Category Archives: Leadership

Downsizing – The Human Story

Downsizing – The Human Story

Have you been through a redundancy or early retirement process recently, either as ..

  • An employee leaving
  • An employee staying with the company
  • An HR person or leader managing the downsizing process
  • A union official supporting staff?

For some, redundancy or early retirement, is a welcome opportunity to pursue dreams or take a well-earned break. For others, it can be a diminishing experience, leaving them unprepared and ill equipped for their new lives.

In some companies, the process is handled very well, with sensitivity, consideration and foresight. In others, it can be cold, clinical and rushed.

In researching best practices for redundancy processes, I can find plenty of material to help companies cover themselves legally and reduce costs, but very little in the line of how to manage the human story here. I personally have been through a very well managed redundancy process. I left feeling appreciated and well looked after. But I am meeting many people who have not shared the same experience.

A downsizing or redundancy process affects everyone it touches, be it the people leaving, the people remaining behind, the leaders who have had to make the decisions – or at the very least, communicate the decisions and support the staff, the HR staff who have to implement the process and the trade unions who have to represent the staff. It can be stressful, harrowing, enraging, scary and confusing and yet if handled thoughtfully and sensitively, it can allow people to move through it, to have good endings and positive beginnings and feel appreciated and empowered.

I would like to start a conversation here that will, through the stories of real life experiences, allow us to paint a picture of the practices that will make the Human Story of Downsizing an uplifting one – that will be a guide to other organisations who are facing this challenge so that they can care for all their people well through the process.

If your experience of a redundancy or early retirement process was a positive one, please share it with us and tell us what were the key things about it that made the difference for you.

If your experience of a redundancy or early retirement process was a negative one, please tell us what hurt you and what were the most important things in your opinion that would have made a difference to you. What would you ask the company or organisation to do differently?

Let’s learn from all the experience we have recently had in this field and put it to some good use!


LEADING THROUGH UNCERTAINTY – Top 8 Tips for Leading Your People when the Future is Hanging in the Balance

You cannot open a newspaper or listen to the radio or TV nowadays without hearing about some organisation that is downsizing, closing down or completely restructuring itself. Global companies are moving their operations to ‘cheaper’ locations, public service organisations are having their budgets slashed while many are just failing to keep their heads above water in the current economic crisis.

We only hear the news when the final decisions are made public. But for many of these organisations, they have already had to endure weeks and months of waiting and wondering where and when the axe was going to fall. Thousands of people are getting up every day and going to work worrying about if, and for how long more, they are going to have a job. Many leaders are lying awake at night struggling with how long more they can sustain looking their people in the eye and telling them that they still don’t know what the future holds. The stresses all round are massive.

And yet, you can’t give up. There is still a job to be done. There is product to get out the door, people to be looked after, customers to be served. How do you manage to contain the anxieties of your organisation’s people and still focus on getting the job done? How do you prepare your people for the worst outcome and still keep striving for the best?

Here are some tips to follow that will help you do just that:

  1. Honesty – Be as honest as possible with your staff. Resist the urge to “protect them from the truth”. They are adults, just like you, and while they may not like what you say, they will in the long run appreciate your candour.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Connect with your staff three times as much as you would in normal times. Be clear, be honest, be direct. Remember, communication is a two-way process. Allow them to communicate with you.  Make space in your diary for communication.  Have an open door policy.
  3. Listen. Give people the space to express their anxieties and fears. When people feel heard themselves they are better able to be open to what others have to say. Very often, just being heard can provide enough release to allow people become “unstuck” and move on.
  4. Focus – Focus on what needs to be done right now as well as what can be done. Do not be distracted by what is not possible.
  5. Resist the urge to “rescue” your staff from their anxieties. By “rescue” I mean reassuring your staff that everything will be ok and then taking on the impossible burden of trying to ensure that everything does turn out ok for them. It may or it may not turn out to be “ok” for them but the chances are that this outcome is out of your hands. Rather than rescue, acknowledge that times are difficult and ask your staff what they need in order to support themselves better.
  6. Bigger picture. In times of anxiety our awareness contracts and all we can focus on are the issues and obstacles in front of us. In order to see beyond this into the realm of solutions and paths forward we need to expand our awareness and start seeing the bigger picture. As leader, you can play a vital role in drawing your people’s attention to this bigger picture. If you are struggling with seeing this bigger picture clearly yourself, get help from a coach, a mentor or a trusted advisor.
  7. Appreciation and pride. Use every opportunity to appreciate the good work that is being done by your people. Ignite and keep alive their pride in what they have achieved over the years and continue to achieve every day.
  8. Prepare yourself – If you are worried about being able to be strong and supportive for your staff in the event of negative outcomes in the future work through all the possible outcomes in your mind, or better still, with your management team. Decide what the possible future scenarios might be. Work through each one in turn. Sit with each scenario for a while as if it was really happening. See what it feels like for each of you. Pay attention to what emotions it brings up. Don’t judge these emotions – there is no right or wrong way to feel. But realise that different people will react differently to the same scenarios. This will allow you feel more prepared and grounded when facing the eventual outcomes with your staff.

