Budget cuts and workforce reductions are often unavoidable in the lifecycle of a business. But IT managers have to find ways to motivate their remaining staff members during the fallout, no matter how awful they may feel about the tough choices they've had to make. Here are a few pointers that will help your team stay on track during the uncertainty that naturally follows a workforce reduction or other dramatic budget cut.
Note: These tips are based on the article Clear goals and candid communication keep teams focused in wake of layoffs.
1: Make sure everybody is working on something meaningful
I can't stress this one enough. On the day that layoffs are announced, hold a staff meeting to outline general responsibilities in the wake of personnel changes. Be understanding if your team is not at the top of its game for a couple of days following the layoffs. But by day three, it's time to begin checking up on project punch-lists again. The greatest risk you face following a staffing change is that your team will begin to believe the company is destined for failure. Give your remaining team members clearly attainable goals and then prove that you're serious about meeting them.
2: Stress the business-case benefits of your team's contributions
At some companies, meetings about staff reductions are the only times IT pros hear their efforts discussed in terms of profit and loss. If you haven't already done so, develop a brief presentation on the ROI of your team's current projects. Understanding how their work provides immediate financial upside to the company will help your team members get over the "I'm next" syndrome.
3: Recruit veteran team members to help keep things on track
No matter how much your team members may like you personally, employees who have just been through a layoff adopt an us-versus-them attitude about management — and you will definitely fall in the "them" category. Pinpoint one or two veteran team members with whom you can have candid conversations about morale issues that other employees may be reluctant to share with you. And whatever you do, don't keep this practice confidential. That strategy just makes it seem as if you're sending in a management mole. Be sure your staff advisors know they can openly share information they get from you with their teammates.
4: Remind employees that they get a paycheck
This one may not win you any popularity contests right off the bat. But when long-range commitments are being questioned, it's a legitimate wake-up call to remind employees that they and the company have immediate commitments to each other — an honest day's work in exchange for a fair compensation package. This tip works best in one-on-one conversations, of course. I've used it myself at least 10 times, and only once have I received a highly negative reaction. I think it's because amidst the carefully crafted messaging that accompanies a staff reduction, a little jolt of candor is refreshing.
5: Make sure your next project is a success and that everyone in the company knows it
After seeing staff positions eliminated because they did not make business sense for the company, your remaining team members will be apprehensive that the same conclusion may soon be drawn about their own jobs. Be sure that your team's next big project is a real winner for the company. Shuffle resources, if need be, to ensure a timely launch, and when the project is complete, be sure to publicize the return the company can expect on its investment.
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Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRepublic.com and ITBusinessEdge.com.