I was leading a team that was about to go through a significant organizational change.

A big part of my team was going to report to another person.

We were facing collapsing oil and commodity prices that was beginning to hurt our bottom line.

It was bad, but many were going through worse.

The Leaders were making the heart-wrenching decisions that demonstrate the ultimate power differential.

They had to lay off hundreds, even thousands, of their employees.

How do you maintain your moral courage and your status as a good boss?

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Whether you oversee a small team or a Fortune 500 company, these frightening times require you to rethink your responsibilities as the boss. The boss/employee relationship is made complex because of unequal power. As even the most egalitarian Boss has control over pay and remuneration that the employee needs to maintain food, shelter and their family.

Considering this power differential is does not excuse your responsibility from making those tough business decisions. But it does require you to ensuring a high level of predictability for your employees and their understanding of why and how decisions are made.

  1. Predictability

As with any organizational shock, layoffs require that you give people as much information as you can about what will happen to them as individuals, work-groups, and the organization. Information will provide employees with the opportunity to prepare and in preparation, they, hopefully, suffer less.

When your people know that nothing terrible is expected without warning, they can learn to relax and avoid expending anger and anxiety when you need them to support you in saving the company.

  1. Understanding

Predictability is about knowing what will happen and when and understanding why and how. Accompany any significant change with a detailed explanation of what is happening.

In my experience, people would much rather have credible explanations of why something terrible is happening than no explanation at all.

When building an understanding, actions speak louder than words. So be cautious of:

Silence: From an employee’s perspective, when Bosses start huddling behind closed doors it is time to get nervous. Even when closed-door work is unavoidable, you must understand that it often demonstrates a sense of lack of control and management’s indifference.

Hiding: I’ve seen bosses that had hid from their people when bad news was coming, they couldn’t look subordinates in the eye. Employees interpreted this as a sign that the worst is about to happen; rumours sped up and worked slowed down.

Closed Doors: Closed-door meetings are inevitable, but ensure you follow long closed-door meetings with extended open-door periods. Communicate everything that you can in writing and face-to-face. Be present and on top of the situation, express warmth and concern and look your people in the eye.

When business is going poorly, and people are rattled, you shouldn’t be communicating a message.

Your job is to carefully talk in a manner that gets through to people who are distracted, upset, and thinking negatively.

As the Boss having to deal with the worse, you must assume that there will be ambiguity and negative assumptions.

Therefore it is imperative that you slow down and speak concretely and repetitively.

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