Many businesses have found themselves in the situation where downsizing is unfortunately the solution for the company to survive. While the aim is straightforward, the process is not. In 2008/2009, one of our clients saw signs of the market coming to a standstill. When the need of downsizing became certain, the manager decided to live up to the main ideas that characterized his and his management team’s mindset: openness, transparency and involving the co-workers in important decisions.
The whole team of 75 people was invited to a big meeting where all the facts and trends regarding order capacity and costs were presented. Neither flattering descriptions nor scaremongering were allowed; only real facts were presented. This, of course, led to a low-spirited and worried atmosphere in the meeting. Soon after, the co-workers were divided into mixed teams of 7 to 8 people. The teams were asked to answer the question, “How will this affect us?” using the COD methodology. As everyone was well aware of the COD meeting process, these meetings took place without the leader having to be the moderator each and every time. After about 30 minutes of intense work, all the teams presented their analysis on flipcharts, and the sheets were then posted around the room. There was obvious common ground: cost savings are necessary, meaning redundancies.
The groups continued with the next question in the same way: “How will we solve this in the best way?” The final analysis pointed to the fact that eight to ten people would have to leave the company. However, things never went that far. Most people who were in the danger zone were aware and started improving their performance. In total, there were six co-workers that had already been considering continuing their studies and decided to go for it. Three other co-workers immediately started looking for other jobs with the support of people in charge of the unit. They succeeded with their task, especially since they started the process much earlier than others in the market.
Just before the end of the year, it was time for the yearly Christmas party. In attendance were the nine people who had left the company. The atmosphere was festive and special attention was given to those who had left the company. They were told that they were all welcome back to their jobs if the situation improved and they wished to return.
In contrast, the process was different in their neighboring department. No news from the market was allowed to be disclosed, as there was reason to believe that people would get worried and performance would worsen. Management kept assuring nervous co-workers that everything looked fine, but worries still increased as capacity decreased. Things came to a head when everyone was called to a big meeting in the middle of October, and the list of redundancies was presented. One can imagine how difficult it was for those who were made redundant, and what the atmosphere was like at their Christmas party.