Steps to Downsizing with an Outplacement Progam

Though it may not have occurred to you if your firm is currently experiencing difficult circumstances, making use of an outplacement service can help to strengthen the relationship between your firm and its departing employees.  In spite of the fact that economic or other circumstances may have required that you ask an employee or group of employees to leave your firm, you can show your understanding of the difficult transition they’re about to undertake, and at the same time you can thank them for their previous service to your company.  This can be accomplished by providing outplacement services to ensure they are provided with the tools to move on to the next phase of their careers as quickly as possible.

Historically when most companies downsize, they send employees off with a severance package and little else.  However, companies that want to do right by their former employees enlist the aid of an outplacement firm to help displaced employees transition quickly into new jobs, or advise them on alternate career paths that can lead them to exciting new opportunities.  

And as beneficial as this service may be for the employees, surprising to most employers, it’s also good for the company.  Benefits provided to the firm from an outplacement program can include public enhancement of the company’s image, aiding the company in its reorganization efforts, and reducing the risk of legal liability from downsized employees or government entities who decide that the company did not act in good faith in its downsizing process.

If your company is in a position where it is considering a layoff, I encourage you to consider the following action steps as you finalize your plans.

 

Action Steps

Hire an outplacement service company or consultant – Outplacement firms assist not only in helping employees transition out of the company, but also in helping the company understand the legal issues regarding employee termination. Outplacement firms provide career coaches that work one-on-one with employees by helping them to update their resumes, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare for new career opportunities.  If you’re undertaking a company-wide layoff, outplacement firms can handle the transition process for a single employee, for dozens or even hundreds of employees. And due to their experience, such companies know the type of services and support that former employees need most during this time, as well as ways to make the layoff process easier for both employer and employee.

Make an alumni program part of your outplacement strategy  – Though circumstances may require you to lay off employees in your current situation, you may find your firm needing to rehire them if the company’s financial state improves, the economic climate changes, or if new positions open up for which their skills (and existing company knowledge) would be transferable.   Adding an alumni program to your planned outplacement services allows you stay connected to valued former employees while also providing them with a way to stay in touch with colleagues and friends for support during their transition and beyond.

Managing Virtual Employees

 

By Nipa Shah, June 18, 2009

Nancy is a financial analyst working for a mid-sized company located in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Michigan. She works from home in her pajamas and “meets” her boss once a month via video conference.

She is a virtual employee enjoying one of the perks of working from home and leveraging technology to stay in touch with her boss.

Companies across the globe are leveraging technology to retain resources that no longer have to be located in the same building or even in the same country. It is commonplace to hear of an individual working for a multinational company and having never met another team member.

By creating a virtual workforce, companies have been able to create efficiency, reduce travel and overhead costs, and essentially service the end-customer 24/7. Virtual employees, on the other hand, benefit from having a better work-life balance due to flexibility in working hours and not having to dodge rush hour traffic to be at work at a specific time.

Companies, however, face a common concern when it comes to virtual teams, that of measuring an employee’s productivity. Since the employee is no longer under a manager’s nose per se, managing productivity through “oversight” is impossible. Another concern is keeping an employee motivated and connected to company happenings.

The virtual team requires a shift in managerial and employee behavior. Here are some best practices which can effectively help you manage virtual employees:

Level Set Expectations
Beyond the policy and procedures set up by human resources, be sure to level set your expectations with your virtual employee, in a one-on-one discussion. Specifically state how you’d like him or her to keep in touch, how often, by what means (e-mail, chat, phone), and what deliverables you expect to receive at various times during the week. By level setting expectations in a more personalized manner, you create a better working relationship with your virtual employee and also plan for corrective action in the future.

Trust Employees
This is an important responsibility for a manager even when managing an on-site employee. It is an even more important responsibility when working with a virtual employee. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which is never productive. Refrain from micromanagement in the form of “urgent e-mails” and “urgent voicemail” on a daily basis, which can create friction and unproductive working relationships between manager and employee. Trust the employee to do the work assigned and to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe. Once expectations are set, trust the employee to perform and do the work as assigned.

Provide Tools and Support
Virtual employees may require additional support to ensure their productivity. They could run into technical issues when connecting with a company local area network, or they could have issues sending large files through the firewall. All these issues need to be promptly addressed so that productivity is not impacted. Tools such as a BlackBerry, fax, access to resources and webinars, etc. should be offered to ensure employee can do the job.

Create an Inclusive Environment
Just because an employee is virtual it doesn’t mean he or she should be isolated from corporate events and happenings. Virtual employees still need to be included in team meetings, conference calls, town hall meetings, and other events so that they feel as if they are part of the corporate culture. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. Even with all the technology in the world, it is important to do more than “staying in touch.” On a regular basis and without micromanaging; keep in touch, ask questions, participate in dialog, provide feedback, ask for feedback, etc.  Do everything necessary to stay in touch with your virtual employee so that you have clear communication.

A virtual workforce can be a blessing for companies and individuals alike. To make it work effectively, everyone involved will need to learn new skills and techniques. A successful virtual workforce can help a company save money and increase efficiency. Implement the above strategies and create a dynamic virtual workforce for your company!

Nipa Shah is president of Jenesys Group, LLC, an online marketing and Internet solutions company, providing technology consulting (with emphasis on offshore management) and online marketing. She is also the founder of the Michigan India Chamber of Commerce. Shah can be reached at nipa@jenesysgroup.com.

Do You Know What Your Employees are REALLY Thinking?

One of the biggest issues facing the owner of a company – particularly as it grows larger – is keeping a pulse on the thoughts and feelings of the company staff.  As every smart business owner knows, your front-line people are often the most critical to your organization, but they also tend to be the ones a company CEO has the least contact with.

