Leadership and Staffing

The Right Size For Success

In the past few years I’ve heard more and more phrases like “work spouse,” “work bestie,” and “office neighbor.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for adults to meet at least one of their close friends through work. With work imitating life these days, “breakups,” no doubt, can affect us on the job, too.

Mark Lanfear

Science Matters

So, when our life changes at work— when our friends aren’t there anymore, whether due to changes in technology, profitability requirements, or policies regarding the implementation of other business strategies such as outsourcing—how do we cope with our new reality?

Talent today choose their work environments as much, if not more, than their employers choose them. We know today that 40 percent of talented professionals are planning on making a workplace change in the next 12 months. That number is even higher for laboratory and scientifically trained people. It’s 2014, and your top talent may be the one who is breaking up with you for a better offer!

Still, when outside factors drive a downsizing or “rightsizing” of the workplace, people will lose their work “homes” and yes, even their friends. That’s why it’s more important today than ever to keep the humanity in human resources. All managers must learn to treat these workplace changes with care—just as we would treat with care what happens in the personal lives of our friends.

Amid the economic crisis of 2008, countless articles and blogs detailed a special case of modern survivor’s guilt in the workplace. In the aftermath of mass layoffs, experts argued that those left behind in the workplace were just as likely to experience some kind of mental anguish over their coworkers getting the short end of the stick as those coworkers themselves. On the flip side, something called “survivor’s envy” could make someone feel like they’d be in a better place if they’d been let go too.

Whatever the case, the feelings aren’t good. To add insult to injury, there’s usually more work to do to make up for the leaner workforce, which can only add to the stress.

For managers, there’s an extra layer of challenge to a downsizing or rightsizing situation. As hard as it can be to let people go, it can be even harder to manage this mini HR crisis with a team full of people whose emotions will no doubt be raw for weeks.

One may ask, why should situations like this be so important to corporations? After all, leaders have every right to scale their workforce if business drivers demand it, especially if it will help raise the bottom line and improve the health of the company.

At the same time, not dealing with a downsizing correctly could ultimately pose a risk to your most important product of all—the organization’s brand. A solid brand attracts the right talent for your core business goals. It attracts the right customers through marketing and positive word of mouth. And it attracts the right partners through corporate responsibility and proper actions. These are the critical success factors to evaluate when companies are faced with a possible blow to their brand through downsizing or rightsizing.

So, first and foremost, if you must ever face the prospect of a downsizing, be honest about the situation and what’s driving it. Once certain employees are no longer there, the cat’s out of the bag. Your remaining team will know what’s going on, so it doesn’t make sense not to explain exactly why changes occurred.

This is the time to create positive employee outcomes through proper change management and, communicate to your employees their value to the organization and gather their feedback about the downsizing. Organizations can begin to assess the impact of the change, find the gaps, and take steps to reinforce a positive change management work environment where needed. Your responsibility is to lead through change and help the community quickly recover.

Yes, there’s still work to do, and you’re probably confident that, whatever your employees think about the situation, they’ll be able to put their emotions aside and remain professional. But expect at least three months of change management. Create a formal communication plan, knowledge management strategies, and transfers of responsibilities with an eye toward continuous improvement. And calling even a brief meeting to allow employees to express their emotions surrounding the workplace shift is a healthy way to address the elephant in the room. You may find that this is all you and your team need to help start getting everything back on track.

In the long term, it’s imperative that you show genuine interest in the success and development of talented professionals who will now be asked to redouble their efforts. Hopefully, you’ve been doing a bit of this all along. But after a layoff or other major workforce shift, this is an even more essential factor, as it will raise engagement levels and possibly even lead to innovation if you are willing to allow employees to be creative and stretch their skills. In the shadow of losing some of your critical human capital, the challenge of leadership will be to ignite a community of productivity and continue to set positive goals.

Finally, as time goes on and things have gotten back to normal, it’s important to take tangible steps to cultivate the change management environment. In our globalized economy, change is the normal and steady march toward innovation. The old adage of knowledge being power still rings true, so keep your colleagues informed of strategic goals and how these can affect them and their futures.

Because of many of the drivers mentioned, in today’s economy turnover on the job is an expected part our working lives. If you can manage change while focusing on maintaining your professionalism and compassion, you’ll increase your company’s brand visibility and position your workers to want to continue being successful in the face of adversity.