How should leaders approach the process of making people redundant? (Part 1)

A question that has been coming up quite often this year during coaching sessions with executives has been how to best handle the process of making people redundant. As the economic fallout from COVID-19 continues to result in downsizing activities, leaders are uncertain about how to approach impacted staff and how to maintain the morale, engagement and productivity of the remaining team.

 

When redundancies are undertaken without sufficient planning or forethought, serious issues can arise - including a decline in staff engagement and productivity as well as reputational damage to the company. It's little wonder those tasked with making the difficult decision to make people redundant are concerned with how to approach the process sensitively and productively.

 

When I coach a leader on the redundancy process, there are a few priorities which will tend to pop up time and time again. Here’s a high-level snapshot of five key priorities leaders should focus on throughout the redundancy process.

 

1)     Engage experts

 

As a first step, management tasked with making decisions about redundancies should engage with HR and legal. HR and legal will ensure that any decisions made by management are legal and appropriate. They can also offer advice on how to word any communication with staff.

 

Engaging a consultant to plan downsizing or rightsizing is also a good idea. This will ensure the business has the ideal structure going forward.

 

2)     Don’t make assumptions about how exiting staff members are feeling

 

While it may seem that the staff members being made redundant will always feel unhappy or angry, this isn’t always the case. In reality there will be a myriad of emotions experienced - sometimes even satisfaction or relief - so it’s important to not make any assumptions. In many cases management can project their own feelings or anxieties onto the staff member, which will inform their assumptions about how they are feeling. The goal should be to step into the staff member’s shoes and really listen to gain an understanding of where they’re at.  A coach can work with the executive on focusing on the staff member’s frame of reference rather than on their own.

 

3)     Don’t forget how the remaining staff members are feeling

 

Throughout a redundancy process, the remaining staff members will also be affected by their friends and colleagues losing their jobs and the concern that they may be next. While you may expect them to feel relieved to have kept their jobs, they may also experience confusion, anger, resentment or anxiety. It’s important to support remaining staff members through this process to ensure they feel appreciated and that their motivation and productivity doesn’t take a significant dip. It’s also important they know that efforts have been undertaken to support the staff who were made redundant. This will maintain loyalty and minimise negativity. A coach can help remaining staff members work through their feelings and regain their morale, motivation and productivity.

 

4)     Communicate authentically and often

 

One of the most important parts of improving the redundancy process is good communication. When undertaken well, communication will be as honest and authentic as is possible given the situation. Management should make sure they communicate frequently and well. Any communication should take into account how the recipient is feeling at that moment in time and be tailored accordingly. Communication should also be undertaken within any legal constraints, so it's best to defer to legal and HR on what can and can’t be communicated.

 

5)     Provide support

 

It’s important that any staff members exiting the business feel supported. The goal is to ensure that the staff member feels like the company still has their back and that the company will support them with the process going forward. Ongoing support can include an outplacement program, coaching or training. Another example of support is Qantas taking up an offer from Woolworths to redeploy stood down staff members in roles at Woolworths to ensure they remain employed throughout these turbulent times. Support mechanisms will ensure that former staff members get the best outcomes and will mitigate risks to the company such as reputational damage or a loss in productivity among remaining staff members.

 

This article is part one in a series on the role of coaching throughout the redundancy process. Check out part two which looks at the value coaching can provide to employees being made redundant.