Leading After Layoffs: 4 Best Practices in Organizational Renewal

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By: Meredith Masse

Has your organization recently conducted a reduction in force or is it planning layoffs in the coming weeks? This is possibly the toughest part of any leader’s job, and our hearts sincerely go out to you, the employees being let go and those who remain.

If yours is like other best-places-to-work, some amount of care and diligence will have likely gone into the planning for conducting notifications. Meticulous thought has gone into selecting those positions to be eliminated; creating appropriate severance packages including compassionate outplacement services to show appreciation to those who will be leaving; and planning the logistics for the day-of notifications to maximize employee privacy, dignity and security. Too often, however, we see companies end their planning there, thinking the “event” (the notifications) are the end game.

But what about the “survivors?” What about the care and feeding of the leaders, managers and employees who will remain that your organization is counting on to keep the wheels turning and return productivity to pre-layoff levels?

Truly, best places to work consider the “survivors” and the “what’s next” in their early (pre-layoff) planning as these are critical to the organization’s post-reduction success. As you map the necessary steps for your organization’s renewal efforts, consider these four best practices:

Plan “Survivor” Communications in Advance

Take care to prepare top-level leaders for delivering clear messages immediately following the notifications to the rest of the team. Start with the business reasons for the need to do a reduction and, as importantly, explain what the company is doing to take care of those employees who were separated. While the immediate communications alone will not alleviate the survivors’ fears of “Am I next?” it is the critical place to start.

Prepare and Train Company Managers

Another best-practice piece of the pre-layoff planning is preparing managers to effectively tackle the new reality they can expect from their employees who remain. They absolutely can and should expect an emotional response from their teams and individual direct reports and for each to work through those emotions at their own pace. The key is for the organization to provide training and ongoing support for managers on how to handle employees’ reactions professionally and compassionately, how to manage the change using sound change management methodologies and how to communicate through the various stages of transition their employees will experience. As the critical factor in bringing the organization back to pre-layoff productivity, managers need support in rebuilding and sustaining their employees’ morale.

Squash the Rumor Mill Early and Often

People will talk. And what they say may not always contain the whole truth. (Remember the “telephone” game from when you were a kid when the end message after being passed down so many times was never the same as the original message? Yeah.) As soon as anyone in a position of authority (with or without a title) becomes aware that rumors are flying, assemble the full team and call out what the rumors are, ask questions to ensure understanding, then clarify with transparency, honesty and compassion.

Conduct More Frequent Company-wide Check-Ins

This is not the time for leaders to tiptoe into work, stealthily slide into their offices and shut out the rest of the world. Leaders must intentionally be more visible and easily accessible and step out of potential comfort zones to proactively reach out to check the pulse of the organization and course correct swiftly if the atmosphere is “off.” If ever there were a time to get serious about having an open-door policy it is in the weeks and months following layoffs.

What are other organizational renewal tips that you’ve found helpful following reductions in force? Leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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