Managing a downsizing so that all employees are treated with dignity and respect is essential to an organization’s reputation and brand. Downsizings affect employees who have been terminated, those remaining and an organization’s customers, investors and other stakeholders.

downsizing-2Most leaders are keenly aware of how important it is to openly communicate with their employees. Yet when it comes to managing a downsizing, delivering bad news is the one area that ranks dangerously low among best practices.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells of an employee who was terminated via text message. With social media included in an organization’s preferred method of communication, separation messages are legally being delivered via phone, email and yes…via text.

Poorly managed downsizings directly result in fear, anxiety and humiliation, generating adverse reactions to include extensive legal action from those who are involuntarily separated and low productivity from those who remain. These reactions damage an organization’s reputation and brand. Despite signed release documents, word gets out because employees communicate with others by “word of mouth” and via the Internet and through social media.

Here are three commonly accepted best practices that enable downsizings to be managed with dignity and respect:

  1. Communicate early and often with employees regarding the status of the organization and its impact on the bottom line.
    Bad news should never come as a surprise. Employees are savvy and recognize when the culture quickly shifts to closed-door meetings, whispered conversations in hallways and looks of concern and stress abound. Be transparent and communicate with employees early.   Encourage employees to ask questions and raise concerns in open forums and hold one-on-one meetings with them. You won’t have the all answers, and it’s ok to tell them that. Share the information that you are able to share to continue to hold their trust.
  2. Always have solutions when delivering bad news. Give employees the opportunity to have hope.
    Be sure to present solutions or an action plan. In a discussion about an employee’s involuntary separation, offer the services of an outplacement firm. OI Global Partners, for example, will have representatives on-site and available to speak with employees either in a group setting and/or in one-on-one meetings prior to an actual downsizing event, once employees are aware that a downsizing will take place. This meeting can be available to all employees. It removes much of the anxiety, pain and fear of a pending job search for many employees. On the day that an employee is notified of his or her separation, information that of the career coach or representative should be available to the employee in their packets. Keep in mind that bad news without solutions leaves the employee without hope.
  3. On the day of a downsizing, communicate with those remaining and any additional third parties.  
    Pre-schedule a team meeting with remaining employees to occur immediately after the downsizing has taken place. Discuss what has happened to some of the members of their team and reiterate the business reasons for this action. Be open, honest and empathic. Encourage open, honest and un-interrupted discussion. Your actions and how this meeting is conducted as you deliver the bad news can have a positive impact and the discussion will reach many external employees, customers and investors.

We have all heard stories of poorly managed downsizings where employees are left feeling disrespected, anxious angry and hopeless. With advanced planning, transparency and treating people with dignity and respect, downsizings can have truly positive results.

What’s been your experience? Share your thoughts and experiences with us!

Need more help with an upcoming downsizing? OI Global Partners can help! Contact us today.

A consummate relationship builder and connector of people, Elva Bankins, OI Global Partners-Gateway International has extensive experience as a management consultant to business leaders while providing tactical and strategic talent management solutions. With an extensive background in talent management to include recruitment, career transition services, leadership development and executive coaching, Elva has consulted with leaders across a broad spectrum of industries, to include for-profit and not-for-profit companies. She is a speaker at various corporate, professional and community organizations and is often quoted in the local and national print media.

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