Top business and career coaches from Forbes Coaches Council offer firsthand insights on leadership development & careers.
When all other options have failed, sometimes a business must downsize its staff for budgetary reasons. This past year has certainly seen some giants in the business world take serious hits. After a round of layoffs, those who remain are often left to deal with heavier workloads and worry about their own job security, which can seriously impact morale and productivity.
Unfortunately, addressing the elephant in the room isn’t easy. So what’s the most important thing a business owner or executive must do to keep the remaining staff focused and productive after downsizing? We asked 13 members of Forbes Coaches Council to weigh in.
1. Communicate More Than Ever
When left with gaps in facts and information, we naturally fill them in ourselves. Executives need to communicate with greater frequency and transparency. Create opportunities for employees to ask questions and express concerns. Acknowledge what is happening. Validate concerns. Refocus energy on the future. Leaders must lean into the discomfort so that employees aren’t shouldering it on their own. – Tegan Trovato, Bright Arrow Coaching
2. Explain The Decision
There isn’t a single leadership decision that doesn’t require sacrifice. The leadership should explain—in the most honest and transparent way, without any hogwash—how not downsizing would have actually caused more harm than good. It will not ease the pain of those downsized, but it will demonstrate that the leadership truly had the well-being and prosperity of the greatest number in mind. – Gaurav Bhalla, Knowledge Kinetics F
3. Remember That Trust Is Fragile
Leaders must quickly take responsibility for the strategic mishap and explain in detail why it happened. Since the situation is sensitive for the remaining employees, emotions cannot be avoided. Before worrying about whether or not the surviving team will be productive, you must provide a cooling off period with open dialogue encouraged in a townhall forum. Trust will be fragile. Don’t forget that. – Brian M Harman, Business Management Hallmark
4. Be Prepared For The Emotions
Acknowledge “the suck” and strategize a solution with the team. Retained employees may be feeling fear, guilt and anxiety. Effective leaders expect this and prepare a controlled space for the mix of emotions to pass with less impact on the work. The feelings will emerge either way. But effective leaders make strategic room for them versus waiting to be surprised when rogue emotions can do more damage. – Damaris Patterson Price, Working River Leadership Consulting
5. Show Great Care For Those Displaced
One of the biggest problems that companies create for themselves is dispatching their downsized staff without outplacement assistance or care. It is a burden to let people go, but if they have been good employees, investing in them by providing career assistance and high-quality outplacement sends a powerful message to your current team: “We care for you now and beyond the job.” Send this message. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
6. Refocus On Your Organization’s Vision
As a leader, you need to place your decisions into the right context for the remaining staff. Their experience is not your experience, but by helping them see how those decisions fit into a specific context, you encourage support and buy-in. An important component of that context is the organization’s vision. Ensure that you can communicate how these decisions support your organization’s vision. – Kyle Brost, Spark Policy Institute & Choice Strategy Group
7. Involve Your Team In Setting New Priorities
When co-workers are laid off, employees see it as a reminder of how little control they have. Turn this thought upside-down. Involve your team in discussions about new priorities. Solicit ideas on which projects to take off the plate and which ones to put at the top of the list. Overcommunication is critical now: Ask more questions, hold more meetings and share more than you think you need to. – Leila Bulling Towne, The Bulling Towne Group, LLC
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