Managing and leading during tough times can be very difficult (and, let’s face it — at times, downright awful).
During these hard times, the “heart” in leadership matters greatly.
Emotions are running high; fear, anxiety and anger are a given with layoffs. Rumors are flying. Telling an employee he or she no longer has a job is gut-wrenching — no matter the reason or circumstances.
Though there is no perfect way or words to use, there are ways to make this daunting task both intentional and considerate. Here are a few:
Communicate: Proactive, consistent and genuine communication during tough times and potential layoffs is imperative — do it early, often and with candor.
Avoid sugarcoating the truth. Whenever possible deliver difficult messages in person.
Prepare for a difficult conversation: Choose a location that offers privacy and avoid distractions (no cell phones, PDAs or computer screens).
Be prepared to answer questions such as:
- Who made the decision and how was it made?
- Who else will be let go?
- What are my options at this point (i.e., are there other jobs or outplacement resources available)?
Share with those being laid off how much you have appreciated working with them and acknowledge them for their contributions. Offer positive suggestions for moving forward, including detailing outplacement resources available to them.
Be empathetic: Deliver the message calmly with compassion and sensitivity. Be straightforward and clear while being sensitive to the employee’s emotions and reactions.
Acknowledge the obvious — that this is difficult news to hear and give. Convey empathy around the employee’s feelings and situation.
If the employee loses control of his or her emotions during the meeting, suggest a break, offer him or her the rest of the day off or see if you can call someone to come pick him or her up. Use self-soothing strategies (taking deep breaths can help) to calm yourself.
Provide emotionally intelligent leadership for the “survivors”: Don’t be emotionally tone deaf to the anguish or stress of your people.
Layoffs, or downsizing, has a dramatic impact throughout the organization. It’s easy to forget that “survivors” are affected as well. They are saying goodbye to friends and trusted colleagues whom they respect and care about and often have feelings of guilt or anxiety about their futures. Losing staff typically also means big changes in how survivors will do their work.
Bring your team together to talk about how they feel (be respectful to those who may not want to talk about it) and be accessible for people to come to you about their concerns. Be sensitive and allow them time, space and support they need to heal.
Expect productivity to go down for a while: Be conscientious around setting reasonable expectations and pace in light of the changes made.
Refocus resources and redefine priorities — and where possible streamline processes and work flow. The survivors will be justifiably concerned about a) how much work there is to do, b) are they up to new tasks they may need to absorb and c) will they have the time/energy to complete them. Reclarify expectations moving forward and your commitment to supporting their efforts moving ahead.
Focus on rebuilding trust: Trust has been lost during a layoff — count on it. As a leader, you will need to put extra emphasis on building it back up again.
Go back to basics: Reconfirm the vision and core values as a constant that has not changed. Be a truth teller and an adult — don’t ignore reality nor make promises you can’t keep. Be visible and available (don’t hide out in your office!) and understand that every behavior you do and words that you say will be scrutinized.
People in extreme situations need leadership and confidence more than ever. They look to their leaders for cues about how they should be responding. True leaders will differentiate from the pretenders during difficult circumstances — they will create safety and demonstrate that they are calm, sensitive and affirming with others even under great stress.
Practice extreme self-care: Managing the pain of others will take a toll on you — both emotionally and physically.
It is during tough times that your people need you the most and you will be no good to them if you are depleted. Find extra support. As an executive coach, I can help you so you don’t have to “go it alone” (360 682 5807). I Skype with clients anywhere in the world.