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Management: Dealing With Downsizing
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Management: Dealing With Downsizing - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With Downsizing

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With Downsizing

Downsizing is the pits, and although it’s debatable whether or not it’s a sometimes-necessary evil, let’s assume good faith all around and accept that your downsizing is absolutely the company’s only choice, the result of circumstances beyond your control--such as swings in the market or some kind of calamity--and not the result of poor management. As a leader in your company, you have to understand that downsizing is traumatic in several ways, and attempting to carry on with business as usual (or as the new usual) without addressing the issues it brings is a bad idea. Here are a few things you can keep in mind as you lead your team through the difficulty.

The easiest and most practical matter is redistributing the work formerly performed by the people you laid off. This is no small deal, as everyone already feels he or she is doing as much as possible. Adding new work changes other people’s jobs while reminding them of the people who’ve left. One Entrepreneur.com contributor says additional duties can “initially motivate workers because it gives them a challenge, they will get recognition for it, and they will feel a strong sense of achievement.”

This may be true, but to mitigate bad feelings, the positivity it generates has to be ridden into something else: recognition and promotions, for example, and perhaps lightening the load by identifying redundant or extraneous tasks. The old “work smarter, not harder” cliche comes into play best when you empower your people to decide how smarter looks.

There’s almost no way of avoiding feelings of uncertainty, lowered morale, and even suspicion by your surviving team. You may not hear them, but there will be jokes related to nobody’s position being safe, or bringing down cubicle decorations in case a fast exist becomes necessary. A certain gallows humor among some of those who remain is likely to take hold, while survivors’ guilt can move in on others. There’s honestly nothing you can do to make it better, but you can make it suck a little bit less.

First, be sympathetic. People have lost co-workers, and if you’ve done anything over the years to establish a company culture where people care about each other, you can’t expect anyone to just let it slide. As we’ve said in this space many times, real bonding happens when people do meaningful work together. Simply sending a bunch of the bonded brothers and sisters off with a cake isn’t going to be enough to make up for feelings of loss. You’ve got to communicate somehow that you understand these feelings. You can do this by listening. Openly and sincerely, listen to what your team members have to say, and don’t get defensive. Accept that the bad feelings are because of your decision-making.

Next, while personnel matters are confidential, be as transparent as you legally can about how and why you made decisions you’ve made. Don’t assure anyone his or her position is safe if you can’t say it with utter honesty.

In the aftermath, find real reasons to celebrate. A cheap storytelling device in movies is the birth of a new baby after a moment of incredible stress or destruction. You probably can’t facilitate that, but you can nurture feelings of positivity and growth by celebrating the great contributions of your remaining team. Award promotions ahead of schedule if you can, and acknowledge that while the going may be a bit tough for a while, your team is up for it based on its past performance.

At every turn, wherever possible, be encouraging. Own your role in the downsizing, but lead by encouraging, sincerely and from the heart, wherever and whenever you can.

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