To learn more about how you can bring your organisation successfully through challenging times check out Space For Change at

Are you a pollywog like me?

I have just discovered that “pollywog” or “polliwog” is another name for a tadpole but I have also heard it described as that stage where you are halfway through the transformation from being one thing to another, from being a tadpole to a frog. Remember, the tadpole starts off its life as an aquatic creature with a long tail and gills but gradually starts to grow legs, loses the tail and develops lungs so that it goes from living above the waterline to below it. Quite a metamorphosis. But when it is in mid transition it must be one hell of a tough place to be. It is neither tadpole nor frog. It must feel awkward, unfamiliar, clumsy. I wonder if it knows that it will come to an end and that one day it will finally grow into a frog!

Life feels a little like that for me at the moment. I have left a full-time job and set up my own business. I feel like I have left the safe pond of the organisation that I worked for and have hopped out onto the bank of the world of the entrepreneurs and the self-employed. The only problem is I am not yet a fully formed frog. I am still in the process of developing the legs and lungs that I need to survive in this world. I feel awkward and ill-equipped to deal with all the complexities of owning your own business. Sometimes I feel I just want to turn the clock back and jump right back into the pond that I came from but I know that is not possible.

It is scary and it is exciting at the same time. I have moments of blind panic interspersed with little moments of achievement such as writing my first blog, publishing my website, opening my business bank account, getting my first client ….. all little milestones in the life of the 21st century entrepreneur. I know I can never turn back and I know it may not work out as I hope it will. But there is one thing I know for sure….. every time I get that knot in my stomach or hit another milestone, I know I am really alive, really living and I would not have it any other way!


Why We Should Love Change

I know, I know, loving change ain’t all that easy. Change can be painful, hard work, uncertain and to say the least, uncomfortable. Unless we are in a really bad place (and sometimes not even then) most of us wish that we would never have to change.
But, to quote a Mr. Robert C. Gallagher, ‘Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine”. We are always, and have always been, in the middle of some change process or another, even if it is just the process of aging. And nowadays, change seems not only to be found everywhere, but seems to have developed a speed that leaves the mind boggling. There is no escaping it!
And since there is no escaping it, we may as well learn to appreciate it and embrace it. Imagine what the world would be like if we had no change – we would still be living in caves!! Imagine what we would be like as individuals if we never developed and grew! I shudder to think what I would be like if I never changed from my first job all those years ago. What if the seasons never changed? What if we never grew old and died? We would have to stop having children. We would never bother challenging ourselves or doing new things because we had eternity to do it. We would never appreciate the smell of fresh flowers or the sight of a beautiful sunset because the fact that we had eternity to experience them would make them seem commonplace. Imagine all the joy and experiences we would be missing out on if we did not have change!
Even when change is painful, it is usually necessary for the cycle of life to continue.
So, while we may curse and resist change, we should learn to love it too as it is what makes life interesting and worth living. And maybe the next time we will move to meet it half way and welcome it as an old friend; a friend who may well challenge and frustrate us, but who always leaves us wiser and better off for having known them.