“Cutting-Edge” Strategies for Reorganizing or Downsizing:
The Stress Doc’s Top Ten Tips for Tip-Top Management
Warning: This satire may be hazardous to the ironically impaired.
We inhabit an era of organizational restructuring or downsizing, or better still, rightsizing, or most on target, what I call “frightsizing.” The challenge for top management is having the savvy and guts to gut much of your workforce while still maintaining survivor productivity and team morale – that “esprit de corpse.” While some advocate a market- or politics-driven streamlining, I believe in a higher-level, visionary downsizing mode. To create a “lean-and-MEAN” working machine requires an Olympian management team. Such mythological “Mad Men & Women” are capable of thunderously jolting a downtrodden, de-motivated workforce while being down-to-earth, “hands-on” role models. (Oh yes, in these hypersensitive, politically correct times, just be careful where you place those hands. If you have any questions, please refer to Mitsubishi’s manual of personnel policies and procedures.)
Be Wary: Some critics will claim that these forthcoming strategies produce less “lean-and-mean” operations and more “lean-and-mean-spirited” organizations. Ignore such softheaded, liberal posturing. Now for your cutting-edge commandments. Go for it!
Top Ten Commandments
1. Keep Employees Grateful and Humble. Continuously remind employee survivors that they should be thankful to have a job. By not filling those vacant positions, there’s less competition for eventual promotions, assuming, of course, there’s not another RIF – Reduction In Force – that, of course, is very unlikely. (Even if there is a RIF, and some employees manage to survive it, then surely they will have to be uncomplainingly thankful.) For recalcitrant, insufficiently grateful employees, some cheerfully designed signs – “thank you for not whining” and “beware the effects of second-hand whining” – may be prominently displayed in the work and break areas.
2. Avoid Negative Feelings through Positive Motivation. Hire a hotshot outplacement team to motivate people to ignore their feelings of betrayal, fear, and rage. Such a “glass is always half full” approach will generate employee enthusiasm and positive thinking about updating their resumes, leaving the organization, or applying for positions in economically- and demographically-challenged areas. Reassure confused and vulnerable employees that a change of job or an out-of-state position is the new learning curve they’ve probably needed.
At minimum, this will help them escape that seven-year or seven-month itch (whether they know they need to scratch or not). Hey, it’s so prehistoric, so “p.b.” – pre-boomer – to work for twenty or thirty years in one place.
3. Separate the Transitionally Displaced. Create a transition center for the dispirited who no longer have a job (but are still on payroll) that removes them from the rest of the company. (And don’t let anyone mistake this center for a leper colony; the displaced are ill-fated, not contagious.) Without distractions, these isolates will focus expeditiously on their future career plans. An additional benefit to quarantining: with these folks out of sight, they’ll also be out of mind, i.e., other employees would never suspect that such a treatment might happen to them.
4. Beware the “Blame Game.” Refuse to hold management-employee team building/group grieving sessions; open expression of feelings just makes management the target of another “bitch session.” (Please do not impute any sexist connotation to either open blabbing or the aforementioned “b”-word. These days, being a strong, silent John Wayne- or Rambo-type is not just a male thing. There are plenty of Rambettes out there.)
5. Don’t Get Predictable. Keep information about the restructuring as vague and inconsistent as possible. In fact, the more disinformation the better. A certain amount of uncertainty heightens group competition and, hopefully, will disorient your best people and/or discourage them from leaving (until you think it’s appropriate, especially if they may be a threat to your own tenured position).
6. Demonstrate Decisive Displacement. Have new managers rapidly fill some of the positions of displaced managers, especially those managers who were well respected; people don’t need to dwell morbidly on the past. On a more positive note, this transition-transfusion also provides a real opportunity for new blood. (Of course, one hopes we are speaking figuratively here. You might want to have escorts, though, for these new managers as they leave work.)
7. Instill the Spirit of Overload and Accommodation. Make sure middle managers and supervisors appear to accept cheerfully “doing more with less,” even if their employees feel that they are at the breaking point. Low morale, heightened staff tension, and anger or especially that self-serving term “burnout,” are not sufficient counter-indicators to “sucking it up”; nor is psychobabble about psychosomatic, stress-induced illness acceptable. (Cardiac arrest, however, continues to be grounds for excused leave.) And don’t let any of those wimpy stress experts tell you “Burnout is less a sign of failure and more that you gave yourself away.” Remember, a manager or supervisor who selflessly takes on an ever-expanding workload without renegotiating priorities and time frames is an icon of company loyalty and dedication. Such a role model will surely inspire even surly subordinates to meet the plantation’s, I mean the organization’s, new goals.
8. Consider Token Team Building. If in a careless moment you do allow employees or supervisors to form support/work productivity teams that meet on company time, shortly thereafter insist that the company can’t afford to have this many people away from their assignments or work stations. Reduce the size by half; especially eliminate any indigenous leaders. If this small matrix group is to meet sporadically, they must provide only positive ideas; your mood should not be disturbed in order to pacify others’ upsets or egos. And while giving lip service to dilettante democracy, expect absolute buy-in for your ever-evolving company vision. (Or is it a hallucination? So often it’s such a fine line.) Eventually retire the group with gilt framed team-building certificates.
9. Create Social Diversions. Plan a company picnic, a Christmas dinner party, or some diversionary event for your beleaguered “survivor shock” employees. When not enough people sign up (or refuse to contribute a potluck dish), send an e-mail saying that regretfully, because of lack of employee interest, the party had to be canceled. You can also organize a committee to discover the reasons why people didn’t sign up. The results should be forwarded to the above-mentioned token support team for prompt and decisive action.
10. Retreat Reorganizationally from Reality. Avoid a sustained relationship with a consultant trained in reorganizational crisis, conflict, loss, and grief work, as this intervention will surely make things worse. You know because you once attended one of those touchy-feely retreats where they even made people briefly hug one another. Or you heard about a workshop facilitator who used a “let it all hang out” encounter-group-like method on a law firm retreat with thirty litigators. Big surprise…The workshop turned into a primal attack/scream session and people didn’t speak to one another for the next six months. (So the retreat was a wash; there probably had been too much socializing around the company coffee machine anyway. Or maybe it was just one of those retreats where people took their vows of silence to heart.)
A sure sign that you’re dealing with a true consulting superstar: this leader will totally work out all those minor post-restructuring adjustment problems in a weekend retreat. In addition, on the same reorganizational retreat, such a stellar management coach, if you act right away, should offer to place a big positive motivational bandage on all pre-crisis dysfunctional work relationships, at no extra cost. If you do dismiss the retreat approach, there still is a safe, effective image-enhancing option: send a couple of key personnel on a three-day “team building” workshop. Then you can answer “affirmative” if anyone asks whether yours is a team-based operation.
In conclusion, if you or your executive management team has the courage and foresight to enact one or more of these cutting-edge strategies, please let me know. As a reorganizational consultant, I certainly aspire to work with such a visionary, progressively “lean-and-MEAN” upper management team. I understand loneliness at the top. And believe me, you’ll need all the help you can get!