Picking up the pieces after a restructure

They’ve had weeks, maybe months, of uncertainty hanging over them; they’ve finally survived the restructure, though they’ve lost some of their colleagues (and possibly friends) and now they have to adjust to new ways of working – probably including more responsibilities and a greater volume of work.  While the business focuses on back to business as usual (with a tick in the box for the lower headcount target) the ‘survivors’ are often left feeling guilty, angry and demotivated.   

During periods of restructuring and redundancy we tend to focus much more on sensitively managing the exit of employees than those who are ‘left behind’. Yet these employees need just as much – if not more – communication to make sure you retain their commitment and productivity.

‘Survivor syndrome’ – which describes the impact of redundancies on the remaining people who didn’t lose their jobs – can limit the potential financial savings of redundancies by reducing the performance and attendance of the remaining employees, and increasing staff turnover.  You can alleviate this with the following steps:

  • Acknowledge the impact on people and on teams – don’t expect everyone to just carry on as normal.  Give people the opportunity to let off some steam and air their feelings and concerns.
  • Continue to communicate openly and honestly – your communication to this point should have made clear why change is necessary, what would happen and when. This transparency must continue if you are to rebuild trust.
  • Recognise contribution – financial reward may not be possible or appropriate but there are other ways to show appreciation for the effort made to deliver business as usual during the period of change. Genuine words of thanks and small gestures can help people feel valued.
  • Regroup after the change and emphasis the ‘new’ direction – you can now collectively turn a new page but make sure everyone understands the role they have to play in this.
  • Give evidence of early successes – this will show that the pain has been worth it and provide some reassurance to remaining staff.
  • Build up skills and knowledge – help people see that there is still opportunity for them to develop and progress within the business – will help you retain the talent you managed to keep.
  • Consider the lasting impact of the change – keep the dialogue going and check regularly how people are feeling and how they and the business are adapting to the changes. 

The way the business carries itself during and immediately after a restructure and wave of redundancies will tell employees so much more about the sort of employer they work for than any well worded statement of corporate values. Leaders with high emotional intelligence who understand the value of communicating at these times, and can be genuine in doing so, will ensure that the inevitable mark left on the business is as positive as possible.

Building trust through communication

Listening to the radio last week I heard a Japanese woman being interviewed about the latest health scare in Tokyo. Referring to the government she said ‘I just don’t trust what they tell us any more’.

Trust is hard to win but easily lost.  Once that trust is lost your job as leader becomes at best hard, at worst impossible.  Business leaders will never have to lead their people through a crisis of the magnitude of that facing Japan but how will you get your employees behind you to work together to a common goal if they don’t trust you?

In times of crisis people look to trusted leaders for direction. An essential element of building and maintaining trust amongst your people is the way that you communicate.  To inspire trust communication should:

  • Be open and honest – people want to hear the truth not corporate spin that avoids or conceals the true situation. If you don’t have all the answers, say so.
  • Reinforce the common challenge – emphasise the shared purpose and risks.  Stress the ‘we’ rather than the ‘you’ – we all face this together.     
  • Respond to people’s concerns –listening to your people to understand their concerns will enable you to address them in your communication.  Once these have been acknowledged people are better able to focus on your key messages about what you need them to do.
  • Be personal and natural – allow people to ‘see’ you in the message – this is a message from their leader – not the legal department.  Add clarity by avoiding corporate speak and jargon but don’t dumb down so much as to seem patronising.
  • Reflect your behaviours – if you say one thing yet do another you become untrustworthy – there should be a consistency between your messages and your actions
  • Build confidence in your competence – reinforce why people should trust you – your track record, your approach, particular skills appropriate to the situation.

As in any relationship, trust between leader and employees needs to be nurtured and once established it needs to be carefully maintained. Each time it is broken it becomes more difficult to repair.  Good communication can help cement the trust that provides a solid foundation for engaging employees in good times as well as bad.

Communication trends from this year’s ‘best companies to work for’

Reading through the first instalment of the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For guide this week it would be easy to believe that the secret of success must be to incorporate sporting events, charity projects or team away-days into the working week.

Of course who wouldn’t want to work for a company that took you on a weekend in Ibiza, paid for you to develop a hobby or offered free manicures! It’s not at all surprising that people who work here rate the companies as great places to work.

But look behind these headline grabbing initiatives and you will see some rather more realistic and decidedly less sexy practices taking place. Quite clearly this year there is a trend for improved communication which as well as raising employee satisfaction actually improves employee engagement (where employees understand what they need to do, and willingly give their discretionary effort to do it).

The communication trends that are clear this year are that:

Companies are doing more of it –consciously increasing communication during challenging times. They are keeping employees informed through periods of uncertainty and are building trust by being open and honest even when the news is not good. Some have involved employees where cost cutting has been required and this has increased understanding and acceptance of the measures.

Managers are listening –at all levels (line managers as well as senior managers) they listen rather than just tell people what to do. They engage in dialogue, encouraging feedback and ideas – some via structured suggestion schemes, others with more informal brainstorming lunches or inter- departmental breakfasts. These companies recognise that some of the best ideas for improvement can come from those working at the coal face.

Leaders are visible – regularly communicating with employees. Some run breakfast briefings; others use technology such as webcasting. They all offer employees the opportunity to raise their concerns and ask questions no matter how difficult the answers might be.

Employees are being recognised – whether acknowledging a good idea or recognising a job well done, saying thank you reinforces positive behaviours. The act of recognition can be more significant than the actual reward so incentives do not need to be costly – a thank you card, a mention in the company magazine or a profile on the intranet. Some companies offer vouchers, lunch with the boss or even use of a special chair for a month!

Using eye-catching benefits to create workplaces where people want to work will undoubtedly help attract and retain talent. However solid management and communication best practice will really drive employee engagement and reap the business benefits this can bring. You can read more about why employee engagement makes good business sense in our briefing available on our website.

What communication practices do you think make companies better places to work in? Tell us using the comments box below…