Leadership Barometer 33 Downsizing Tips

January 13, 2020

Every organization deals with downsizing occasionally in a struggle to survive difficult economic conditions. These times are true tests of the quality of leadership.

In many cases, downsizing leads to numerous problems in its wake, especially lower trust.

The most crucial shortage threatening our world is not oil, money, or any other physical resource. It is the lack of enlightened leaders who know how to build trust and transparency, especially when draconian actions are contemplated.

We are in need of more leaders who can establish and maintain the right kind of environment. A serious problem is in the daily actions of the leaders who undermine trust, even though that is not their intention.

The current work climate for leaders exacerbates the problem. The ability to maintain trust and transparency during workforce reductions is a key skill few leaders have.

Downsizing is a unique opportunity to grow leaders who do have the ability to make difficult decisions in ways that maintain the essence of trust.

Thankfully, there are processes that allow leaders to accomplish incredibly complex restructurings and still keep the backbone of the organization strong and loyal. It takes exceptional skill and care to accomplish this, but it can be done.

The trick is to not fall victim to the conventional ways of surgery that have been ineffective numerous times in the past. Yes, if you need to, you can cut off a leg in the backwoods with a dirty bucksaw and a bottle of whisky, but there are far safer, effective, and less painful ways to accomplish such a traumatic pruning.

One helpful tool in a downsizing is to be as transparent as possible during the planning phase. In the past, HR managers have worried that disclosing a need for downsizing or reorganization might lead to sabotage or other forms of rebellion.

The irony is that, even with the best secrecy, everyone in the organization is well aware of an impending change long before it is announced, and the concealment only adds to the frustration.

Just as nature hates a vacuum, people find a void in communication intolerable. Not knowing what is going to happen is an incredibly potent poison.

Gossip and rumors generally make the problem bigger than it actually is, and leaders find themselves dealing with the fallout.

Human beings are far more resilient in the face of bad news than to uncertainty. Information freely given is a kind of anesthesia that allows managers to accomplish difficult operations with far less trauma. The transparency works for three reasons:

1. It allows time for people to assimilate and deal with the emotional upheaval and adjust their life plans accordingly.
2. It treats employees like adults who are respected enough to hear the bad news rather than children who can’t be trusted to deal with trauma and must be sheltered from reality until the last minute.
3. It allows time to cross-train those people who will be leaving with those who will inherit their work.

All three of these reasons, while not pleasant, do serve to enhance rather than destroy trust.

Don’t humiliate people

Another tip is how to break the news to someone who will be terminated. One way to handle the situation is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. Would you like to be paraded down the hall to pack a box with your possessions and escorted outside the gate and forced to hand over your keys and badge?

Many enlightened leaders have handled the separation in a more humane way. They break the news to the individual and share that the employee needs to find alternative employment. They may even offer assistance with ideas on where to look and offer for a reference.

Then, the employee is not immediately escorted off the premises, but is allowed to pack things up over the next several days and say good bye to friends and work colleagues. Some employers have even experimented with letting the impacted worker use the facilities and equipment for a short while during the job search.

HR managers will quickly point out the risks of having formerly employed workers on the premises, and it is true that the person needs to understand that if he or she is disruptive in any way, then the leaving will be immediate.

The idea is that when you treat separated employees with respect and kindness, even when the news is not good, they respond with a better attitude, which generally improves the outcome.

The more powerful result is that the employees who are not leaving are also impressed by the way these former colleagues were treated. That factor tends to bolster morale a bit for workers who are now asked to take up the slack.

Full and timely disclosure of information and thoughtful exit processes are only two of the many tools leaders can use to help maintain or even grow trust while executing unpleasant necessities.

My study of leadership over the past several decades indicates that the situation is not hopeless. We simply need to teach leaders the benefits of building an environment of trust and transparency and how to obtain them.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.


What Are You Not Doing

October 24, 2016

This article is for all professionals who want to make the most of their time. The thesis is that we need to consider the things we are not doing as well as those we are supporting with our effort.

The idea of noting the things we can do as well as the opportunities we are missing is one that is highlighted in the quality concept called “six sigma.”

Most business professionals are familiar with the term six-sigma. It is a concept where we seek to make our processes so close to perfection that there are only slightly over 3 defects per million opportunities. I have taught six sigma for decades, and one thing about the concept has always bugged me.

The whole premise of six-sigma is based on a ratio of defects per opportunity. When you think about it, the number of defects is difficult to measure, but at least the number is finite.

The number of opportunities to make a defect is really infinite because they include all of the steps we can take but also all of the steps we decide not to take.

If I remember my 7th grade math correctly, when the denominator of a fraction goes to infinity, the ratio becomes a moot point. Now let’s consider how the conundrum of an infinite number of possible alternatives creates an interesting parallel for our personal lives.

Most of us focus our energy on the things we are doing. In planning the daily “To Do” list, we tend to list the items of importance that must be done today in order to convince ourselves that we are getting the most out of life.

