For my readers based in Western Canada, we know all to well that the collapsing oil and commodity prices are hurting many companies. The Leaders of these companies have to make the heart wrenching decisions that demonstrate the ultimate power differential … laying off hundreds, even thousands, of their employees.
How do you maintain your morale 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 being made.
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. This will give them the opportunity to prepare and in preparation they, hopefully, suffer less.
When your people know that nothing bad is expected without a warning, they can learn to relax and avoid expending anger and anxiety when you need them to support you in saving the company.
If predictability is about what will happen and when, understanding is about why and how. Accompany any major change with a detailed explanation of what is happening, why it is necessary and what effects it will have.
In my experience, people would much rather have credible explanations of why something bad is happening than no explanation at all.
When building 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 have hidden 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 speed up and worked slows down.
Closed Doors: Closed-door meetings are inevitable, but ensure you follow long closed-door meetings with longer open-door periods. Communicate everything that can be communicated, both in writing and face-to-face. Be present and visibly 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. You 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 simply, concretely, and repetitively.