Learning & Development, Recruiting

Care, Value, and Believe: Intentionally Inspiring High-Performance Teams After Layoffs

It’s no surprise that employee confidence has been shaken with the recent spate of corporate layoffs nationwide. Indeed, 31% of professionals responding to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Survey are now concerned about their companies cutting budgets or staff.

Their anxiety should be a wake-up call to HR and corporate leaders whether or not they have a downsizing initiative within their own organizations. Whatever the reason—from a merger to a market contraction—many leaders face some challenging times ahead.

A reorganization with layoffs can lift a business’s long-term performance or throw it into a time of uncertainty and poor productivity. By handling this turning point with intentionality, leaders have the opportunity to gradually reassure and reenergize their people and move their company forward to a new level of excellence.

3 Powerful Phrases

How? Their first priority is to demonstrate how they feel about their people—those they are letting go and those who will remain—with three powerful phrases:

  • I care about you.
  • I value you.
  • I believe in you.

Whether they say these words aloud or prove them by their actions, they’ll lay a new foundation of strength for their company.

But in the turmoil of layoffs, it’s hard to keep that vision in mind. Following is a road map to help.

How to Handle ‘The Exit’

Know your words matter. Remember that leaders are being watched, especially during a reorganization, when every word or action will reverberate loudly. Often, shellshocked team members will be evaluating whether their direct managers and/or leaders can still be trusted and are wondering “Will I be next?”

Nurture individuals’ dignity and greatness. Whenever possible, break layoff news to individual employees in person (or at least in virtual, face-to-face discussions) rather than via e-mail or the traditional phone call. This will set the stage for a more personal conversation in which HR and line-of-business leaders can help them preserve their dignity. Many of these individuals, despite warnings and a nagging feeling that the fit is wrong, need a push out of the nest for true career fulfillment. It’s up to leaders to set them in that direction, committing to help them secure the position that will bring out their greatness.

Be transparent. For those who remain, cultivate a culture of transparency and honesty to help mitigate their concerns and fears. Acknowledge economic realities, share the company’s future vision, and provide hope.

Offer a buffer. When possible (given security protocols, etc.), give people a “buffer,” allowing them time to grieve for and support the people who are leaving. For example, after a layoff, one company leader said, “These are your friends. Let’s go put our arms around them and love them, and Monday we will get back to business.”

Motivating Teams That Remain

As the dust settles and companies retool for the future:

Be authentic and open. Acknowledge and empathize with employees’ feelings, and maintain an open-door policy. The more supported they feel, the less fearful they’ll be.

Positively reinforce the company’s mission and vision. Identify what is going well, and build on existing successes to keep everyone focused. The more individuals understand what leadership values, the more empowered they will feel to support corporate goals. Believing that what they are working on is meaningful, significant, and purpose-based will fuel their continued engagement.

Engage team members in new projects or campaigns. Lending their voice to new initiatives can create positive collaborations while encouraging people to take more responsibility for their organization’s future. This also empowers HR and management to identify rising leaders.

Focus on data and results. Review key performance indicators frequently, especially at the beginning of a reorganization, to enable necessary course corrections. Recognize every milestone and win while celebrating the people behind it.

Invest in education. Education in areas like sales management and effective leadership is a tangible way companies can show belief in their people and help them consistently achieve excellence. For those with the potential to become top performers, experiential learning opportunities—having participants solve tough challenges—can help them internalize the mantra “I own this” going forward.

This kind of education is particularly important for line-of-business and C-level leaders, whose ability to model excellence and adhere to a predictable and consistent pattern of behaviors will help make or break their teams’ success.

Reinforce that every person matters. From encouragement calls to sticky notes of praise, call out people’s accomplishments—liberally. And have fun within and outside the office, as well, to nurture genuine friendships and team cohesiveness.

Cutbacks and layoffs do not have to be detrimental for a company. Tapping into the heartbeat of your employees to understand what’s important to them can make all the difference. Challenging times can inspire greater ideation and creativity, as well as improved performance, as highly engaged teams own their recovery and growth—together.

Casey Cunningham is CEO/Founder of XINNIX: The Academy of Excellence, a leadership, operations, and sales performance company. The firm has won 25 workplace culture awards and helped 700 brands build high-performing companies that people want to be part of, translating into more disciplined operations, motivated staff, and increased revenues. Contact Cunningham at casey@XINNIX.com.

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