Remploy – a case of super-sensitive, stakeholder management


When Remploy was set up more than 60 years ago, the only way for it to fulfil its mission of providing employment for disabled people was through its own factories – which had grown by 2007 to a network of 83 sites, in every area of the country.

The vision

The latest thinking among disability groups and leading charities is that many disabled people will have better prospects working in mainstream employment, rather than on specialist sites.

Jo Williams, Chief Executive of Mencap (the leading UK charity for people with a learning disability and their families), has said: “When the factories were started 60 years ago they were making an important contribution. Those days have gone really. We’re looking forward to seeing people with disabilities fully integrated into society.” Bob Warner, Remploy’s Chief Executive, shares Mencap’s views.

As he says, “Remploy have a great opportunity to help more disabled people find jobs, but we have to change how we work in all areas of Remploy. There is now an acceptance that disabled people would prefer to work in mainstream employment alongside non-disabled people rather than in sheltered workshops from which they do not progress and develop. Therefore the company had to change.”

Remploy realised that, with the changing dynamics of employment today, for the cost of employing one person in a Remploy factory it could place four people in jobs with mainstream employers. Furthermore, some of the businesses that had been set up in the post war years were in urgent need of refocusing to ensure that they were meeting current market needs.

Setting aggressive goals

Remploy already had experience in this area.  By 2007 it had 5,000 people placed in jobs of which half were placed in mainstream business with the other 50% still working in factories wholly run by Remploy.  Aggressive targets were agreed with the major government body, the Department for Work and Pensions.  Remploy would decrease costs by R380 million per annum while targeting a staged increase in placements to 25,000 people placed in year 5 alone with no disabled staff being made compulsory redundant, they represented 93% of the employees.

With targets like these it was clear that this could never be achieved through gradual change – a major transformational change programme was required.

The political landscape

remployThe early planning showed that 28 factories would need to be closed to meet the financial targets.  The political and social landscape was bleak.   It was one thing for organisations such as Mencap to support work-place integration, it was another for an organisation such as Remploy to close jobs that had been traditionally, safe job opportunities for the disabled.  This was a programme no individual would find easy to openly support.

Remploy faced a formidable challenge: to convince all those who had an interest – including politicians, disability groups, the media, disabled employees and their families, and unions – that the company had the right approach.

Define your stakeholder engagement approach

A planning team (one director, one employment services disability specialist, and a HR and operations manager) was set-up.  They were seconded out of the line and dedicated to the problem of how to plan such a major, politically sensitive change.   All had extensive experience of Remploy’s business and had the seniority to make things happen as was required in the business.  The programme director reported to the CEO and was given ultimate accountability and decision-making authority in the definition of the new business structure and programme implementation.  With such a fundamental redesign of how Remploy provided its services and the anticipated and very real resistance to change from a multitude of stakeholders, clear direction and strong leadership proved to be an essential contribution to the success of the project.

The early planning phase was essentially a massive stakeholder engagement exercise.  Each of the stakeholders was considered in detail – right down to named people who may be affected by the closure of factories.  The stakeholder list consisted of literally thousands of individuals and groups.

The engagement approach and the timing of the engagement were analysed.  Rather like a huge soccer game – the planning team had to consider which stakeholders should be on the pitch, what positions they should take, when they should be brought into play and when they should be kept in reserve.  Timing would be critical – an uncontrolled, untimely invasion of the pitch would be difficult to recover from!

To create appropriate engagement strategies, the planning team had to understand the stakeholder agendas and the possibilities for aligning their WIIFM (“What’s in it for me”) to improve the success of the engagement activities.  This, like negotiation processes generally, demands real problem solving, out-of-the box thinking.  Activities, not directly linked to the final deliverables, had to be defined and delivered wholly focused on addressing the stakeholder related risks.

Political agendas needed to be managed.  That meant looking at all the possible influencing strategies.  Who can we influence and who is best placed to influence who.  As the progamme director commented, “our job was to give our team the direction, information and weapons and tools to go out and persuade and influence the key groups and individuals, then track that it was happening and following the plan”.

With jobs at stake and the complex legislation around the employment of the disabled, careful attention needed to be given to ensuring that due process was followed at all times.  It was of great credit to the programme that none of the consultations resulted in tribunals or other legal action.

Planning was everything

The planning phase took three years, and during this time business-as-usual continued.  Why so long?  The repercussions of getting it wrong were just so high.  Not only was the Remploy business at stake but the ability of government and public services to provide a real opportunity to some of the most vulnerable people in society could be affected.

Using the insights gained from the stakeholder analysis the team planned out every single deliverable, every single communication in detail.  Scenario planning for each possible interaction was analysed and appropriate responses were mapped out.  Nothing was left to chance; right the way down to providing the detailed scripts for the meetings and briefings that would be given by the operational line managers.

A communication management filing approach was defined, available and implemented right from the start of the project.  Records of every consultation were to be kept. The acceptance criteria of a “complete track record of all interactions” was severe, but the traceability it provided undoubtedly contributed to Remploy’s success in managing complex relationships and in avoiding extended disputes and legal actions.

Implementation – our own project community

The Remploy Modernisation Programme was subject to a formal consultation process with the trades unions following its announcement in May 2007. Following the completion of this consultation period the final proposal for the Remploy Modernisation Programme was submitted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on 12 November 2007 for ministerial approval. In November 2007, the DWP approved the modernisation programme and asked for it to be implemented with immediate effect.