We rarely spend that much energy on the other side of the equation and think about the things we are deciding not to do. Of course, if you are trying to quit a bad habit, you might list “smoke no cigarettes” on your To Do list for today.

We make a conscious effort to avoid the things that we are trying to quit, but we spend far less conscious energy on what things we are avoiding out of neglect.

Let me make a couple ridiculous examples to illustrate my point.

On my mental To Do list for today, I do not have an item to avoid becoming a ballet dancer. I am not making a conscious effort to avoid a late-blooming career as a ballet dancer. If you could see my body, you would understand the absurdity of that vision, because it has no basis in reality.

The irony is that there are an infinite number of things I am choosing not to do today. I will not decide to become a politician today. My bucket can be overflowing when I die and still I will never have won an elected governmental office.

The number of things I am deciding to not do is infinite.
These crazy examples are just to highlight the dilemma. I have only a finite number of seconds yet to be alive on this planet. Clearly, it is in my best interest to use each second wisely, so I focus on the things I want to accomplish: my goals.

Then the dilemma becomes, what potential activities did I miss through the process of neglect? My path forward is very narrow and restricted when compared with the infinite number of things I reject simply by not considering them. What I do not get involved with may be limiting the joy I am getting from life as well as what I choose to do.

The whole concept is so convoluted that my brain starts to hurt after a while, so I cop out like every other breathing person and focus on those few things that are readily available for me to do today. The irony is that I do have the option at any point in time to do something completely different.

For example, today I could choose to give away all my possessions and go try to help the poor in Africa for the remainder of my life.

Personally, I am not going to spend more time today wondering about this conundrum. It is not going to change what I do, but I must realize that in rejecting the option to think more carefully about what I am electing to not do, I am limiting my choices in life dramatically. Right now, I am deciding to have a cup of coffee. How about you?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Golden Opportunities to Fail Better

September 18, 2016

When something does not go according to plan, we often get a sinking feeling of failure. Throughout our formative years, we were taught that success is the goal and failure is anathema.

In this brief article, I want to discuss how we can change around our mindset so that when things go wrong we gain the maximum benefit from the situation.

We learn much more from our failures than from our successes in life. Think about how you learned to walk. You tried to stand up, and gravity won over, time after time.

Each time you got back up, your skill level at balancing all that weight on those two tiny round feet improved. Over time you became so skilled that standing erect was easier than eating pumpkin pie.

I often think our education system is missing a key point by not having a primary school course in how to fail well. Instead, we teach our children that failure is to be avoided at all cost, so we carry that idea in our subconscious mind for the rest of our life.

The “Whatever you do, don’t fail” mentality needs to be replaced by “Make sure to embrace and learn from your failures.” Our failures not only allow us the opportunity to learn and grow, but they provide an opportunity to leap forward and make a paradigm change.

In every situation that doesn’t go our way, there is a moment of decision. We decide to just accept our bad luck and feel badly about it, or we decide to turn our problem into an advantage. This is true in our personal life, and it carries over to our business life as well.

A great recovery from something that didn’t go as planned is the hallmark of winners in any occupation. When we are able to take a bad situation and totally WOW the customer, the problem turns into a huge positive force for our business.

I read a story about Zappo’s Shoes in one of my favorite leadership books: Triple Crown Leadership by Bob and Gregg Vanourek. Apparently a woman arrived in Las Vegas and found that she had left the shoes she intended to wear that evening at home.

She called Zappo’s in a panic to reorder a new pair. The customer service person looked them up and explained that they were out of that style in her particular size.

This was the moment of decision for the service rep. He could have accepted the problem, or he could choose to do something to change it. The woman sighed, and the service rep said “What hotel are you staying at? I will take care of this.”

Then he left his work station and walked the malls until he found the shoes in her size. He had them gift wrapped, and hand delivered them to her room with no charge because they were out of stock.

Imagine the impact that recovery had on that woman and everyone who has heard the story since that time.

Taking a customer problem and finding some way to not only resolve it, but totally blow the customer away, really works. I call it the Golden Opportunity Moment.

Having a customer with a problem is a wonderful moment of truth because the customer is upset with you, and usually has low expectations based on typical customer service levels like “Tough luck you banana.”

Against the backdrop of low expectations, the customer is all primed to be totally amazed when you in effect leap over the counter and offer a significant accommodation that was above and beyond anything she expected.

There are numerous stories like the Zappo’s one where an organization was able to take a real live problem and turn it into a raving customer for life. Teach all people in your organization the philosophy of turning problems into Golden Opportunities.

Gregg Lederman wrote a good book on this idea with lots of examples, entitled ENGAGED!: Outbehave your Competition to Create Customers for Life.

Failure is a state of mind that can be overcome by replacing the sinking feeling with the joy of learning something new. Next time you start feeling down because something did not work as you had hoped, focus on what you have gained by the experience.

Whenever a failure makes another person disappointed, rather than add to the disappointment, take the initiative to turn it into a Golden Opportunity. When the other person is down is really the perfect time to create a lasting positive memory. You will have a wonderful feeling of satisfaction while creating a fan for life.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763