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Judith Leary

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Managing the redundancy survivors: A constant challenge


The impact of redundancy can be felt for quite some time afterwards, and it is HR’s job to successfully manage those who remain, as they are key to your success, says Judith Leary-Joyce.

When redundancy hits, everyone is affected. There are no winners, no smiling faces. A little relief maybe – ‘thank heaven it wasn’t me’ – then the guilt. And the business needs to go on – moving forward with less people to do more in a very demanding time.
Yet there is always something positive if you are willing to look for it. You have a team of committed employees, who will do their very best for the company, even if only for self preservation. This is your moment to turn them into fully signed up company people. 
To make sure this happens, HR needs to manage the cultural impact of the change, beginning with the leaders and managers. Make sure they understand the new dynamics that are in play. This is an easy moment to retreat from best people practice; to claim that ‘soft stuff is fine when times are good; when times are tough, we need to concentrate on the business.’ That is a dangerous stance to take and one that could have a very high cost in talented employees.

Retaining your talent

Do all you can to hold onto your talent – the last thing you want in an upturn is to be focused on recruiting. This requires you, first and foremost, to treat those who are redundant with the respect and dignity they deserve. The survivors are watching your every move – they want to see their erstwhile colleagues walk out with their self-esteem intact.
Then focus on those who remain, remembering that their attitude to risk will have changed temporarily. Even those who have a strong drive to achieve will be more wary.
The research for my new book, The Psychology of Success, highlighted three styles of achiever. They all add real value to your business and all need your care now more than ever:

  • Stable achievers are the ones who keep the day to day work going. They do this by staying in their comfort zone, focusing on work they do really well and letting others manage the change. You need them to keep going, so reassure them whenever you can and let them get on. With this support, they will watch your back and serve your customers superbly.
  • Consistent achievers are those who generally enjoy calculated risk in their area of expertise. But as they watch others face redundancy, they may decide to play safe to ensure they don’t invite ‘the wrath of the gods’ to themselves. You need them to keep innovating and developing your business, even though it may lead to the occasional mistake – which of course, they will want to avoid. They need the help of leaders and managers to move forward: leaders to hold up the vision for a positive future and managers to use mistakes as an opportunity for learning, rather than punishment.
  • Serial achievers are your high performers, your leadership/management pipeline. They enjoy challenge and want to develop an interesting career. They will also see opportunities in a tough time and want to be part of the next stage of growth. At present, you can assume they will stay, but don’t mistake this for true commitment. Earning their loyalty is more important now than ever, because once the market is buoyant they will be sought after and seeking.

As HR professionals, help your business colleagues understand the people implications of this time. Keep reminding them that the present workforce is their key to success and it could also be a disaster waiting to happen. The choice is theirs – they can turn it to their advantage or ignore the issues and lose some of their best employees. Get them thinking about the psychology of success so they understand how to manage their achievers for the best business outcome:
  • Remind managers of the role they have to play in holding onto top talent. Now is the time to have quality conversations about aspirations, concerns and fears. It is also the moment for telling the truth – remember that truly inspirational managers don’t leave someone to languish in a job they don’t enjoy. Find the work they can shine in, work that fits their core talent, or risk losing them.
  • Bring serial achievers from your top talent pool together to help them focus on the success behaviours. These are the people who see opportunity where others see struggle; who embrace the changes that are presenting themselves; and who are prepared to take true responsibility for delivering great /new work to the company. Provide appropriate opportunity and you will hold their interest and commitment.
  • Encourage leaders to include these high performers in discussions about making the most of the upturn. There will be massive opportunity out there for those who are ready. Set up think tanks; link leaders and serial achievers in mentoring partnerships where learning goes both ways; bring together a high performance community where challenge, support and encouragement are top of the agenda.
  • Understand that your best people will go through times of magical achievement, then dip into an incubation phase as they get ready for their next peak – and a down turn of these proportions is sure to evoke such inner reflection. Help managers spot the difference between this and laziness/disinterest, so they can provide coaching conversations that support the development process.
This recession will bring positives for us to build on. Human beings are resourceful and my research indicates that times just like this one have been the making of some amazing achievers in the past. When this happens with the help of the workplace, loyalty is born and all that energy and excitement will  contribute to the success of your company.
So understand your serial achievers, get the managers/leaders on board so they know the role they have to play in channelling all that wonderful energy and keep the supported challenges coming – then it will be your company that is shining when the upturn arrives.  
Judith Leary-Joyce is CEO of Great Companies Consulting. Her new book, ‘The Psychology of Success – secrets of serial achievement’, is just released and published by Prentice Hall. She is also author of ‘Becoming an Employer of Choice’ (CIPD) and ‘Inspirational Manager’ (Prentice Hall)

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