“The vision was clear and the change made complete sense. It was a great day for Remploy when we were successful in securing government approval for our modernisation plan. It meant that we could increase the number of disabled people supported into work from less than 2,000 a year currently to 20,000 a year by 2012.”

With the plans accepted, Remploy had to hit the ground running.  Up until this point only a limited number of people were aware of the impending changes.

“Even with the green light from government and agreement from other stakeholder groups, we were faced with a major logistical challenge.”

Once the vision had been made public, the programme had just 12 months and a tightly constrained budget in which to merge factories, close some sites and transfer people and production.  Now made public, Remploy was in the media spotlight and in a highly charged climate where emotions, understandably, were running high.

There were 106 projects to implement from closing factories, to the transfer of work from one business to another, to people sensitive change projects.  All of this would have to be delivered with the support of Remploy resources and the management and coordination of the projects would be key.

“Throughout its history, the company had never executed a programme of this scale and complexity.  We didn’t have project managers or at least not ones you would recognise”

Remploy engaged project and programme management consultancy specialists, CITI for advice on how to manage a change programme of this kind, and for help in bringing it about.  An early decision was made that, rather than bringing in external project managers, CITI would train and develop Remploy’s own staff as project and change managers, and would provide appropriate systems and support to allow Remploy’s own people to undertake this major change programme for themselves.

Twenty project managers would be needed and the core planning team selected the candidates.  All the team went through a training programme, specially tailored for the needs of the Remploy programme.  This training focused on fast start set-up of projects with highly visible devices for monitoring and tracking progress.  This would be key to ensuring the controlled delivery of each of the 106 projects.

Change managers were also recruited from Remploy’s businesses, and trained in the same way as project managers; however they remained assigned to their businesses, with responsibility for providing the link between projects and individual businesses, and ensuring handover to business-as-usual activities once the projects were completed;

Support was provided in the form of a small project office and experienced project mentors who could be called on by the Remploy staff for advice and support as they defined and implemented their projects.

An electronic document management system, accessed by all project managers, was set up to manage documentation, procedures and reporting. The project support office provided both project and programme level support and was responsible for implementing procedures including reporting, document management, version control and change control procedures. The project support office also provided help and advice on project management methods, management of risks, issues, assumptions and constraints and other project related matters.

A central ‘war room’ was set up and resourced by members of the original planning team.  Any question, any issue, no matter how small, would be channelled through this group to ensure a correct and consistent response.  As questions were raised they were logged and a Q&A summary was sent to managers on a weekly basis.  This way the issues were quickly cleared and Remploy was able to avoid repeatedly dealing with same issues.

Delivering the benefits

In order to meet the objectives agreed with the DWP and the continuing strategic objectives of the company, the programme was developed to deliver both financial and strategic benefits. Wherever possible these were qualified and quantified, in order that these could be measured. They were, in summary:

Financial benefits:

  • A reduction in operating cost through operating fewer factories;
  • An improved performance from other factories where contracts, people and equipment had been transferred;
  • An injection of revenue from the sale of sites and equipment.

Strategic benefits:

  • A greater capability and capacity to support more people into employment;
  • A refocused organisation commercially, that would allow the enterprise business to become more sustainable and allow for the employment services business to realise the growth required from the many opportunities that were available;
  • An organisation that was more aligned with an inclusive approach to disability and with the views of disability organisations/groups;
  • An organisation that had an increased capability and capacity to manage change through programme and project management;
  • The potential for improvement in business performance activity at stage 3 of the programme derived from the various business plans.

 Despite the challenges, the objectives of the programme were achieved, and the benefits delivered.

All relevant quality objectives were met. The entire programme and associated individual projects were subject to internal audit, to ensure change was in line with the programme vision and objectives, as well as operating within existing Remploy policy and authorisation levels.  The programme work was also subject to successful external audit.

Financial benefits included the cost avoidance of £148m over the life of the plan from site closures, and £30m from the transfer of business activity from closing sites to retained sites. The company also gained strategic alignment benefit, through focusing its manufacturing activities on markets that offer prospects of sustainable employment in the UK.

An additional benefit was that Remploy was left with a highly developed, tried and tested project and programme management capability, which provides a solid foundation for the next phase of its modernisation programme. The company had demonstrated a new ability to manage and deliver complex change on a large scale, and based on a clear plan.

Looking back

The execution stage of the Remploy modernisation programme took just 6 months and was under budget.  John Waterhouse, the programme director attributes much of their success to the detailed planning that took place prior to execution, the commitment and drive of the project managers and the single point of responsibility governance structure.

Was it stressful?  “No” says John, “but it was frustrating.  Every day we would be faced with challenges to the implementation model and we had to maintain that position in the face of criticism, doubt and down-right hostility”.

Maybe that is what makes super-sensitive projects such a challenge to deliver successfully.  In the face of business and even personal challenge the project manager must find the courage and conviction to drive the project through to successful completion.


Over the 12 months to the end of March 2008, Remploy found 6,600 jobs in mainstream employment for people with disabilities – an increase of 27% on the previous year. The figures include 4,600 jobs under the government’s Workstep programme, which is aimed at those who experience the greatest barriers to finding and keeping a job – a rise of 47% on the previous year.

The Remploy modernisation programme won the Association for Project Managers (APM) Programme of the year award 2009. For more details on the awards and how to enter or attend, visit or email

Many thanks to the Programme Director, John Waterhouse and CITI members who kindly agreed to be interviewed for this article.


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