Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Leadership During Layoffs

Many executives are ill equipped to lead during a layoff.

As headcount is reduced, their jobs get harder. Anxious staffs become more difficult to lead. Business decisions are focused on short-term solutions and can reverse on the next quarterly report. The demands of their Boards and shareholders overrule any long-range visionary plans they may have.

And if their primary concern is holding onto their own jobs, they’re less likely to focus on the leadership skills essential to promoting the company’s best interests – especially during difficult times.

Disengagement and release

After years of emphasizing employee engagement and retention, many leaders now have to do a 180-degree turn to motivate the same workforce that just a year ago was being pumped up and now has been deflated.

That course isn’t taught in B-school.

Now’s the time for that emotional intelligence to kick in and all those leadership courses to pay off.

When profits are down, so are people

Your job is to lead people. Not only during the good times, but through stressful and uncertain periods as well. The very first steps that need to be followed:

1- Recognize your organization’s business and financial challenges
2- Acknowledge your staff’s anxiety
3- Communicate, communicate, communicate

Your company has just taken a hit and needs to improve its numbers. You know it and everybody else knows it, it’s not a secret. Fixing it will require employees eager to help.

But the loss of control employees experience during layoffs raises their anxiety levels and decreases their level of engagement. Increasing that engagement quotient is a tall order and requires skills not all leaders possess.

Untrained executives keep their people in the dark. Now is the time to be transparent with your staff. Keeping people informed, addressing their concerns, validating the company’s support and allaying undue fears is a good beginning. But it’s only a beginning

Lead your people

Leading during layoffs is a big topic and not an easy task. It requires re-recruiting and re-motivating your people. It’s a complex issue that demands much from leaders and one I’ll be exploring further next month.

Meanwhile, if you’re leading layoffs right now … apply steps 1, 2 & 3.

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