News & Insight
February 2007

Re-Engaging the Survivors of a Restructuring

Bill Morin<br />Chairman & CEO<br />WJM Associates

Any company, as part of a major turn-around effort, should be concerned about the attitudes and commitments of the employees who survive and remain with the company after a major downsizing or restructuring.

The key question is “How will the company re-engage, re-direct and re-focus those who survive the change?” WJM Associates assists organizations in addressing the following critical challenges for any organization going through this major change:

  1. Survivor Syndrome: This syndrome is about the feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and mistrust that employees who did not leave the company often experience. These are the people expected to turn the company around and make it a more successful enterprise. The company must re-engage those concerned employees who believed in the company’s direction before and now might feel forsaken and confused. The challenge is removing the word “survivor” from the employee’s vocabulary and getting them thinking in terms of leading and contributing to the firm’s new direction.
  2. Loss of Talent: It is well established that once the chain of trust between a company and its employees is broken, it can stay broken for a long time. This break can lead to a long-term erosion of talent. How does the company re-connect with its employees? A critical step to making sure the best employees stay with the company is to establish a compelling new “mission” for the company and making sure employees understand and believe in it. Another is providing continuous developmental opportunities. Many companies offer “one-off” training or coaching programs, the effect of which quickly wear off. Talent development should be a continuous “way of life” at the organization.
  3. Leaders “Walking the Talk”: The effectiveness of a company’s leaders during this time can depend so much about how they smile, greet and even walk in front of employees. While these executives are used to being closely watched by staff and other company stakeholders, they may require special coaching regarding the sensitivities necessary to support these employees during a time of great insecurity.
  4. Career Guidance: When an individual employee is worrying about their career it is hard to get them to focus on what is best for the company. Career-planning advice should be available to all employees on a continuous basis. Portions of Human Resources offices in plants and operations can be designated as “Career Centers” where employees go when they have questions about their own career and how it can be enhanced within the organization. HR can play a major role providing guidance to employees about where the company is going and what the benefits are in staying with the organization. Supervisors should also be coached about the information and guidance they give to employees regarding the company’s new direction and the individual’s ongoing role and advancement opportunities.
  5. Trust Building: Tumultuous times of change often present opportunity for building critical trust. Leaders establish credibility with employees by making themselves available and by being honest about the change occurring with the company. The challenges of change should not be under- or over-stated and the risks should be clearly explained. Employees should feel they are being treated in an ethical and fair manner and that their contributions are being recognized.
  6. Communicating Positive Change: Change is a necessary and often extremely positive aspect of any thriving organization. Helping remaining employees to embrace the change as a natural and progressive step, rather than punishment or something to fear, is critical to renewing and re-energizing the entire organization.

WJM consults with human resources and other management professionals on a broad range of issues around organizational restructuring, whether related to merger integration, a major shift in strategy or culture, or an effort to overcome organizational complacency. We focus on change as an opportunity for development and growth and assist in defining and effectively communicating a strategic roadmap for the process. We draw on our key areas of expertise around executive and organizational development to support managers and their teams as they drive change and assume accountability for its success.

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