Leading and Navigating Post-RIF: Avoiding Common Missteps and Maximizing Success

Organizations all over the globe at one time or another are faced with the difficult decision to move forward with a Reduction in Force (RIF). A tremendous amount of planning goes into the months, weeks, and days leading up to a RIF – rightfully so – but once the dust settles, leaders often shift their focus solely to the day-to-day juggling of tasks and deadlines. Don’t get me wrong, that is essential to keep operations running smoothly. At the same time, leaders need to focus on what keeps humans running smoothly. Let’s examine four missteps that leaders frequently make post-RIF with their remaining employees and highlight some best practices to help avoid these pitfalls.

  • Misstep #1: Lack of communication. After a RIF, it’s critical for leaders to be as transparent as possible and communicate what they can with employees about how this will affect them and the organization moving forward. We all know what can happen when there is a void of information…we tend to fill it with rumors, negative thoughts and assumptions which then impacts our ability to focus and remain engaged. Even if there are no new updates, leaders can say something like, “I don’t have any updates for you about the changes since our last team meeting, but when I do, I promise to pass those along. Please remember, if you have any concerns that come up in between our team huddles and one-on-one meetings, I will make myself available.” This will help put their minds at ease and alleviate any undue anxiety.
  • Misstep #2: Making light of the RIF. This can be subtle or more blatant. During my 25+ years of supporting companies with the human side of organizational change, I’ve heard some horror stories about leaders who have responded to employee concerns with comments like, “be thankful you have a job”, “if you don’t like it, you know where the door is” and “oh, we clean house like this every year, get used to it”. Ouch. Show respect and care not only to those who have lost their jobs, but also to those left behind. Keep in mind that questions and comments from staff likely stem from a potpourri of emotions that are brewing just under the surface. Leaders can’t and shouldn’t guarantee an employee’s job security (i.e., “don’t worry, you’re not going to lose your job”), but leaders can create an environment where employees feel emotionally safe and supported in the days, weeks, and months after a RIF. Before responding to a frustrated or upset employee, ask yourself, “is my comment clear, consistent, and caring?” This will go a long way toward maintaining a respectful and engaging work environment.
  • Misstep #3: Not spending enough time with your employees. Easier said than done, right? Leaders are typically in back-to-back meetings all day and unless they schedule time on the calendar to check in with all their team members, especially high performers, that remains a sidelined dream. Schedule the time, protect the time, and use it to check in on how they are doing personally, not just about their to do list. Granted, helping them realign workload and adjust job duties can be incredibly helpful in reducing stress, but make sure that isn’t your sole focus. Start with an open-ended question. Try channeling Dr. Max Goodwin from the TV show New Amsterdam and ask, “how can I help?” This allows the employee to start with whatever is most important to them versus what’s on your mind. The employee might open up about how they’re struggling with “survivor guilt” after a close co-worker and friend was impacted by the RIF. Or the employee could be most interested in exploring available training and development so they can focus on continuing to build their career with the company. Regardless of where the conversation goes, always look for opportunities to demonstrate empathy, acknowledge ways the team member has successfully weathered the RIF and genuinely show appreciation for their contributions.
  • Misstep #4: Forgetting about training and onboarding support. As a result of a RIF, there are often employees and leaders that transition into different roles and take on additional responsibilities who need extra support. While these individuals aren’t new to the organization, it is still critical to invest in onboarding support and coaching when they take on a new role and team. This will help them accelerate relationship building, be more efficient, and maximize their success in the first few months in the new role. You may be thinking, “yes, I get that, but budgets and finances are being closely scrutinized right now, how can I afford to do this?” The better question to ask yourself is “what is the cost if I don’t provide this?” According to the International Coaching Federation, 89% of companies that invested in coaching reported that they recouped that investment…and then some. And organizations that offer employees development have 35% higher retention rates than those that don’t (ClearCo).

Outside of the recommendations outlined above to avoid Misstep #4, all the best practices suggested here don’t cost a thing, other than a leader’s time. Communicating with clarity, consistency, and care, checking in with employees to see how they are doing, and investing in training and development opportunities for employees and leaders will have a tremendously positive impact on team member attitudes and engagement.

Keystone Partners offers a variety of solutions that can support organizations with these post-RIF transitions, including resiliency workshops, new leader assimilation support, one-on-one onboarding coaching, and leader development programs focused on building the mindsets and toolsets required to lead with empathy and engage the workforce through change. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your future organizational goals.

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