Last week, a Wall Street Journal article announced GE's plans to cut roughly 18 percent of its workforce (12,000 jobs) in response to major market challenges affecting its core business. 

Reacting to the news, GE Power's chief executive Russell Stokes said, "This decision was painful, but necessary for GE Power to respond to the disruption in the power market, which is driving significantly lower volumes in products and services."

Layoffs and cutbacks are a sad reality that many of us will face at some point in our careers.

During times of great growth, companies often inflate costs to expand capabilities--to keep pace with demand. Then, during times of contraction, they are forced to "right-size" the business and eliminate additional costs. 

Operating expenses (the costs of running the business) and general and administrative (G&A) expenses are usually the largest line items on an income statement (this includes salary and benefit costs for most companies). They're often the first place leaders look when cuts are necessary.

The decision to eliminate jobs is one of the hardest. Frankly, it sucks. Still, the true test comes when those who remain have to hit reset and re-engage in the mission.

I get it. When an organization is in the midst of change, it's hard to manage everything with textbook precision.

Here are a few practical suggestions to help employees rebound after a significant organizational change. If they don't, doubt, confusion, and animosity can paralyze the organization.

1. Get out in front of the rumor mill.

People will talk. Internal thoughts and ideas will start to circulate. If not addressed quickly, people fill gaps in communication with assumptions--and assumptions are never good.  

In a perfect world, the ideal situation would be for executives to address employees directly. However, this may not be realistic. In such instances, lean on your managers to re-engage their teams.

Just make sure that the message is communicated clearly and that managers are crystal clear on what they should share with employees. In order to avoid giant games of organizational telephone, prepare managers to deliver consistent and appropriate messages. 

Failure to level with employees and clarify intentions can leave the rest of the organization stuck in the starting blocks while leadership pursues the mission.

Do your best to anticipate employee concerns and address them as proactively as possible to minimize the impact on employee productivity and minimize the risk of top performers looking for safer environments. 

2. Give employees a platform to voice their concerns.

One of the quickest ways to combat "water cooler" talk is to give employees outlets to air their frustrations.

No matter how much time, effort and analysis went into management's decision to scale back the organization, employees will have reservations until they are given an opportunity to weigh in. The conversations won't be easy, but they ensure that employees don't feel like judgments were made in a vacuum.

For me, I'm always more accepting of change and more willing to comply when I feel like I helped shape the solution. Again, it may not be realistic to bring employees up to speed in advance of change. But once the change is announced, consider the use of surveys, focus groups, and internal wikis to address questions and concerns.  

The aim is not to address every concern, that's unworkable, and employee's don't expect it. What employees really value and appreciate is fairness and the context for the circumstances driving the company to change. 

3. Show a little empathy and shift the focus to the future.

Although the bottom line looks healthier, off paper, the reality is that layoffs disrupt the workforce. Significant responsibilities need to be absorbed, and employees have to say goodbye to trusted colleagues and friends. Empathy, per Merriam-Webster, is "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another..."

In the context of organizational change, this means acknowledging the elephant in the room, taking care of those who were negatively affected by the change, and providing those left with any possible resources to assist with the transition.

Once you've addressed as many of the tough topics as you can, it's time to re-inspire your employees around a shared sense of purpose while clarifying the organization's reframed vision.

Managing change is messy. In order to move forward, it is vital to re-engage those who are responsible for executing the new plan.

Published on: Dec 15, 2017