Ineffective crisis leadership of your operations and, most importantly, your human capital will cripple your organization. That is the main takeaway from my book, Resilience Ready: The Leader’s Guide to Thriving Through Unrelenting Crises.
Even though unemployment is currently low, inflation is very high, and companies are signalling that dark clouds may be on the horizon.
You’re facing the uncertainty of supply chain shortages, rising operating costs, higher employee turnover, wage increases, slowing economic activity, and threats of a recession. In order to remain competitive, companies often turn to restructuring their workforce with approaches such as layoffs or early retirement offers.
My husband’s employer offered hundreds of employees early retirement. He had a very successful career moving up in the company over 34 years. The parting was painful for some, exciting for others, and emotional for all.
I’ve also experienced restructuring in my own career. Early in my career, peers were laid off from a leading healthcare company. I survived that layoff, but remember how painful that day was for those who left and those who stayed. Also, I remember well the day, after thirteen-years moving up the corporate ladder for a Fortune 50 company, my name was called in a layoff. This definitely was an emotional transition in my life.
In each of these situations, I observed how tough the transition was for those retiring or being laid off, and for those staying with the company.
We often don’t think about how tough the transition must be for the leaders who have to put the pieces back together once the decisions are made and the plans executed.
Most leaders have never been in a situation like this before, and don’t know how to handle it.
Leaders are faced with two primary challenges – managing the transition of employees leaving, and inspiring the team that remains. Following are strategies that will help you successfully navigate through both situations.
Leading Employees Transitioning Out
How do you help employees transition out, when their shortened careers may not be by choice?
- Be as transparent as you can – Help all employees on your team understand why the company needed to take this action, within the boundaries of what you can legally discuss. Communication may help them better deal with the situation.
- Appreciate them – Let your departing employees know that their service to the company is sincerely appreciated. Share how their contributions have been valued. Self-worth and self-confidence are usually at low points during these times. Even though you can’t reverse the action, it matters to know that their years of commitment and hard work were not unnoticed or unappreciated.
- Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – People just want their concerns to be heard. Know that this is a very emotional situation that will take time to work through. Be empathetic by just acknowledging their feelings.
- Offer assistance to land elsewhere – For some employees, you may be able to connect them to professionals in your network, or share opportunities that you hear about.
- Give the space and bandwidth needed to transition out – Don’t try to just suck the life out of them before they leave. Where the situation permits, determine how work will be reassigned as soon as you can and communicate it to the team. Give them the bandwidth to close out projects and train other employees on the responsibilities.
Leading the Remaining Team
How do you handle the next morning and coming days when the remaining employees return to work and things are different?
- What assurances can you give – The morning after the layoffs or retirements are effective, meet with the team first thing to acknowledge that things will be different, but they have your commitment that you will make the transition as smooth as possible. Assure them that ‘we’re all in this together’.
- Be as transparent as you can – Communicate allowable information on what will happen next as soon as you can. Employees are wondering what’s ahead because the grapevine is ripe with rumors. Don’t sugarcoat the news. If the cuts are over, let them know that in order to ease other fears. However, don’t give false hope. Be honest if more restructuring is on the table and all the dust hasn’t settled yet. Trust can grow or be broken at times like these.
- Appreciate them – Let them know how much you value their hard work and pitching in to make the transition work.
- Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – Acknowledge that your employees feel unsettled and miss their coworkers. Empathize with their emotions and concerns. Share that you have the confidence in them to work together to make the transition as smooth as possible.
- Make yourself available for employees to come to you with concerns – This will take time to work through. Let employees know your door is open to listen; however, don’t passively allow whining to take hold.
- Provide direction – Your team is looking to you for guidance and direction on how to move forward. What does the new structure mean to the company and to your team? How do things change or stay the same? Invite input on how the team can work most effectively in the new environment. Create opportunities to strengthen relationships among the team.
You, leader, play a huge role in how restructuring transitions turn out.
If you are not proactive in leading your team through the process, you’ll have tougher consequences to deal with.
If you see the writing on the wall at your organization, as a leader, and you would appreciate some guidance on how to prepare and manage a successful restructuring, I’m available to talk. Take advantage of my complimentary Coaching Strategy Session.