Saturday, 7 March 2009

The secret of painless downsizing

The secret of painless downsizing is that it is impossible. Even if done well, it is a negative, distracting, unsettling, upsetting and stressful experience, not just for those directly affected but for the whole organisation. Any downsizing will absorb enoroums amounts of unproductive time in meetings, paperwork, and gossip. If done badly, it will be all of this, and more, and still fail to solve the problems of the business. So what are they keys to doing it right?

Be open

Everybody involved will feel like shit. Those who suffer will blame you, the organisation, the profession, the economy, themselves. This is not the time to forget politeness, or play favourites. Information should be clear and shared transparently. How you behave can have a determining effect on how those who are made redundant feel about your organisation, and in general.

Planning ahead

Being bounced by a sudden crisis into taking snap decisions about staff is hardly the right approach. Well before things reach that stage, you should be looking at your core business area, at trends in the marketplace, and at your staff's skills. The temptation to keep going and hope for the best should be resisted.

Take the right action

Be as drastic as you need to be. Wishful thinking isn't a business strategy, so you may have to close down entire teams or operations. What you don't want to do is have successive rounds of cuts because you couldn't face them at first.

Keep the right people

Ideally, you should have a forward plan, of how your core business will survive and in due course grow again. This should define what people you need to keep: their value to you now, and in the future, rather than in the past.

Be fair

Last in first out is a clear system: at least people know who is at risk. But it isn't likely to be the best way of deciding who best fits your business needs. Any alternative needs to be fair and transparent: this is not a chance to get rid of the people who have annoyed you at some point in the past. This is hard work, but essential. If moral arguments aren't enough, maybe the prospect of an employment tribunal would help.

Look after your leavers

It's not their fault. You should do everything you can to smooth their transition, to find new jobs, providing references. They will be talking about your organisation wherever they go: what will they be saying?

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