Times of downsizing and restucture require every ounce of confident humility you can muster. Your team is starving for information, reassurance, guidance and support. And quite frankly, I’m amazed at how many leaders totally screw this up. In part I blame lawyers that scare the humanity and common sense out of otherwise sensible human beings. But mostly, it’s layers of people not thinking through what it means to be at the other end of the conversation. Every one of these mistakes comes from real stories I’ve heard or witnessed in the last year.
1. Communicating Prematurely
“We’ve got some exciting changes next year which will include an important restructure to streamline efficiencies and operations. More to come after the holidays.” Seriously? Queue the massive energy drain, distraction, resume writing, sleepless nights, worried conversations, LinkedIn surfing, and butt kissing. Don’t communicate until you’ve got tangible information about structure and process. I’m all for transparency, but vague vision without information does nothing to inspire trust or engagement. Wait to say something until you know what you’re doing.
2. Restructuring in Waves
Common in large companies, “the planning team” thinks it make sense to go one department at a time. I get it from a workload point of view, but consider the ripple effect. The stress and rumors circle the company like a wave of hands moving across the stadium. “Where are they headed next?” “How many people got laid off?” “What process did they use?” “Did the good guys land?” You’ve taken what could have been a month’s worth of restructuring and spread the pain and suffering out across nine months to a year.
3. Sloppy Administration
“My direct report just found out his job was eliminated by an email, before I even knew it.” Even I couldn’t believe this stupidity. As it turned out it was a glitch in an HR system that got the proverbial cart ahead of the horse. I’ve experienced it directly too. I once received the entire restructuring plan, including all impacted names, intended for another “Karin.” I deleted it immediately and told the sender. A disgruntled employee could easily have sent it to the Wall Street Journal.
4. Not Thinking Through the Details
“I’ve got 60 days to find a job.”
“And what happens if you don’t?”
“I get a package.”
“What does the package include?”
“They haven’t decided yet.”
Before you tell someone there job is impacted, image the next five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes. If you don’t have the answers, get them first.
5. Underestimating the Angst
“And it’s important that no one miss a beat during this time, we’ve got work to do.” Of course that’s true, but if people are worried about their livelihood, they’ll put first things first. Pretending a big deal is no big deal will just reduce your credibility. Be available for support and as a sounding board. Give them the time they need to process, and they’ll likely go back to work more focused.
Restructuring is often a necessary, bold leadership move. Be sure your execution is as solid as your plan.
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