05 | May | 2017

Restructure Series: What happens to survivors after a restructure?

Author: Trevor-Roberts

When organisations start to think about restructuring the business, often the need to nurture the remaining employees is forgotten. However, if people don’t feel valued, they won’t stick around. This can often be the impetus for pushing high potentials, who the organisation originally had pegged to remain, out of the organisation. So, what happens to survivors after a restructure?

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A study of Fortune 100 companies by the Academy of Management Journal showed that it didn’t take much downsizing to send the ‘survivors’ running for the door. Redundancies targeting just 1% of the workforce preceded a 31% increase in turnover. The transition from “stable organisation” to “downsizing organisation” is enough to prompt those who remain to start looking elsewhere.

So how do you keep people feeling valued?

1. Communication is key

Communication is essential during organisational change. When organisational change is announced, your employees want to know the details of how this will affect their role. Leaders should encourage increased contact among managers and employees, promote open-door policies, and ask for employee input into decision making where possible.

It is also important to be aware that downsizing often disrupts social networks and information exchange within companies, triggering the rumour mill and further adding to employees’ negative feelings.

2. Reward high performers

Many employees will “rise to the occasion” and continue their strong performance during times of uncertainty. Recognise and reward these people. This sends a clear message that the organisation values those that remain and is committed to navigating the change to emerge stronger than before.

3. Continue to invest in high potentials

In many cases, the best development typically occurs on the job with little cost to the organisation - which is ideal in times of downsizing. High potentials value working with successful managers who can act as mentors. These people often crave experience and would relish the opportunity to add mastering a turnaround scenario to their achievements.

Projects to reconfigure the business, to move into new areas and to address underperformance are areas that these individuals could be deployed to develop their core skills for the future.

Putting in place development plans for remaining employees can assist to keep spirits and motivation high during difficult organisational change. Allowing individuals to plan and craft their own roadmaps gives a sense of control and security during times of uncertainty.

Team optimisation can also be a useful tool to offset the drain on innovative energy caused by restructuring, Maintaining or improving team stability and providing challenging work stimulates the creativity of those who remain.

4. Innovate

Downsizing can be an opportunity to upgrade your organisation and try new ways of doing things. Consider a new recruiting model by bringing in new people on project focused engagements, with a defined outcome and time limit. Try and test new talent on this basis, rather than looking at full time permanent employment as the only option.

If the organisation needs to scale down systems and processes, look at ways you can innovate and upgrade at the same time. Get the remaining staff involved in the procurement process where possible. When done right, reassessing these core business needs can set you up and put you ahead of the game for your next growth period.

5. Don’t forget your alumni

Remember that all individual’s who leave automatically become part of your organisation’s “alumni”— they will tell the world about your business and what it stands for. Make sure that the message they carry is a positive one. A simple way of ensuring this happens is to the appropriate level of support for their exits.

6. Maintain a high level of professionalism and sensitivity

If some people do have to be let go, handle that process professionally, with dignity, sensitivity and the provision of professional career transition support. This will go a long way in reassuring the survivors that you have done everything possible to maintain the affected individuals’ dignity and will contribute significantly to the loyalty of those who remain.

7. Take the long-term view

A leader’s relationship with staff is crucial to the business operation. Additionally, the intellectual property of your people is your greatest performance differentiator, regardless of the economic climate. Keep in mind that relationships with employees are just like relationships with customers: best built and sustained over the long term.

Practical tips for HR professionals following a restructure announcement

Here are some practical tips to help begin the process of refocusing individual’s, teams and the wider organisation.

The Day After

Bring your team together as soon as possible the following morning. Start the process of refocusing everyone by:

  • Acknowledging that events of the proceeding day were difficult
  • Repeating the strategy of why the change was necessary, but remember it is unnecessary to apologise for it happening
  • Identifying where employees are at emotionally by asking questions such as “what concerns do you have about the change?” and “what are the ramifications of the change to our work as a team?”. Offer to discuss individual concerns one-on-one for those who wish to speak confidentially. 
  • Addressing workload issues. Most people are concerned about how they will cope with their job when there are less people to carry the load. 
  • Acknowledging that you may not have all the answers for how things will work under the new structure and that you will be seeking their advice in the weeks ahead. This gives people a purpose for being part of the team.
  • Finishing the meeting by mentioning the team’s purpose in achieving the organisation’s goals. 

In the month following the restructure

  • Establish toolbox talks/meetings designed to discuss the new structure/changes. Hold these regularly (daily or at least weekly).
  • Create an open forum so that anyone can raise questions and suggestions about what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Focus on positives – start each meeting by sharing something positive you have seen. Good news stories are paramount.

Other Tips

  • Clear your diary as much as possible and make yourself visible to staff in the days following announcements
  • Don’t forget about your own needs and concerns. Remember, you may also be experiencing career transition during this time, so be aware of your own thoughts, feelings and emotions around what is going on around you. Find out what support is available to you and acknowledge how you personally deal with the changes taking place.

 Now, we're interested to hear from you - did your restructure increase turnover rates of survivors? What would you do differently if you restructured again? Let us know in the comments below.

Tags: Redundancy, Career Transition, Restructures

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