If I focus my mind on life since March, it feels like we are back to being a growing business! Things are definitely picking up since the depths of April, and although there is still a lot of economic uncertainty, July has felt positively optimistic by comparison.
Yet even with those rose-tinted glasses, we need a sense of realism about where we are at the moment. Many of our clients are knee-deep in restructures and redundancies, even if it is only for a relatively small proportion of their employees. The staff who have soldiered on working through the crisis are on a scale from coping through to burnt-out. The UK still has a huge number of workers on furlough (9 million at end of June), and hopefully many of them will soon be struggling with re-entry back into our organisations rather than out of work altogether.
So how can we make the next few months a little easier on ourselves as business leaders?
Well, I can tell you from personal experience that restructuring and making redundancies isn’t easy. Even when you try your best to think things through and do things nicely, it is difficult to give that impression to your team members who you are letting go. For them it is a complete life change, income uncertainty and potentially a significant shift in their social contact. Even if you increase notice periods and redundancy payments, they can still leave furious with you that you have had to make their roles redundant and disrupt their lives.
At People Puzzles we work with a huge range of companies across the UK. We’ve pulled together our top five tips on rebuilding after redundancies and furlough:
Tip 1: Rebuild Trust
It really does help to be upfront with your remaining team about the difficult decisions that have to be made, the business justification and the need to refocus and move on. I find making difficult business decisions, particularly those that impact people’s lives, very difficult and emotional. It certainly isn’t a cold-hearted business decision. If you are able to share your feelings alongside the facts in a sensitive and careful way, it can help to rebuild the team’s trust in you as a leader.
Tip 2: Stay calm in the face of more change
We are in a phase of continued uncertainty particularly for CEOs and owners, which is a difficult place to be. Our own motivation can take a downturn when things are unsettled for long periods, and yet we need to continue to lead from the front, being positive and optimistic.
It is worth remembering or learning some of the principals of change management: creating a burning platform, planning slowly and executing quickly, over communicating rather than assuming people know what is going on. Surround yourself with people who are calm, optimistic and can help you communicate well with the team.
Tip 3: Communicate better than Boris
The contrary advice from the government has not made this pandemic easy to navigate for anyone, not least business leaders. We can be horrified by some of their confused guidance, but I suspect some of us are guilty of spreading similar misunderstandings in our own businesses.
I certainly don’t get this right all the time, and we have struggled with how to best communicate with people on long-term furlough once the initial energy wore off, and how to manage re-entry when we have often had little notice on changes. If you have had to let people go, make sure that you tell the team clearly once decisions have been made, as nature abhors a vacuum.
It is easy to talk about, but much harder to do: everyone on our teams is an individual, will have questions, comments and unique needs. Ensuring that you are able to communicate with everyone, and support them on their journey back to work, or working in a new role without a colleague or perhaps a change of manager, takes time and effort. It needs to be a priority.
Tip 4: Support your leaders through crisis and beyond
As a decision-maker it is easy to forget what it is like to be in middle management ‘ leading a team, sometimes without much decision-making ability or support. Line Management has been harder than ever over the past few months, and many may have had little training on how to manage well at the best of times, then throw in home working and a global pandemic, and things have probably been a little tougher lately!
If you haven’t refreshed the skills of your managers in the last few months, now is definitely the time to do it, to support them and to ensure that they have what they need to keep doing a challenging job.
Tip 5: Get practical
If you’re a list maker, now is the time to commit to a few things. What is going to refocus your team and get productivity up again? What is going to make that shift in your team communications or contribute to greater trust in the future?
If you spend a few minutes thinking, you will probably be able to identify whether you need to refocus your workers, set new objectives or KPIs, invest in some retraining, or even think about who needs a job title and reward review. Are you paying people enough for the jobs they are doing now? Are you doing everything you can to support your team post restructure and redundancies? Can you do anything that constitutes a little ‘thank you’ to those who have stuck with you and really contributed over the past 5 months? We sent a small box of chocolates to everyone last month. The enthusiasm from the team was a delight, and it was well worth it.
Redundancies and restructures are tough, whether they are COVID related or due to other economic, technical or business organisation reasons. They are draining, but once they are completed, you have to put them aside and move forward.
I’d like to encourage you to actively embrace the positive, optimistic growth journey again ‘ even if that means a total reset from today. Make your list, act on it, and see the impact on your business!