Head of Research, Policy and Standards Institute of Leadership and Management
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How should we welcome ex-offenders into our firms?

18th Jul 2018
Head of Research, Policy and Standards Institute of Leadership and Management
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It looks very likely that, in the next few years, a lot more of us will be doing things the Timpson way.

What I mean is that more and more companies will be recruiting ex-offenders.

Timpson has been doing this for several years, now.

CEO James Timpson is cheerfully open about the trial and error that went into the early days of his hiring initiative. “I'd put them in shops and they’d nick money off us,” he told the Telegraph in 2013. “They’d fight in the shop … If it’s going to go wrong, it goes really wrong.”

Since then, Timpson’s policy has settled down, and the firm currently employs several hundred former prisoners. Now, other firms are set to follow suit. Why is that the case?

Challenging employers

Well, in May, justice secretary David Gauke launched a major policy intervention designed to put offenders on the path to employment “from the day they enter prison”.

Gauke stressed that he aims to create cultural change from within organisations, and wants employees “from the shop floor to the boardroom” to “challenge employers who turn a blind eye to attracting and representing ex-offenders”.

Now, the government has launched a massive call for evidence to support its initiative.

So, what does all this mean for leaders, HR managers and organisations… and how must they accommodate ex-offenders into their workforces to effect that cultural change?

Clearly, the potential for this hiring approach to be transformative in someone’s life is huge. But the opportunity has to extend beyond offering them a job.

There’s much more to it than that.

A larger contribution

Getting the job is where it starts – but it is only a small part of the equation. It’s the ongoing support required after day one that should be the focus of leaders’ attention. 

In many cases, the ex-offenders who’ll benefit from the government’s policy will come into organisations off the back of life experiences in which positive role models have been in drastically short supply.

And because of that, they are likely to have fewer personal resources to draw upon than those who have had those role models.

In my view, there’s an interesting talent pool available here – and the desire to spark a cultural change geared towards a more inclusive climate for ex-offenders is laudable. Once someone has served their time, they have paid their debt to society.

So now, leaders must think creatively about how best to empower these individuals. To show them that they are trusted and valued. To ensure that they are not made targets of prejudice because of their pasts.

If leaders can pave the way for offenders to make successful transitions from offending behaviours to thriving in the workplace, then the gains not just for the individual, or the organisation, but society as a whole, are potentially significant.

With that in mind, as leaders bring this talent pool on to their radar screens, they should ask themselves: “What do these individuals need from us to succeed, once we have accepted them into our organisations?”

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