Award-winning CEO Marcus Stafford says maintaining transparency during organisational change will help propel the team once changes are in place.

One of Stafford’s greatest achievements has been rescuing the South Australian/Northern Territory branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society from closure help when “they got themselves in some strife” a few years ago.

Stafford, who is CCI’s next Lighthouse Leader, was made a Member of the Order of Australia last year for his efforts and took out the Australian Institute of Management’s Not-For-Profit Manager of the Year award in 2015.

He’d already set the WA branch on a winning path, having been CEO for about 10 years.

“It was a tale of two very different approaches that were required. Their (SA/NT) results had gone backwards so it didn’t require leadership but management.”

Stafford says he lost sleep over his decision to retrench 20 per cent of the staff.

“I think if you are a CEO you have to have sufficient human characteristics that understand the responsibility you bear in this organisation. Once it’s a cold clinical thing you’ve lost what it’s all about,” he says.

“So yes, absolutely, you lose sleep.

“I tell you when I lost most sleep; when I thought 125 people were going to lose their livelihoods and the thousands of people in South Australia with MS were going to lose representation. That was really when I lost sleep.”

Stafford says his initial thought when he started to go through the business was that he would keep the management team and cut down through the ranks.

But as he delved deeper – and he didn’t have a lot of time – he realised that decisions made over the previous three years were a reflection of the management and board.

“I realised it was lions led by donkeys and for me to retain the donkeys of management would have been irresponsible, so I cut out all the managers except one,” he says.

“There were some really good men and women who sat within that structure who lost their positions just by virtue of being unlucky enough to be working at the wrong company under the wrong management.

“I looked at strategy, structure, then staffing. It was a surprise for me when I did strategy and those decisions that I led to structure then to staffing. Then it was 25 staff, where if they had been lower level staff it would have been significantly more redundancies.”

Stafford says it’s important to maintain transparency with remaining staff, detailing reasons why decisions have made and outlining how the team must now knit together to move forward.

He says the turnaround took about three years with the organisation handed back to its new CEO and board about a year ago.

While redundancies have become commonplace in WA, Stafford – who has worked in London, throughout Europe, North Africa and the United States – says WA is one of the most savage when it comes to slashing staff.

“I reckon this is the worst town for it,” he says. “I’ve seen it but not as savagely as I’ve seen it in WA. It’s always surprised me.”

“I’ve seen the economic times, have been through the recession. I have seen how recessions hit countries and companies and how recessions make companies act and I’ve certainly seen good and bad decision making around the world on the back of that stimulus.

“I’ve certainly seen arms being surgically removed to retain the life of the body and all those things we know.

“There is a way of doing this stuff. I’m not so naïve as to say you should never do it, I’m saying cut once, cut hard.

“Death by a thousand cuts is what destroys the culture of the organisation and the long-term viability of that company because it takes so long to recover and every time you get there, there’s another redundancy happening and it just goes on forever.”

► Hear from award-winning CEO Marcus Stafford at CCI’s upcoming Lighthouse Leadership Series, being held Tuesday 12 June. Register now!