October 15, 2019

Rebuilding After Downsizing

The second hardest thing you will do as a leader is to downsize your organisation. The hardest thing you will do is to make it believe in itself again and be successful.

Handled badly, redundancy programmes can result in higher voluntary employee turnover, lower productivity, and weakened morale and engagement. You need to rebuild a sense of purpose, a belief in the organisation and a feeling of trust. Success depends on how quickly you can refocus the remaining workforce and prevent an exodus of talent. You need to plan carefully for the post-downsizing phase and execute compassionately.

Downsizing isn’t just about numbers, it’s about people. Never lose sight of that fact – it should inform everything you do during and afterwards. Focus on your employees, more than ever. This is the worst time to be locked away in your office or the boardroom. Be visible and available to talk. Inspire confidence. Demonstrate you have a vision for the future and a thought-through plan to get everyone there.

First and foremost, treat those who are leaving with dignity and respect and be seen to be doing so. If you exit people callously, everyone who is left will draw their own conclusions about how much you value them.

Next, appreciate the questions your employees will be asking themselves. Is it over ?, Am I next? How bad are the numbers really? Does the company have a future? The subtext of any downsizing programme is “Loyalty and good performance doesn’t guarantee your job.” You need to deal with the fear and uncertainty people will be feeling. Be open and honest about why this has happened. Explain the reasons that made downsizing necessary and, if possible, stress there is no threat of further redundancies. Studies have shown that survivors react better to downsizing programmes necessitated by strategic change, than those driven by short-term cost cuts.

Listen – really listen. Let people express their feelings. It’s no exaggeration to say downsizing can be like a bereavement and you need to help your employees work through it. Acknowledge their pain. The degree of empathy and understanding you and your management team show will directly influence the survivors’ level of engagement with and loyalty to the organisation going forward.

Talk with the whole organisation immediately after the downsizing is complete. Emphasise the future. Help your employees see the restructured organisation’s potential and how they will benefit. Reiterate your vision and goals. Explain how everyone fits into the new organisation and how they will contribute to its success. Anticipate questions and prepare answers. If you can’t answer a question, commit to doing so as quickly as possible. Talk with small groups – departments and teams. Listen to their concerns and be seen to act on their feedback.

Be consistent. You and your leadership team must have a shared vision for the future and an agreed set of values and behaviours you want the organisation to embrace. Ensure your leadership team and their reports believe in both the vision and the plan to get there, then ensure you all give the same message whenever you talk with your employees.

Review goals and progress regularly. Show your employees they are building towards success and help them look forward, rather than backwards Provide rewards and recognition whenever possible. Give teams the autonomy to celebrate success – sometimes small celebrations have a disproportionately beneficial effect.

Building a positive culture after downsizing requires a clear vision, a realistic plan, visible and decisive leadership and, most of all, an understanding that your people are the key to your success. The extent to which you will be successful will depend on how well you make your employees feel valued and help them believe there is a future worth striving for.

Here at changemaker, we support organisations and individuals in delivering sustainable and lasting change. When creating cultural shift, we work with the human being, helping leaders and teams understand why and how they can change to address the challenges ahead and realise success. If you want to learn more about us, take a look at our website (www.changemaker.org.uk) or email us at info@changemaker.org.uk.

Rebuilding After Downsizing

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