With so many layoffs occurring in businesses all around the world, some are bound to be executed well, and some not. Knowing the common patterns of bunglers helps decision makers steer a better course, and helps others cope with the mistakes of the bunglers. Last time, we examined how the personal perceptions of decision makers lead to trouble. In this Part II, we look at two common tactical errors.
- Death by a thousand cuts
- To limit layoffs, and to reduce their visibility, management executes small reductions weekly or monthly, forgoing press releases. They might even deny the actions, saying, "We're operating normally, making continuous adjustments as is our usual policy."
- But people recognize that layoffs are happening. Many worry they'll be next. They become increasingly determined to survive, even at the expense of others. Toxic politics emerges, wars and anxiety become common, cooperation ceases, and productivity plummets.
- At its best, this method is a form of denial; at its worst, a form of procrastination. A more straightforward approach that deals with the consequences of layoffs openly is more likely to create positive internal politics. If your company uses the thousand-cuts approach, recognize that the relative safety you feel at first is probably an illusion. Prepare yourself.
- The relief minimalism provides
usually isn't enough to
turn things around
- To avoid laying off too many, management lays off the minimum number believed necessary to survive the current situation. They plan to revisit the decision later, and if corrective action is needed, they'll say, "The situation has worsened."
- The relief minimalism provides usually isn't enough to turn things around. A little later, the cycle repeats. People remaining after the first action are shocked, but they're glad they personally survived. They recover after the first hit, only to be hit again. Recovery is slower and less complete the second time. After three or four rounds, morale and productivity are both depressed.
- As a decision maker, be certain first that the projected effect of any layoff is substantial financial relief, and second, that the resources freed in this way are committed to expand that relief. As an employee, this pattern is a signal to you that the cycle might repeat enough times to eventually target you. After a couple of cycles, ask yourself, "Do I think our decision makers are capable of getting this right?"
Distinguishing a company caught in unfortunate circumstances from a company in trouble because of mismanaged layoffs can be difficult. But by examining how well its leadership responds to severe challenges to its survival, we can sometimes determine whether organizational survival is possible. When organizational survival is in question, voluntary departure or accepting a buyout can be excellent choices. First in this series Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
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- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
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