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For many business owners and managers, there may come a time in their career when they’re forced to consider making someone redundant. It’s never a decision to make lightly, however, in times of changing markets, some businesses may find themselves speeding through the redundancy process. This is usually because they want to turn their finances around as quickly as possible.
While this is understandable, it’s important not to lose sight of the need to restructure correctly. When planning how to make someone redundant in the way that causes the least pain and uncertainty, there are three key areas to consider:
- Process — this relates to the procedure you’ll follow, project timelines, the scope of the consultation and your legal obligations.
- Operational aspects — this is the delivery of the program and includes carrying out the consultations, identifying roles for redundancy and notifying the post-holders, setting up mail forwarding for closed offices and paying off/closing down accounts.
- Managing human aspects — behind each role is a human being with feelings and financial commitments, who may well be feeling anxious about the future.
Of these, the third is the one that has the most potential to go wrong (and has the biggest impact when it does), yet is very often overlooked or considered as an afterthought. When we fail to manage the emotional journey of our employees, we risk the workforce being overtaken by fear, doubt and disillusionment.
When that happens, productivity can take a hit and you could even lose talented employees who aren’t part of the redundancy program. Further, this could damage your brand if the stories of mismanaged redundancies make it out into the public domain.
We’ve identified three potential pitfalls that come up time and again for organisations planning redundancies — rushing the process, putting process before people and getting the communications wrong. So, here’s our best advice on avoiding these mistakes when making someone redundant, ensuring a smooth change for your employees and business.
Three pitfalls of the redundancy process
Once the decision has been made, it can be tempting to just crack on — ending people’s uncertainty has to be a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily — being too keen to announce or letting process dictate the pace can lead people to rush the process, which is how mistakes happen. It can also give the impression that you haven’t properly planned things, or that the business is in trouble. While it’s likely you’re making redundancies in a post-COVID world because it’s essential for the future success of the business, this hasty action can lead those people you wanted to retain to start looking for jobs elsewhere.
To avoid these kinds of issues:
- Take the time to prepare properly. Printing out key details five minutes before a meeting looks disrespectful and sets a poor tone for conversations with people. Instead, devise a plan well in advance and stick to it.
- Look for creative ways to save time instead of rushing. For instance, it’s a common misconception that you need lots of time for consultations, but with the right conversations and effective planning, you can do things pretty quickly.
Put people before process
It’s not uncommon to put emotions aside when striving to reach challenging business goals. In fact, sometimes, it can be a good thing to take an objective approach. When planning to make someone redundant, however, this can lead to difficulties and complications that could have been avoided.
For example, not everyone will want to stay with your organisation, so having the right conversations with those individuals can help them to leave with good grace and reduce the number of compulsory redundancies you need to make. If those conversations don’t happen, or don’t go well, those people may dig their heels in and cause complications.
To get it right:
- Think about the outcome, rather than the process. Although we advocate as much advanced planning as possible, you need to be able to tweak it as you go along to accommodate people’s needs. As long as you keep the ultimate business goal in sight, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Tailor the support you give to people’s individual needs. Who do you need to reassure? Who do you want to support into another role somewhere else? For people transitioning out of the company, consider offering outplacement support to help ease the journey and make their next step the right one.
Be prepared to have difficult conversations. To provide genuine leadership at times of change, you need to be present and willing to face challenges with your team. This is definitely not a time to sit back and let a process run its course.
Fine-tune your redundancy and change management communications
If you allow the process to take over, resulting in putting people’s lives second, you risk generating resentment and defensive behavior among your employees. If the restructuring is due to COVID-19’s effects, steer clear of blaming employees (either consciously or subconsciously) for poor sales or decreased profits. That can be hugely damaging and make an already bad situation worse.
To avoid communication issues and misunderstandings:
- Remember you’re talking to people — know your people and demonstrate emotional intelligence. Sometimes just acknowledging how bad a situation is will go a long way and help demonstrate empathy.
- Think about your messaging. It’s worth giving this as much thought as you would if you were planning a marketing campaign. Planning your messaging in advance can help make sure everyone is on the same page, avoid bad feelings and protect your employer brand.
- Plan what you want to communicate and when. It’s admirable to want to keep everyone in the loop, but too much information too soon can cause upset and worry. On the other hand, taking too long risks the circulation of leaks and misinformation.
There is no ‘right’ answer to the question, “how do I make someone redundant?” This process needs to be planned just as carefully as any other business project, with a view to achieving maximum efficiency and value for money, as well as meeting legal/regulatory obligations.
However, it will be more important than ever that your change management plans address human factors and that the people delivering them are emotionally intelligent. Get it right and your restructuring program could be a win for your business and employees — even the ones who are leaving.
Author bio: Tom Griffiths is a Head of Organisational Change, Internal HR and Business Partnering in the UK based outplacement company Connor. His role is to design the technical solution and resource plan to meet clients’ outplacement requirements.