How to Increase the Probability of Positive Downsizing Results

With Leadership and Vision, Your Survivors Can Soar After Downsizing

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You're downsizing, right-sizing, cutting staff and experiencing layoffs, for all the right reasons. Your goal was to increase productivity, quality, customer care, and profitability, and to reduce costs and waste.

Like the Phoenix in ancient mythology, you've succeeded. You rose from the ashes and regenerated yourself. Those who remain with you, the layoff survivors, have fulfilled your highest expectations in this process. They’ve stepped up to the challenge and soared to new heights of accomplishment.

This is every organization's dream during a downsizing. The decision to layoff people and downsize is not made lightly. Once made, however, you can increase the probability of these positive downsizing results by doing some simple, but profoundly complex, activities, right.

Your Leaders Must Be Visible and Involved During Layoffs

During layoffs and downsizing is not the time for organization leaders to retreat to board rooms and private offices to plan the future. After a downsizing, or following any major change, for that matter, leaders must be visible and accessible. Layoff survivors need to interact with their supervisor and the organization leaders on a daily basis.

Leaders may have to listen to people express pain and sadness. As a leader, listen, really listen, without judging or trying to solve the problem. You can’t. You can only use each conversation as an opportunity to re-emphasize the necessity for the downsizing.

You can speak positively about the mission, vision, and plans for the future. You can thank each individual for pitching in and making the changed organization an even more effective and inviting workplace after layoffs.

At the same time, managers and supervisors must be strong leaders, decisive yet participatory. You must inspire confidence, at this time, so people feel you can be depended upon as they take the first steps into the unknown future.

Re-emphasize Your Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals After Layoffs

Employee morale, organizational climate, and culture are negatively impacted by layoffs and downsizing. You will need to recreate the work environment, so that people build their self-esteem, find work satisfying, and achieve at higher levels. The foundation for this progress is to re-emphasize the organization's mission and its values.

The vision for the future has undoubtedly changed or received new life in the downsizing process. Now is your opportunity to spend time with small groups of people talking about each of these. Reaffirm their meaning and impact for your organization. Let people ask questions and talk about how their goals fit into the larger picture after the layoffs.

Talk about the culture and work environment you want to create post-layoffs. Define what you need to do as a group to move in this direction, despite the loss of coworkers. You need to pay more attention to rewards, recognition and helping the remaining employees feel valued and appreciated.

A few weeks after a downsizing, a small refurbishing plant manager established a “good news board” on which any employee could post information. Another formed a “smile team,” not just to plan events such as potlucks and parties, but to work to build the overall morale of the organization. Another started publishing a weekly one-page report that kept staff informed of goals and direction.

This is also a good time to look at the goals of each work unit to assess their connection to the overall plan. It is important, following a downsizing, for each of your survivors to feel his work is integral to the accomplishment of the business plan.

You Cannot Over-Communicate During Layoffs and Downsizing

Throughout the layoffs and downsizing process, communicate the facts as honestly as you can and with great compassion. People must walk away from meetings and one-on-one discussions with the feeling that decisions were fair and legitimate.

They must feel the decisions were good for the business and their future. They need to understand the context in which decisions were made. They need to hear that a rational, well-thought-out decision-making process occurred. Express empathy for those who have lost coworkers with whom they shared relationships. You cannot over-communicate during a layoff or downsizing.

Make Sure Some Things Stay the Same Following Layoffs or Downsizing

A commitment to the continuation of regular group and one-on-one meetings following the layoffs and downsizing is also important. It is a mistake to bring sarcasm, an apparent lack of empathy, blame or criticism of those who are leaving to these sessions. To maintain morale, the people remaining must have seen the downsized individuals treated with dignity and respect.

Treat People With Dignity and Respect During the Downsizing

Escorting people and their work artifacts out the door with security personnel or a supervisor standing guard is not an effective way to assist the layoff survivors to feel warm and fuzzy about your organization. It is much better if you hold a meeting toward the end of the day, break the bad news and then assist the individuals to pack up their belongings when most of the workforce has gone home.

Or, as one manager who was downsizing decided, he met each employee on the weekend to help them pack their belongings and wish them well. This also allowed him to check up on the former employee several days into their unemployment. This manager’s remaining staff pulled together and quickly returned to a high level of productivity.

Communicating About Layoffs in a Downsizing

The debate is ongoing about the timing of communication about layoffs and downsizing. Many practitioners in organizations believe that they should tell people as much as possible as soon as information is known with some certainty. This includes the timing of private discussions between managers and employees who may stay or lose their jobs as a result.

Downsizing the workforce should occur early in the week so people have time to start their job search. Even with the job searching services and postings available online, depending on the job and location, employees deserve the opportunity to immediately take care of their affairs.

Design an effective communications strategy for before, during, and after the layoffs and downsizing. It is the critical factor that supports your workforce quickly unifying around the mission, vision, and new organizational structure. Effective communication ensures the ownership of the new strategies for success.

