In his posting today, Carmine Coyote asks, "Would executives be so keen to cut costs by sacking people, if they considered how it might feel to be sacked themselves—without, of course, their elaborate golden parachutes? Would they take such a macho attitude to management if they suffered it in return?" He goes on to suggest that top executives have a macho, winner-takes-all approach. The implication is that staff cuts are evil deeds done by selfish leaders. I don't agree.
I hate to cut staff. Having lost my own role in a couple of downsizings, I know how traumatic it can be. And having been a "survivor" of other downsizings, I also know how hard it can be to cope with increased workloads and constant worry that "I might be next."
We live in a flattened world. Many of our competitors (no matter what the industry) are bringing products and services to market at ever lower costs. Sometimes we simply must reduce the number of people on our staff. That isn't macho - it's reality.
In one of the early Star Trek movies, Mr. Spock enters the drive chamber in order to save the ship from destruction. He knows that by going into the chamber he will die. He tells Captain Kirk, "Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." In the case of staffing cuts, this is often true. Sometimes a few must go in order to protect the jobs of the many.
But you must do it right. Done badly, staffing cuts can result in prolonged damage to your organization. Here are some things I keep in mind:
- Focus on increasing productivity (output per person), not just on reducing headcount.
- Make the cuts quickly, once and deeply. (Don't subject your organization to drip torture.)
- Tell the truth throughout, and deliver on any promises you make.
- Give people plenty of ways to express their concerns and ask questions.
- Provide those who are leaving with appropriate assistance to make their transitions successfully.
- And shift your focus quickly to what you need to do to support the remaining team.