“Downsizing” Can it be done right?

“Downsizing” is a familiar term in many organizations today.  Regardless of the size of your organization or the impact to the number of employees, it generates fear and anxiety for not only those losing their jobs, but also those who remain.  So what sets some organizations apart?  Why do some employees who have lost their jobs during a downsizing event stay positive about the company who just let them go?  Why does another employee condemn their former company every chance they get. 

My experience has been that companies who take the crucial extra time to carefully consider their decision, thoughtfully plan out all the details of before, during and after and ensure skillful implementation can make a difference in how an affected employee reacts to the circumstances, but just as important how the remaining employees view the organization and perceive their future.

Let’s face it no formal business training really prepares managers for the task of terminating an employee. So as with all fears, once a decision is made we want to get it over with, so we can move on.  These are emotions we must move past to enable managers and other leaders to more effectively balance the human needs of the terminated individuals with the business needs of the company and remaining employees moving forward.

Every downsizing event has some predictable outcomes such as feelings of betrayal, loss of trust, turf battles, and cynicism about the corporation’s future.

But downsizing can also bring significant opportunities for leaders to create new energy and enthusiasm which often goes unrecognized.  If thought out and planned organizations can take the event to reaffirm its vision of the future.  To establish a revitalized culture which rewards individual and team initiatives and creates new alliances across departments and divisions.

Gaining the confidence of those that stay behind requires a sense of closure concerning any mistakes of the past. Management must identify any mistakes that could have increased the risk of a downsizing, take responsibility for them, and address them in a way which assures employees they will not happen again. This requires personal integrity as expressed through candor, honesty, and directness.

In downsizing, it is incumbent upon a corporation to affirm, in practice, the importance of its employees. This can be expressed through considerate treatment of those who are leaving and through a renewed commitment to the professional growth of those who remain.

I would really appreciate hearing your experiences of what companies could do to mitigate the negative effects of downsizing for those who remain.