released to the rest of the business.
  • Freeze external recruitment with exceptions being on a case by case basis.

The project context

In a passenger focussed, delivery organisation that delivers billion pounds worth of infrastructure, naturally there are big projects that come to an end and leave colleagues wondering what their next move will be.

The HR team was faced with three projects, Thameslink Programme, Crossrail and Great Western coming to an end over consecutive years. Within these projects there were 760 people (Transitionees) who would potentially be placed at risk of redundancy over the coming years.

As different projects and work banks finished, different numbers of people would be placed in the transition pool meaning all 760 people wouldn’t be at risk all at once. Infrastructure Projects (IP) recognised the significant business risk of losing our skilled and experienced employees from the business and the welfare of our employees facing this uncertainty.

The skills needed to deliver major projects are in limited supply therefore avoiding the loss of skills from the business is important but with competitive infrastructure projects available in other sectors there is the threat the skills will leave the rail industry and potentially the UK for opportunities abroad.

If no action was taken and the projects finished without care and consideration for the 760 colleagues, this would have cost the business £42 million in redundancy payments alone, let alone the skills, knowledge and recruiting costs.

This risk was added to the IP executive team’s risk register and was a key priority for the senior team to address. This resulted in the formulation of an IP-wide team; the ‘Transition Project Team’, where key people and skills were brought together to create a smooth, controlled and supportive process for those in demobilising projects. Their mission was to keep as many of these 760 experienced and skilled employees within Network Rail.

Collaboration was key from the start of the project. The conversations started between the HR teams of the three closing projects and the heads of HR who would go on to lead the dedicated transition delivery team. These discussions unearthed potential issues and allowed for creative solutions which set the tone for the way this project would work with colleagues and stakeholders throughout.

The conversations shed light on a few key things for consideration; NR redeployment process, the vast and varied stakeholders that needed to be involved from the start and employee contracts.

Network Rail has a redeployment process which supports people at risk six months before their identified end date. It was clear that the transition team could support colleagues as early as 12 months before their potential end date to alleviate the stress of change.

Relationships were key

The team quickly identified that working with key stakeholders including: Transitionees – the people being demobilised, HR colleagues, major programme directors, trades unions and the IP executive team was fundamental to the successful delivery of the transition project.

Building these strong and interactive relationships created discussions where new ideas emerged, and any potential barriers were problem-solved. Having open dialogue enabled the development and publication of policies and processes for moving people with ease around the business.

These relationships allowed the team to bring together the three programmes due to demobilise together. This was a challenging task as the programmes were at different stages with some closing in the next year and some closing in a few years’ time. Therefore, the team worked with the leaders to create a common purpose and process.

A key complexity, creating a potential barrier to the success of the project, was the fact that employee contracts did not easily enable mobility of people around the business. Engagement was equally important, and the project team recognised that putting people in roles they do not want would not be beneficial to the employee or the company.

Avoiding a ‘tell’ situation, the team wanted to create an environment where everyone at risk had access to all the information to help them decide on their next role in Network Rail.

Getting the business on side

Once the team decided to put people at the heart of the process, the next challenge was to get the business to engage. Hiring managers participation was key to the success of this process but initially managers were reluctant to hire people they hadn’t interviewed. The team listened to this as they wanted all roles to be run within a fair process.

The transition project team was passionate about finding everyone who wanted to stay in the business a new role. It was proposed to enforce an external recruitment freeze and introduce a closed list process for two weeks where Transitionees could apply for all available jobs in IP before anyone else.

This was agreed by the IP HR director and the IP executive team This sent a firm message to the business and the demobilising colleagues, that IP were committed to helping our colleagues stay in the business.

Building the transition team brand

Once the business was fully engaged with the project it was important to build a recognisable identity. The transition team built an identity and the transition brand and hub was born. This created consistency and trust in the communications people received.

Key regular and consistent activities

  • Hiring manager communications – sharing what colleagues and skills were available for them to consider for their vacant roles. This also included updates on how many people had been placed thanks to their participation with the process to create a positivity and appreciation around their contribution.
  • The transition hub was a 24/7 dedicated SharePoint site to all things transition related.

