One of my favourite quotes comes from Gordon Forward: “To stand still is to fall behind.” This is very true in our world where businesses should be a constantly evolving facet, growing and developing with the market and with you as its leader.
However, by facilitating business change, inevitably you will have to make some tough decisions that affect, arguably, the most important part of your business – your people. Restructures are commonplace nowadays. However, if managed incorrectly your company can be not only left with a bad reputation but with serious legal implications.
For this reason, this month I’m going to focus on how you can elicit positive change with positive outcomes.
Deciding to change
Employees are the foundations upon which companies are built. Certainly within my organisation, our team are brand ambassadors, representing us with every conversation. Therefore, change that is going to affect them and disrupt their pattern of performance should not be taken lightly.
Redundancies are sometimes required if roles completely disappear within your structure but as a smaller, more agile company, sometimes it’s not the role that needs to go but the person within it. Maybe you have outgrown their skillset, or they have not been able to adapt to your growing business at the rate you need them to. In this instance, agreeing to part company – by way of a settlement agreement – is often a far better solution for all parties than a drawn-out redundancy and consultation process.
Mitigating your risks
Business restructures aren’t just difficult for employees but employers too. Whilst the impact that a restructure can have on an individual is often more obvious, the effect this has on a business is quickly forgotten. The exiting, or ‘adjusting’, of employees and their roles from a business can have serious legal implications if done incorrectly.
If you are not strong on this topic, seek help. Many industry associations or business groups such as the Institute of Directors give free legal advice as part of their membership. Make sure you use these to run your specific circumstances past a professional who can make sure you are taking the right approach. Time spent planning any restructure or change that impacts people will always pay back ten-fold.
Don’t burn bridges
There is never a reason to burn bridges with people. Even if you think someone is in the wrong and you are dismissing them, your role as their employer is to be fair, consistent and transparent in the reasons for your decision. More often though, you lose people that are just not right for what your business needs right now. In this case, you need to consider that at some point in the future, you may want to bring them back. Equally, if you are in the B2C sector, your employees can also be your customers so you need to ensure they remain brand ambassadors. Lastly, reputation used to be considered a local issue but now, in the age of social media and Glassdoor – where anyone can post an anonymous review about what you’re really like to work for – everybody must be taken into consideration.
Honesty really is the best policy when making people changes. If an individual understands why the change has come about, they will be much more open minded to re-joining your business should you be fortunate enough to be able to bring them back.
So, what happens next?
You’ve made the decision to let someone go. Now what? If you are mid-to-large sized company, you will probably offer them outplacement support. This is where an external provider usually comes in for a period of time to help exiting employees to transition. Outplacement support varies wildly on the circumstances and level of the person undergoing support, but will typically include coaching support, online tools to help them re-write CVs, manage applications and search for jobs. They often include psychometric and self-assessment tools which, when used in conjunction with the coaching, can really help an individual understand their strengths and where their focus should be. However, it is not always about finding another job, so a good outplacement provider will also help individuals who are thinking about starting up their own business, retiring early, emigrating or becoming a self-employed consultant.
Of course, this comes at a cost. What you need to consider is if these costs are outweighed by the positives – such as the reduced legal liability – increased employee welfare and engagement will allow you to focus back on your business priorities.
Moreover, employees that receive outplacement support will often find the process much easier to handle and won’t be left with a bitter taste in their mouth when thinking of their employer. You never know when you might meet these individuals again, so maintaining good relationships with them is in the best interests of all involved.
If you are not in a position to invest in external outplacement support, think of what you can do internally to recreate some of these support activities for people leaving your business. This could entail allowing them to not work their notice period but still letting them have access to use your offices to complete their job searches whilst in the gardening leave period is a great support. Or perhaps seek out the person within your business with the best coaching skills, see if they would be interested in providing some one-to-one coaching for leavers and then offer this to outgoing employees.
Restructures will undoubtedly be a stressful time but this does not mean they have to be negative as well. Any change is exciting, even the kind that results in difficult decisions. Change means you’re adapting to your environment and positive change will elicit positive outcomes.