Employers that refrain from indiscriminately slashing staff numbers and adhere to the 10 "DOs and DON'Ts" of the redundancy process will be "poised to enjoy a competitive advantage" as the economy rebounds, according to the authors of a white paper from the Human Capital Institute and Taleo.
"Every recession of the past has been followed by a recovery," say Dr Katherine Jones and Allan Schweyer in Recessionary Management, a paper based on a survey of more than 300 leading global corporate executives. "It is not a matter of if, but when.
"HR and talent management leaders must make the right decisions today to aid their organisations in surviving this [downturn] and to position them for the inevitable recovery."
Forward-looking employers, they say, have a vision of what their company will look like post-crisis, and are developing plans accordingly. They are evaluating their leadership team and identifying future leaders - who cope well in difficult times - and are looking to recruit from the new glut of talent available on the market.
Highly-skilled performers are more accessible today than they have been in many years, Jones and Schweyer say, and employers should hire "selectively" - even while downsizing - to bolster their organisation's capacity to outlast the downturn and to prepare them to take on new business as the economy swings.
"For some organisations there may never be a better time to hire."
Still, many employers have little choice at the moment but to reduce their workforce, the authors note, and are at risk of damaging their company's brand and crippling their capacity to respond to an upturn if downsizing is undertaken hastily.
"The challenge," they say, "is to manage morale and the brand while simultaneously letting some of the team go."
Based on the survey, Jones and Schweyer identify 10 "DOs and DON'Ts" for employers forced to downsize.
Identify the roles that are core to your business success. Evaluate the contribution of each role to the company's profit, as opposed to the individual employee in each role, and look to eliminate a less critical business unit, rather than cutting a set proportion of staff across the board.
Reduce or eliminate headcount in non-core sectors, irrespective of individual achievement, but allow for "internal mobility" for high performers.
Identify competencies needed to execute goals. Retain and engage top performers within core functions, and think carefully about who adds value and who is hard to replace.
Utilise HR and talent-management technology, including scenario-based workforce planning.
Protect your bottom line and brand. Remember that the message an employer sends during lay-offs "affects the brand and may stick to the organisation for a long time".
Ensure that lay-offs are aligned with business strategy, but treat employees with fairness and efficiency, and beware of internet scrutiny.
Communicate constantly. Tell employees what you know when you know it. Provide them with accurate information and the "dignity they deserve".
Pay attention to the survivors. "Survivors" often feel guilty that they have been retained - perhaps at the expense of colleagues - or are "paralysed" by fear that they are next to go. Rebuild their confidence by informing them that they are vital to the company's future.
"Knowing why they survived is paramount in persuading them to stay engaged."
Don't cut with a hatchet - use a scalpel. "Organisations that downsize in haste or indiscriminately... are very likely to harm their brands as well as their capacity to respond to an economic upturn."
Avoid "death by a thousand cuts". Plan carefully and try to make downsizing a one-time event, rather than a series of "painful cuts", and then communicate that the cuts are over and that remaining employees are secure.
Avoid lay-offs before the weekend or holidays. "Best practices reveal that a lay-off should occur early in the week - never on Friday, when the employee has a weekend to brood, perhaps alone."
Don't shoot from the hip. Hasty and poorly executed lay-offs can result in damage to reputation and legal ramifications.
Don't keep employees guessing. Create a corporate policy on downsizing and provide support to the newly unemployed.
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