Leading Through Downsizing

Leading staff through downsizing, resizing, rightsizing, (or whatever the buzz word is today) requires the leader to exercise superior planning, judgment, and decision-making.  It’s a complicated task that involves the leader in recognizing the natural reactions of those that remain in the organization, and determining the right timing for moving the organization from the emotional reactions to a focus on the present and future.  While it is difficult, the consequences of mis-managing or under-managing the situation are severe.  Both management and staff will suffer if the timing is wrong, or managers deny or avoid dealing with the fall-out from downsizing.

Here are some tips that will help:

  • Take time to talk with the “survivors” (the remaining staff) and ask them how you can help them during this very emotional time. By showing concern and interest, you will be working towards repairing the sense of broken trust that accompanies downsizing.
  • Be attentive and available. LISTEN CAREFULLY! Keep your door open for employees to talk, ask questions, or give suggestions about the situation.
  • Let them know what part they play in the future of the company.
  • Have individual and group discussions to focus on dealing with the operational challenges stemming from the changes. If they are a part of the solution, they will have complete buy-in to make sure it is successful.
  • Make sure everyone is clear on what they should be doing.
  • Don’t press too hard in areas of productivity, goals, or expressing their feelings about the situation.  Some will want to talk and others will not.

During this period, you need to make sure your own emotional situation is in check.  Your ability to lead people through the tough times will depend on your own physical and emotional health.  Take time to talk with others outside of the organization about the issues at hand.  If you find yourself plagued by sleeplessness, mood swings, depression, and/or guilt, don’t hesitate to take advantage of support services that are available.

By doing these kinds of things, you promote a sense that the future will bring positive, exciting things.

It is the creation and commitment to these things that will work to revitalize an organization that has been downsized.

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