Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Managing Survivors after the Great Event

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about management and actual acts of god.

Today's post is about management and surviving actual acts of management. Often affectionately called "random acts of management," as you get higher into management, you start to understand the hard choices that have to be made. Well, choices which should be hard for most people (but aren't always).

Companies make money through profit, and they make profit by taking in more than they put out in terms of money. However they make that money or spend it, that's pretty much how it goes. When profit goes down, things become leaner--maybe you have to go through the receptionist to get the code to the copy machine. When profit goes down far enough, management's job is to stop it plummeting further.

This typically means reduction in services or benefits, pay cuts, or layoffs. All of which suck, to more or less degree. However, they bolster a reduced profit margin and make it possible for the company to continue moving forward, hopefully towards a future with a higher intake than outgo, so that more folks can be hired, get raises and bonuses, and have their services and/or benefits restored or even enhanced; that, however, can only happen if the company continues to exist.

So, management has laid some major changes on you. As noted in my post from last year on lying, you are going to have a period of time when you cannot communicate about upcoming changes. Please read that previous post, where I go pretty indepth about what to do there.

This post is about what to do after everyone knows. First, for those you have to lay off, fire, etc. I recommend reviewing my post on Leaving a Gig Professionally, Rather than Petulantly, Part 3: Someone's leaving, All the Stuff The Boss Probably Ought to Do.

Next, you are going to need to take care of the survivors of this act of management. Specifically, as soon as you're done with any personnel changes you have to make, you need to have a meeting for your team where they can speak freely and talk about their fears and concerns. Give them an opportunity to voice their fears and let them vent a little, but don't let it build anger. People need to say that layoffs suck, but they don't need to start planning--right in the presence of their manager--revolution against the company.

As a manager you are unlikely to be able to answer questions like "Will there be more layoffs?" and "Is my job safe?" This is where careful wording is required. You can't promise they'll still have jobs, but you can't freak them out by letting them know more people can go, either. My preference in that situation is to say that, as far as today is concerned, I am unaware of any additional layoffs. You want to put them at ease. Even if you are lying to them--and you might be--you don't want people freaked out and roaming the halls. You don't want a mass exodus of the people management wanted to keep to save the company. You also don't want to stress out your people for no reason--layoffs are often very last minute, so even if you're sure they're going to pull a head count from your team, you could receive a last minute reprieve, and in addition to violating company trust, you would rile the entire team until you found out who was going and/or if they were going and when.

Your responsibility as a manager after an act of management is to help people get back to normal. Not by forcing them there, but by acting like a human being to their very logical, rational, and human fears and concerns, and addressing them and investigating them where possible. Make yourself available to them to talk whenever they need to. If people are gone, have a plan in place to share the work and, preferably, reduce the workload now that there are fewer people producing.

A few days later, feel free to open the floor to the team on how you might be more productive. Working on project J, for example, might make project A and B easier, and while it won't make up for the folks who are gone, it could lighten the load for those who remain. Help and encourage them to feel involved in lightening their load and having some semblance of control of their future and their work with the company.

Most people walk around with the belief their job is safe, and they can do the amount of work that is assigned for them to do. That gets dinged all the way up to shattered depending on whether services (say, free food on Mondays) are cut or people are cut (you're losing one tenth of your workforce). Understand they are shaken. Understand there are things you cannot promise them. And within that framework, try to help them get as close to their beliefs prior to the "Event" as you can.

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