Delivering the message nobody ever wants to hear

5 Minutes

Announcing a redundancy exercise is one of those tasks that no one looks forward to.

In the event its significance is often such that a senior executive feels obliged to take on the task. In truth however it is much better if the news is delivered by someone the employees know, and who knows them. With small numbers this is entirely feasible, where the numbers are larger a senior manager can make the announcement in general terms while departmental managers can deal with the specifics. Clearly there are variations on the same theme to suit individual situations.

Deciding who must carry the responsibility is the easy bit, the more difficult element is in deciding what to say and in what order. In truth while such a step may have been widely anticipated as soon as the word “redundancy” is used those who are being addressed hear very little else as they experience varying degrees of shock and their minds naturally focus inwardly on their own position and how it may be affected. Alternatively, their ability to listen may simply be overwhelmed by feelings of panic as the words register. The room may well retain an appearance of normality but in truth everything changes in that moment of realisation.

The message has to be communicated in a way that allows the individual to digest what is being said and responds as much as is humanly possible to the need for information and the surfacing of what are natural emotions.

Start broad, narrow down gradually and finish specific!

Start with broad messages about the economic background, the commercial trading conditions, how these have affected the industry and the specific difficulties that have therefore affected the organisation.

Cover the range of actions and strategies that have been taken so far to deal with those difficulties.

Describe the alternatives that been explored and the conclusions that have been reached thus far.

This allows you to conclude that redundancies have become a real possibility. If this structure has been followed, then there is a strong probability that those listening will understand the context of what is being announced which in itself is a significant factor in allowing those affected to come to terms with the situation.

Next Steps
Allows you describe the Consultation process, communicate who will be involved and when each step will be completed. Clearly the purpose of Consultation is to allow employees to input to ways in which redundancies might be mitigated.

The key here is to ensure that the current meeting is connected to a set of specific steps that will take place as part of defined calendar of events. It’s also a good idea to provide a written “takeaway” covering the key facts, stages and dates. People rarely absorb 100% of information at the best of times let alone in circumstances such as these.
Following such a structure allows the possibility of individuals understanding why there need to be redundancies. Normally managers will have been living with the possibility for some time but that does not negate the need to provide a structured communication as suggested. Very often the workforce will be hearing the rationale for the first time and need to be given a full explanation of the background otherwise they may conclude Management have acted without giving due consideration to the situation.

There can never be any guarantees that any such announcement will be received in the right spirit but the chances are significantly higher if it is delivered in a structured fashion, in digestible chunks where there is an understandable logic, is delivered in a language that can be understood and is presented with honesty, respect and integrity.

Jon Lawton is Senior Partner at Ezek Consulting. He specialises in providing Career Guidance and Outplacement Services to Senior Executives and Professionals.

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