Recognise This! – Poor management is often at the heart of the reason for RIFs, not a poor economy.

How many of you are in organisations that conducted some kind of reduction in force (RIF), layoff, furlough – call it what you will – during the recession or after? Why was that action necessary? Were reasons communicated throughout the organisation or where employees left to surmise “because the economy sank and business is bad.”

In her excellent HR Ringleader blog, Trish McFarlane offered a better answer – poor management practices. She cites three basic reasons a RIF is necessary:

   1. Fearful managers – those who would rather hide from poor performers than offer the constructive feedback they need throughout the year to get back on track.
   2. Lazy managers – those who simply don’t want to go through the legal hoops of documentation and firing appropriate for chronic poor performers who should be terminated.
   3. Incapable managers – those “lacking in business acumen” promoted beyond their ability to managerial roles in which they overhire, forcing RIFs.

I’ve perhaps oversimplified, but I do agree with Trish that these types of managers are common in organisations across industries, and they do lead to bloated staff of non-contributors. What do you do about it, especially in an environment reported in the UK (and that I see elsewhere in the world) in which employee confidence and trust in senior leader is at record lows? From a CIPD survey:

    “The survey findings highlight the importance of senior leaders in organisations putting even more emphasis during tough times on how they communicate, consult and involve staff where major changes such as restructuring or redundancies are being proposed. Evidence suggests that where employees benefit from effective communication and feel their views matter, and are taken into account before decisions are made, they are more likely to remain engaged in their work and committed to the organisation.”

In good times and bad, managers must manage appropriately! Provide consistent feedback and praise throughout the year to encourage high performance and correct poor performance. If necessary, remove poor performers who cannot or will not improve. Keeping them on board conveys a confusing message to employees that poor performance is tolerated.

Should a RIF still be necessary, communicate the reasons to employees, listen to their concerns, and involve them as much as possible in the load-balancing process. As long as actions are not a surprise to employees, trust can remain strong – even in the worst of times.

What are other reasons for a RIF? Is it purely poor management?