This included:

  • Everything someone looking for a new role would need to succeed i.e.
    • Weekly vacancy bulletin
    • CV and interview workshops
    • Wellbeing tips, etc.
  • Transition talks, videos of colleagues who had found roles with the support of the transition team and key senior stakeholders sharing why finding people who are in transition a role was important to them.
  • A place for hiring managers to get information on the latest colleagues currently available for roles.
  • Available jobs and projects from around the whole business, with a description of what project they would be working on.
  • A way to get to know the transition team and how they could help.
    • Weekly email updates of vacancies tailored to their level in the organisation making finding the next move easier.
    • Transition surgeries for everyone to attend, whether the employee was currently in transition, a hiring manager wanting to know more or a senior stakeholder who wanted to catch up on the programme. All were welcome to come and talk to the transition team and ask questions. These were held in key locations around the country.

Feedback from these communications activities were extremely positive with a common feedback theme that if you worked with the transition team, you would find the support and next role you were looking for.

It was clear that the transition hub was well received when a technical fault meant the weekly bulletin was two days late and the team were inundated with concerned Transitionees that they might have been missed off!

The team

The availability and dedication of the transition team, the commitment and collaboration from the wider HR team and key stakeholders made the difference in this project. The HR transition team was set up to be a temporary project team and was made up of knowledgeable people seconded from other parts of HR or people brought in on fixed term contract because of their capabilities and commitment.

Despite this temporary nature, their obsession to help every single person find a job was contagious and built the ethos for the project. The transition team was small comprising of five people, working with several stakeholders such as:

  • Transitionees
  • Recruitment teams
  • Hiring managers
  • Line managers from across the business to make them aware that this process existed in case they would be hiring in the future
  • HR teams
  • Communications team
  • IP executive team
  • Demobilising programmes senior leaders
  • Network Rail-wide redeployment.

The support of these stakeholders was crucial to the project’s success as without the knowledge and skills that these people bought together, innovations and ideas would not have been produced, supported and executed with success.

The strong relationship with resourcing meant the transition team could support resourcing business partners. They could challenge hiring managers’ thinking around taking people from the transition pool. Having these open and honest conversations and being able to highlight the talent of these individuals and benefits of taking someone skilled from within the transition pool was key to the success of placing so many people around the business.

The IP resourcing team showed a desire and commitment to delivering this process. The recruitment team supported a major change to their working processes with no resistance.

In this time of change, they took it on – both with a desire to do the right thing for our people and with a desire to get the best people into their vacant roles. Even two years after the start of transition the team were still getting celebratory emails when they secured someone into a role, and they knew the impact this had on that individual.

Business results

What did all of this do for the business?

  • To date (February 2019) 370 demobilising colleagues have found new roles in Network Rail. This is not only great news for the individual and their families, but for the business as it has saved £20 million in redundancy payments, as well as, the hidden time and costs associated with recruiting and upskilling.
  • Several traditionally hard to fill roles have been filled with Transitionees including project planners, commercial managers and engineers as well as roles that were vacant for over 100 days – clearly a huge benefit to the areas hiring.
  • 82% of our female workforce who were affected by the demobilising projects and part of transition have been retained and drive activity to continue this work. Network Rail currently has a female workforce of only 17% and has a strategy in place to increase this to at least 20% by 2020. Therefore, it was an important part of the project to support this.
  • We have secured two Transitionees with external secondments to support the wider infrastructure industry, and this will allow us to welcome them back to Network Rail at the end of the agreed period. We introduced our Transitionees to Network Rail consulting and we have one Transitionee who took up a post in Washington, USA!
  • In 2018 our Transitionees submitted on average four applications per person for internal roles with IP. 155 Transitionees moved to a role with the same job title and 198 moved into either a promotional role or a role with a different job title.
  • Where possible whole teams have been transferred together to a new department, keeping continuity.

One of our Network Rail HR strategy outcomes was to attract, develop and retain dedicated and committed people. The transition project took the spirit of this intention by striving to provide support to employees facing uncertainty and a commitment to keeping their much-needed skills within the business.


Case Study produced by Maria Podadera, Network Rail HR Business Partner, February 2019.

Further information

For more information on this Learning Legacy case study please email contact@thameslinkprogramme.co.uk