Protecting staff during a company crisis

by Contributor29 Jul 2016
One Australian company has had to take unexpected action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its employees. SHAPE Australia, formerly known as ISIS, reveals the inside story behind its transformation.

There aren’t many issues worse for a business than sharing a name with an international terrorism organisation.
From the marketing and branding issues, to the much more serious potential risks to staff safety and impact on workplace culture and revenue; having a tainted name carries potential business-ending implications.
That was the situation leading Australian fit out and refurbishment company SHAPE Australia found with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. The 26-year-old company was originally named ISIS after an Egyptian goddess, but found itself facing a crisis with the recent rise of the militant group with the same name.
Changing its name to SHAPE Australia last year, the company’s rebranding journey was driven in part by its extremely strong HR function, in collaboration with marketing.
The initial response to the rise of the militant group in 2014 was squarely focused around staff safety, as the business grappled with understanding the international situation.
SHAPE Group Executive of Operations Gerard McMahon said the safety of staff working on dozens of construction sites across Australia was the first concern, with the HR team given a prominent seat at the crisis table.
“Our concern was with our people and customers first and foremost,” he said.
“We immediately made the decision to drop all site branding and cupboard our uniforms to minimise the potential for issues on our sites.
“Although our staff understood our rationale for this, it was upsetting for some as we have hundreds of long-term team members who were proud of our brand and didn’t want to ‘give in’ to a militant group.”
Conscious of staff attitudes and their support for the brand, SHAPE realised key to getting through the tough period would be ensuring their staff were consulted every step of the way.
SHAPE’s Group Executive of People Strategies Kate Evans spent months interviewing staff to track sentiment towards the brand, attitudes towards a rebrand and personally managing employees who were targeted negatively for working at the then-named ISIS.
“A situation like this brings with it a multitude of opinions, sentiment and feelings. We took it very seriously to ensure all were heard, valued and considered. They absolutely formed part of each decision made.” Mr McMahon said.
Alongside this internal consultation, and grappling with the debate on whether to rebrand or not, SHAPE consulted with security and intelligence experts.
Mr McMahon said after consultation with staff, consultants and clients, as well as close monitoring of international situation, the decision was made to rebrand.
“We have always believed we are the sum of our team members, so it was natural to ask all of our staff what our new name should be.”
The name ‘SHAPE’ was conceived by a staff member as part of a consultative process and chosen for the way it embodies what the organisation does and the values it upholds at its core.
“SHAPE pays tribute to the evolution of our business and where we are going. It celebrates our commitment to excellence in fitout and refurbishment and exceeding expectations in delivering quality spaces and places in which to work and play.” Mr McMahon said.
Almost one year on from the rebrand, SHAPE has closed a strong financial year and managed to avoid any increases in employee turnover, a key performance indicator for the HR function. Rather, the SHAPE team culture is stronger than ever having weathered the business’ worst nightmare and come out the other side.