“It’s Custom and Practice” is a phrase that I used to hear a lot when negotiating with trade unions. And even though today far fewer workplaces are unionised, virtually every one has its own customs and practices. It could be the company gives people a day off pre-Christmas; it could be that the company always gives enhanced redundancy terms; it could be that staff can swap shifts between themselves without reference to managers. Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly not written down as part of the organisation’s policies and procedures.
Trying to change these things can be one of the hardest parts of employee relations – not because there are any particular legal difficulties but because people have an expectation of these practices. And the argument that “it’s not written down” simply does not wash. I had very little sympathy with Mondelez, the firm that owns Cadbury’s Chocolate, when the furore over the chocolate used in Creme Eggs broke last week. As consumers complained that the company was now using a cheap substitute rather than Cadbury’s signature Dairy Milk brand, the company spokesman pointed out that Creme Eggs weren’t marketed as “Dairy Milk Creme Eggs”. Factually of course, he’s correct – the company have done nothing ‘wrong’ in changing the type of chocolate. But consumer egg-spectations (sorry) were that if they bought the product, they would get a particular type of chocolate, the same they had had for over 40 years.
It shows, yet again, that imposing change on people – even if you have a good reason for doing it – is likely to lead to a backlash. If you need to make changes within your business, don’t make the same mistake as Mondelez