Communication While Downsizing

As you design your strategy, think broadly about all the possible ways to communicate during layoffs.

  • Hold company meetings;
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings;
  • Publish a transition newsletter;
  • Use email, intranet, and internet resources;
  • Hold frequent department gatherings;
  • Post minutes and notices;
  • Use voice mail for messages;
  • Encourage informal planning sessions that are focused on the forward progress.

These communication tips will help your company thrive following layoffs and downsizing activities.

Introduce Efforts to Increase Your Organization’s Competitiveness Following Layoffs and Downsizing

Layoffs and downsizing are never the only answer. In fact, if employees see you immediately begin to address other aspects of non-competitive practices, they will rally from the downsizing in record time.

This is your opportunity to look at all business processes and eliminate possible waste. (If you are a manufacturing company, you may already think of this as lean manufacturing.

Recommended Reading

If you are not a manufacturing company, you will want to read "Lean: Ultimate Collection," to understand how to build a lean enterprise throughout the value chain.

With fewer employees, consider eliminating unproductive meetings, initiatives that don’t put you closer to your customer, and employee requirements that don’t add value to your product or your service. Process map your key work processes to eliminate non-value added steps.

Look especially to eliminate steps that are redundant, repetitive, time adding or permission requiring. Additionally, use a systematic problem-solving process to tackle consistent, irritating problems. Create measures of success, and provide constant feedback, so people know how they are doing within the new organization.

If you have downsized across the board—almost never recommended, if you have a choice—eliminating management positions as well as professional, clerical and technical positions, you have a powerful opportunity to consider empowerment and involvement initiatives.

Since you have fewer people, you will want to develop more engaged, thinking, caring employees, who are involved in decision-making at a higher level such as in the "join" leadership style.

More Steps to Take During Downsizing and Layoffs

Take these additional steps, as an organization, to rally your survivors after layoffs and downsizing experiences.

  • Reinforce daily, in a positive, mind and heart-stirring way, the vision, mission, and excitement of moving forward with the organization.
  • Emphasize the positive goals that you can accomplish this year together. Make certain that the goals cascade through the organization so people feel strategically connected to the overall strategy and direction. Review the goals publicly, on an established schedule, so people feel part of something bigger than their work unit. Review the goals and progress within work units as well. This helps people focus on progress and the future rather than on the layoffs, the downsizing, and the past.
  • Provide rewards and recognition wherever you feel you can legitimately do so. Be creative and have fun with these.
  • Continue to hold expected events, sponsorships, and programs that people have come to count on from the company before the layoffs. Keep the familiar meeting structures unless the group decides to change them. Do not cancel expected forums because everyone is too busy or you feel there is a lack of interest.

They become even more important during times of change. One company canceled its summer company picnic because it was too close to the downsizing. The best choice? Move the picnic forward a few weeks, but holding the picnic was important. Having some things not change can provide stability in the midst of downsizing. It also sends the message that life at work does move on.

Activities to Build Your Surviving Employees' Morale

These tips will help your company thrive following layoffs and downsizing activities.

Increase company activities that will restore employee harmony, friendship, and trust. Begin to establish some new traditions as an organization following the layoffs.
As an example, form a Spirit/Smile/Energizing Team, a team of employees to create random, yet regularly scheduled, activities. Give the team a budget and get out of the way. These teams want to take these actions like these in support of positive motivation and employee morale.

  • Create a secret holiday pal gift-giving
  • Schedule lunch and learn book discussions or presentations on topics people care about
  • Hold ice cream socials
  • Compete for the best decorated holiday windows
  • Serve hot chocolate/cider/doughnuts on fall days, and give away a pumpkin to each employee
  • Create awards for attendance, service, and contribution
  • Do philanthropic work such as adopting a needy family for the holidays.

Only staff imagination limits the possible ideas for new traditions within your organization.

More Actions for Employers After Downsizing

  • Consciously foster creativity and innovation. You have so much to do with fewer resources. Think about instituting “share” sessions at which people demonstrate their innovative ideas from which others can learn. Hold Kaizen (continuous improvement) or business process improvement sessions around certain operations or processes.
  • Design “what if” scenarios into the current business plans. These can take into consideration the best thinking of the new team as well as create contingency plans for various possibilities. Business plans do not function anymore as they perhaps did, even a few years ago; now they must be viable, flexible, constantly changing documents.
  • Finally, to re-emphasize, people must feel as if you know what you are doing, even when you feel battered yourself. A positive, optimistic outlook must be demonstrated by key leaders, decision-makers, and attitude leaders or key communicators.

The Bottom Line

During and following layoffs and downsizing, focus on interactive, visible leadership that re-emphasizes vision, mission, values, and goals. Foster open communication and emphasize actions that increase your organization's competitiveness. Pay attention to the initiatives described here, and you'll jump-start your opportunity to soar beyond even your wildest dreams. You are wished great success on your flight.