Downsizing is a difficult process for every component of a company to go through, from the leadership through management to the boots on the ground employees that make the company function on a daily basis.
Managers are often placed in the unenviable position of acting as a liaison between the company's decision-makers and the team members most affected by those decisions. As difficult as that role can be, it also offers you multiple opportunities to display strong leadership abilities.
Here are seven tactics for strong leadership when your company is downsizing.
1. Be Honest
When a company is downsizing, it may feel easy to hide the reality of the situation. Ultimately, you shouldn't shy away from the truth. As your departmental leader, you need to be honest with your team. Research shows that this is the most ethical way to handle this type of situation.
Confusing the truth will only hurt you and the team in the long-term. It will sow the seeds of mistrust within the team and will hurt your ability to perform and manage going forward. Share what you know when you know it.
2. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Honesty is important, but you can only be honest if you're aware of the company's current status. Emphasize to company leadership that it's important for you to have a clear understanding of what is happening and when it is happening. Stay on upper management's radar with regular meetings or calls for status updates.
Within your team, have an "open door" policy. Foster an open environment where team members can feel free to come into your office, call or email you blunt questions without fear of any reprisals.
Answer whatever questions you can. When you don't have answers, track them down. Doggedly pursue leadership for answers in a way that is persistent without being pushy.
When a member of your team submits a request for information you're unable to answer, keep track of it. Keep a record of all the times you have contacted leadership for an answer until the request is fulfilled.
Do your best to keep information sharing between you and company leadership flowing two ways, as it is your team members' best opportunity to get accurate information. Even if your company isn't downsizing, poor communication skills can hurt your ability to do your job effectively.
3. Encourage Team-Building Exercises and Activities
When the company is downsizing, it may feel like the hardest time for you to perform together as a team. That's why it's important to participate in team-building or extracurricular activities. Schedule a social gathering such as a happy hour or team lunch to connect outside the workplace. You can use these opportunities to discuss the company's status in an honest way without frightening anyone.
Don't try to sugar coat your company's situation. Instead, be upfront with your team and suggest that a fun, lighthearted event outside the office may be helpful to take everyone's mind off an otherwise stressful situation.
4. Make Sure Your Departmental Goals Align With the Company's Mission
Review your team's internal strategy documents and standard operating procedures. As various departments within your company fall under review, it's critical to ensure the goals of your department align with your company's overall mission.
If leadership is looking for places to cut funding or resources, they'll first turn to departments that don't reinforce the company's objectives or values. Conduct an internal review with your team to make sure you're not one of these departments and update your team's documentation and execution strategy accordingly.
Once this part of the process is complete, you should be able to clearly articulate all the ways in which your department makes the company stronger.
5. Build a Solid Value Proposition You Can Share With Leadership
After you've made sure your team's goals align with the company's properly, you can now build a value proposition. This is where you display the value your department offers the company.
With the help of your team, develop a document that outlines all the ways in which your department brings value. Use hard statistics such as:
- Customers added
- How you increased the company's bottom line or help reduce costs
Communicate your value in a clear, concise manner to leadership. Give details on why your department is unnecessary and irreplaceable. You should position your team as an invaluable part of the company's short- and long-term health and success.
6. Give Positive Feedback to Your Team Members to Let Them Know They're Appreciated
It's also important to provide your team members with positive feedback as the downsizing process continues. Remind them about the good job they're doing in difficult circumstances. It may not quell their fears entirely, but they'll at least feel appreciated internally.
When your team members have significant accomplishments (i.e. a big sale, superior performance on a work project, landing a new client, etc.) it's vital to congratulate them on a job well done and put the congratulations in writing. An email or typed letter works for this purpose. This leaves a paper trail if you have to meet with upper management to discuss keeping the employee on. You'll have additional documentation on exactly how your team members are helping the company.
7. Be Prepared to Give Your Team Career Advice - Even If It Involves Employment Somewhere Else
You may lose members of your team to the downsizing. That's why when the process begins, you should serve as an ally to your team members by offering long-term career counseling - even if that means giving advice that involves them leaving the company.
Volunteer to review your team members' resumes. Offer recommendations on career opportunities or choices they can make.
This seems counter-intuitive to your company's best interests. However, it will work wonders with your employees. You'll set an example for your remaining team members as a manager who genuinely cares for their employees' well being. For the team members that leave, you'll help them recover from a tough situation by moving on to the next stage of their career.
This is where being a leader goes beyond always doing what's best for the company's bottom line. It involves helping the people who help you do your job every day.
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