Avoid These Mistakes for a
More Human-Centered Workplace Restructure or Downsizing
Times of downsizing and workplace restructure require every ounce of confident humility you can muster. Your team is starving for information, reassurance, guidance, and support. And quite frankly, I’m amazed at how many leaders totally screw this up. In part, I blame lawyers that scare common sense out of otherwise sensible human beings.
But mostly, it’s layers of people not thinking through what it means to be at the other end of the conversation. Every one of these mistakes comes from real stories I’ve heard or witnessed in the last year
1. Communicating Prematurely
“We’ve got some exciting changes next year which will include an important workplace restructure to streamline efficiencies and operations. More to come after the holidays.” Seriously?
Queue the massive energy drain, distraction, resume writing, sleepless nights, worried conversations, LinkedIn surfing, and butt kissing. Don’t communicate about downsizing or a workplace restructuring until you’ve got tangible information about structure and process. I’m all for transparency, but a vague vision without information does nothing to inspire trust or engagement. Wait to say something until you know what you’re doing.
2. Restructuring Your Workplace in Waves
Common in large companies, “the planning team” thinks it makes sense to go one department at a time. I get it from a workload point of view but consider the ripple effect. The stress and rumors circle the company like a wave of hands moving across the stadium. “Where are they headed next?” “How many people got laid off?” “What process did they use?” “Did the good guys land?” You’ve taken what could have been a month’s worth of workplace restructuring and spread the pain and suffering out across nine months to a year.
3. Sloppy Administration
“My direct report just found out his job was eliminated by an email before I even knew it.” Even I couldn’t believe this stupidity. As it turned out it was a glitch in an HR system that got the proverbial cart ahead of the horse. I’ve experienced it directly too. I once received the entire restructuring plan, including all impacted names, intended for another “Karin.” I deleted it immediately and told the sender. A disgruntled employee could easily have sent it to the Wall Street Journal.
4. Not Thinking Through the Details
“I’ve got 60 days to find a job.”
“And what happens if you don’t?”
“I get a package.”
“What does the package include?”
“They haven’t decided yet.”
Before you tell someone their job is impacted in a workplace restructure, imagine the next five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes. If you don’t have the answers, get them first.
5. Underestimating the Angst
“And it’s important that no one miss a beat during this time, we’ve got work to do.” Of course, that’s true, but if people are worried about their livelihood, they’ll put first things first.
Pretending a big deal is no big deal will just reduce your credibility. Be available for support and as a sounding board. Give them the time they need to process, and they’ll likely go back to work more focused.
Workplace restructuring is often a necessary, bold leadership move. Be sure your execution is as solid as your plan.
Great stuff, though #1 can be a real double edged sword if rumors or a press leak happens well before the restructuring is ready to be announced internally. My company is going through a huge split right now and all these ring true on some level as potential key road blocks (or perhaps even collapsed bridges if attrition runs rampant).
James, I totally agree with you. If information is leaking then yes, transparency is needed FAST. As you know I’m a big believer in huge transparency, and yet wide sweeping statements with no information, just generate significant worry.
Vague vision is counterproductive. With over 70% of the workforce disengaged from their jobs, you’re only fueling the fire and perhaps making some of the team actively disengaged.
People stand around thinking what possibly might happen that productivity falls below par.
Steve, Totally agree. I’ve seen this happen far too often.
You make great points here, Karin!
Communicating prematurely can derail a project before it gets off the ground. Premature communications are not usually well thought out and they are not consistently communicated to everyone who will be talking about it…hence, rumors and rumors of rumors get started. Before long, managing the speculations out there takes energy and focus away from the restructure.
People being who they are, will almost always assume the worst of any restructure—and then morale becomes another issue…a genuinely sticky situation!
LaRae, I’m so with you… without detail, people fill in the blanks themselves, and their imagination is almost always worse than teality.
I’ve lived through and implemented more than a few restructures. It’s hard to know when the time is “right” to put big news out about coming changes. Too early, too late, both have challenges. As difficult as it was, in the last one I was involved in, we waited until we had all of the answers… about packages, about the interview process for new positions, about the timing. Instead of letting it trickle, we did our best to send the message “this may hurt, it may stink, but it’s necessary and we’ll do our best to support you thought it.”
Many companies struggle with restructure, your post is definitely a good read prior to launch.