While having to make changes to your staff is inevitable, how you deal with it can really make you stand out as a leader.
In my work, I’ve encountered many organizations that have created a toxic culture by making personnel changes without adequately communicating and preparing the rest of the team. I’ve often met with employees who feel resentful and insecure—qualities that can plague a team but are easily preventable if appropriate cultural practices are in place.
People are naturally afraid of change because they’re unsure of how it will affect them. Common fears include: "Will this change my role?" "Am I next to go?" "Is the company in trouble?" Look at the way you deal with these fears as an opportunity to strengthen your existing team and build a culture that is better prepared for any other impending changes.
Here are three important things to remember when you add or reduce staff:
When people are afraid, they assume the worst, and fear usually occurs due to a lack of understanding. This can lead to a plunge in morale and a toxic culture, which invariably has negative implications for productivity and growth. Though it may seem like the company is in dire straits because they’re letting go of in-person customer support, the reason may be that there’s less demand because of the online help desk. Internal communication that outlines the what, why, and how of personnel changes are key to managing employees’ fears after someone gets laid off.
Within reason, communicate to your team who’s being let go and why, as well as if there will be any other changes in the immediate future. If relevant, explain why certain roles are being changed in context with the organization’s goals. Creating a culture of transparency from the outset will lessen confusion and fear by letting your team know what’s happening before gossip and speculation can spread. Also use this time to instill confidence in your team by recognizing their successes and reassuring them of why they’re there.
It goes without saying that communication requires a two-way dialogue, so it’s important to encourage feedback from your team throughout the process. An in-house coach is one way to lower anxiety by providing employees the opportunity to vent their fears without the discomfort that may come from having these conversations directly with leadership. The coach can then voice the concerns of the team anonymously and leadership can take steps to address fears. The simple act of voicing these fears can play a tremendous role in alleviating anxiety by making employees feel supported and heard.
It may not seem obvious, but supporting the exiting employee can play an important role in mitigating fears while also demonstrating your organization’s commitment to helping all employees, both current and former, achieve their goals. Coaching the exiting staff to help uncover their values, passions, and job preferences can do this. A genuine conversation that helps them discover the next steps for their professional development will not only mitigate hard feelings, but also assure the existing team—who are likely friends with those exiting—that all members of the organization are and will be supported.
Making the decision to fire someone isn’t easy—nor should it be—but you can turn this difficult situation into an opportunity to empower and strengthen your existing team. Having an in-house coach can play an essential role in building an intelligent culture by helping to mitigate fears through communication, feedback, and support. But ultimately, you as the leader should play the most pivotal role.
Adam Verity is the director for corporate relations at Erickson Coaching International. He helps business executives and leaders implement external and internal coaching practices in their organizations, helping them to unlock the inner creativity, motivation and productivity in their employees. Adam has contributed to building highly productive teams and fast-growing businesses across three different industries in four different countries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.