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Leading the People that are Left

It’s been a few weeks since the big layoff. You are hoping things will get back to normal soon. Then as you walk past a half vacant row of cubicles, you overhear another “Who will be next?” conversation cut short by the sound of your footsteps. In silence you ask, “How can I help my people get fully engaged again?” There is no a right answer to this question, but here are a few suggestions I have gathered over the years from managers who have asked themselves this question and found a few things that work.

Create a Clear Agenda – Put a simple plan in place today. Point your team toward real goals. Don’t assume people are on the same page with you, no matter how smart and experienced they are. Give them a short-term vision to strive for and fill in details as things get clearer for you.

Tell Two Sides of the Truth – First, speak candidly about the intended benefits of the decision to downsize. Remind them that it may not be over, but you hope it is. Then listen to their concerns. Second, talk about how you feel about all the changes. If things are unnerving to you, tell them. People follow confident and humble leaders.

Clarify Roles and Provide Training – During rapid change, role clarity is critical. Make sure everyone knows where they stand and who they report to. Start cross-training immediately. Set-up ways they can learn cutting edge technology and provide assessment tools to help people understand other careers that could fit them. People feel more secure when they have options and marketable skills, plus they will be prepared to perform at a higher level when the market turns up.

Fill the Communication Pipeline – You made an official announcement and you even sent a follow- up email the next week. That should be enough. Wrong. The problem is people don’t retain information well when under stress. Make it a habit to update people even about small changes. If you don’t give out small bits of information consistently, someone with no information and a big imagination will.

Take Care of You – Do you have a documented career plan? Is your business network strong? Are your family relationships what they need to be? How are you keeping physically healthy and spiritually strong? Pre-flight airline instructions are always to put on the oxygen mask first and then assist others. To lead others through uncertainty tomorrows, take a deep breath and start getting in shape today. Most of us can’t do this alone. Find someone you trust to listen and hold you on focus.

Use Humor – “Laughter doeth good like a medicine,” said King Solomon in the book of Proverbs. Studies continue to support the healing power of laughter. Getting results at work is serious business, but living life is funny business. Use self- effacing opportunities to show the lighter side of you and never make others the brunt of a joke. When people laugh together as a group, they pull together as a team.

Working Journal Entry: Do any of these ideas suit you? If so, try them for a week or so and let me know what happens. Remember to lead with your head and your heart when leading the people who are left.

Request – If you have learned a valuable lesson about leading after a layoff, I would like to hear you story and pass it along to others. Please email me or give me a call.

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