Last week Andrew Thorburn, CEO of one of Australia’s big banking giants announced 6000 jobs to go. It cast a pall over the profits announced, and generated much cynicism and fatigue in those who work for NAB. As one of their employees said to me “I’m so tired of never being able to finish anything, I’ve survived six restructures in five years. Nothing gets done”. And while part of the message was about the 2000 new roles to be created, it’s a tough time to be leading a team, particularly in the lead up to Christmas. You’re at high risk of losing talent. You’ve got self interest and self preservation front of mind, and by the way please keep those employee engagement scores up…

So this post is for those who are leading teams through more of the relentless corporate restructuring. It can be done.

On restructuring:

  • Don’t forget to communicate what stays the same. People need an anchor in stormy seas, and a simple message of what is not changing can do that.
  • Engage with resistance – don’t seek to overcome. Resistance is normal, highly complex, and only feedback.
  • Build change capability within. This is unlikely your first restructure and is unlikely to be your last. What do you need to do to build internal capabilities for change?

On downsizing:

  • Dignity is the key word – your role as people leader is to interrogate every message to ensure that there is as much dignity as possible. Respect yourself, respect your managers, respect your employees, respect your clients, respect your community.
  • Ensure a united front. Now is the time that as a leadership team you need to unite, and ensure a parallel process when releasing information and key messages. You do not want your employees hearing things first on the radio/newspaper/ twitter/ facebook.
  • Engage with the background talk.  This is the informal conversations of change that can manifest in gossip, rumour, and hallway chats.  Engaging with the rumours allows clarification of incorrect information and guided sense-making. You can also get some very useful feedback.
  • Beware Survivor Syndrome. Those left after the downsizing need a lot of therapeutic listening and opportunities to grieve and heal. If not you are faced with higher stress, increased sick leave, increased intent to leave and reduced performance.
  • Protect your own team now. Create a compelling business case that demonstrates a Return on Investment (ROI). What is your value proposition?

Look, while restructuring, downsizing and rightsizing often comes as a shock and is often exasperating, it is worth noting, that you always have choice. If this is a standard way of operating in your company and you are just not comfortable surfing the waves, you can make an exit plan.

For more on dealing with the anxiety of change, check this post out. 


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