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Survivors Can Soar After Downsizing

Leadership and Vision After Layoffs and Downsizing


Survivors Can Soar After Downsizing

Downsize with Care for Your Remaining Employees

Michael DeLeon

You're downsizing, right-sizing, cutting staff and experiencing layoffs, for all the right reasons. Your goal was to increase productivity, quality, customer care, and profitability, and to reduce costs and waste. Like the phoenix in ancient mythology, you’ve succeeded. You rose from the ashes and regenerated yourself. Those who remain with you, the layoff survivors, have fulfilled your highest expectations in this process. They’ve stepped up to the challenge and soared to new heights of accomplishment.

This is every organization's dream during a downsizing. The decision to layoff people and downsize is not made lightly. Once made, however, you can increase the probability of these positive downsizing results by doing some simple, but profoundly complex, activities, right.

Your Leaders Must be Visible and Involved During Layoffs

During layoffs and downsizing is not the time for organization leaders to retreat to board rooms and private offices to plan the future. After a downsizing, or following any major change, for that matter, leaders must be visible and accessible. Layoff survivors need to interact with their supervisor and the organization leaders on a daily basis.

Leaders may have to listen to people express pain and sadness. As a leader, listen, really listen, without judging or trying to solve the problem. You can’t. You can only use each conversation as an opportunity to re-emphasize the necessity for the downsizing. You can speak positively about the mission, vision, and plans for the future. You can thank each individual for pitching in and making the changed organization an even more effective and inviting workplace after layoffs.

At the same time, managers and supervisors must be strong leaders, decisive yet participatory. You must inspire confidence, at this time, so people feel you can be depended upon as they take the first steps into the unknown future.

Re-emphasize Mission, Vision, Values and Goals After Layoffs

Morale, climate and culture are negatively impacted during layoffs and downsizing. You will need to recreate the work environment, so that people build their self-esteem, find work satisfying, and achieve at higher levels. The foundation for this progress is to re-emphasize the organization mission and the values.

The vision for the future has undoubtedly changed or received new life in the downsizing process. Now is your opportunity to spend time with small groups of people talking about each of these. Reaffirm their meaning and impact for your organization. Let people ask questions and talk about how their goals fit into the larger picture after the layoffs.

Talk about the culture and work environment you want to create post layoffs. Define what you need to do as a group to move in this direction, despite the loss of coworkers. You need to pay more attention to rewards, recognition and helping the remaining employees feel valued and appreciated.

A few weeks after a downsizing, one of my clients established a “good news board” on which any employee could post information. Another formed a “smile team,” not just to plan events such as potlucks and parties, but to work to build the overall morale of the organization. Another started publishing a weekly one-page report that kept staff informed of goals and direction.

This is also a good time to look at the goals of each work unit to assess their connection to the overall plan. It is important, following a downsizing, for each of your survivors to feel his work is integral to the accomplishment of the business plan.

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