Below please find the story of one CEO who took a bold step to learn the thoughts and opinions of his front-line staff so he could insure that his decisions were being properly implemented – and he could insure that the decisions he was making that would affect those staff members were the proper decisions based upon all necessary facts.

While most business owners would not be able to initiate this type of plan, reading about it may cause you to develop other ideas that can be implemented within your firm to obtain similar results.

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The undercover boss

By Stefan Stern – Published: June 8 2009

Employee attitude surveys, brown bag lunches, focus groups, informal chats: managers try quite hard to find out what their staff are thinking. But the results are mixed at best. What are your staff thinking? Admit it – you don’t really know.

Is there any way of finding out? Electronic surveillance would be a bad idea. Cloaks of invisibility work for Harry Potter, but are not available to the rest of us. One chief executive has done the next best thing. He went undercover in his own business for two weeks, disguised as an office worker, completing shifts on 10 different sites. He has heard for himself what his people really think. It has been a revelatory experience.

Stephen Martin is the 43-year-old CEO of the Clugston Group, a medium-sized civil engineering and logistics company based in the north of England. But for two weeks earlier this year, as far as his colleagues were concerned he was “Martin Walker”, an ordinary co-worker trying to earn a living like everybody else.

Ordinary, that is, except for the film crew that was following him around. The cover story was that this documentary team wanted to record how a clerical worker would cope with the demands of a physical labouring job. In truth they were making a programme, called Undercover Boss, which will air on British television (Channel 4) in two weeks’ time and then in a US version (CBS) this year.

How did Mr Martin avoid being found out? He is still a relatively new CEO, having started in December 2006. He grew a beard and turned up to work in protective clothing rather than a suit. His down-to-earth, approachable style does not mark him out immediately as “boss class”.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear unfiltered what my employees were really thinking,” Mr Martin told me when he came in to the Financial Times office – clean-shaven and in a suit and tie – last week. “They said things to me that they would never have told their managers.”

What lessons has he learnt? “Our key messages were just not getting through to people,” Mr Martin says. “People working a shift on a large site do not have time to read newsletters or log on to websites. You have to communicate with people on their terms, and it is different for every location. One size does not fit all.”

For example, Mr Martin found that an apparently sensible idea – encouraging his workers to take a tea-break where they were working rather than coming back to a canteen – was taken to mean that the break had been cut.

What is more, having worked these physically demanding shifts, which involved pouring concrete, laying kerbs and clearing drains, the boss now has a better informed view of the job. His conclusion: “We were asking the impossible of some of them.”

This TV-inspired experiment has highlighted a classic management problem. Leaders may know exactly what they want to see happening. They send out messages down the management line. Employees ought to understand. But between the top table and the shop-floor something goes wrong. Leadership teams can be scarily ignorant of how badly their wishes have been distorted, and how much unhappiness there is among those on the receiving end.

And right now there is a bigger, more urgent point. In a recession it is even harder to have an effective, open dialogue with an anxious workforce. Mr Martin shared what he had learnt with his team of managers after filming was over. It provoked a (frequently repeated) response: “They’ve never told us that!” But “Martin Walker” had seemed like someone it was safe to talk to, a regular guy, working night-shifts and staying at a £27-a-night ($43) bed and breakfast hotel called the Cocked Hat. “Even we wouldn’t stay there,” his co-workers had told him.

Mr Martin feels he needs to “over-communicate” to reassure staff who have seen big redundancies in recent months. “If you don’t pass on enough information, even if it is bad news, they will fill the gap with something else, probably worse than the truth.”

That view is supported by Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University in California, and author of the cover story in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review: “How to be a good boss in a bad economy”.

Prof Sutton says there are four things in particular that managers need to provide if they want to avoid this false anxiety syndrome: predictability (over-communicate); understanding (keep it “Sesame Street simple”, advises Procter & Gamble’s AG Lafley); control (break down big challenges into manageable ones); and compassion (show that you care).

Having had a chance to eavesdrop on his employees’ hitherto private conversations, Clugston’s Mr Martin has been forced to rethink much of what he thought he knew about management.

Convincing employees that the company has their best interests at heart is hard work. Key messages to staff should never go undercover, even if one boss had to don a disguise to find this out.

Top 10 HR Mistakes Made by Businesses – Large & Small

  1. Failure to develop an effective corporate communication strategy; internal and external.
    • Establish specific communication policies
      • internal/external email
      • internet/intranet
      • social media
      • IM
      • media/public communication
      • corporate document sharing
    • Publicize internal communication; open access promotes honesty and trust between management and staff
      • staff meetings
      • town halls
      • newsletters
    • Handle confidential information appropriately
  2. Failure to link individual goals to company goals
    • Short-term and long-term objectives; personal and company
    • Developing action plans
      • corporate > division > department > individual
    • HR planning
      • staff selection & planning
      • training & development
  3. Not utilizing HR metrics to track activity and performance
    • Measure how activity is impacting the bottom line, not just the cost of the activity
    • Needs to objectively demonstrate benefits to the business
  4. Lack of employee motivation and retention strategies
    • What motivates employees?
      • recognition; feeling valued by the organization
      • sense of achievement
      • feeling they are an integral part of the organization
      • opportunity for increased responsibility and advancement
      • compensation package
    • Develop credible reward programs
    • Insure that compensation packages are competitive to the market
  5. Lack of strategic recruitment plan
    • Hire people that fit; effort, expectations, attitude, talent, skills, training, experience
    • HR needs to manage the recruitment process, not department heads or executives
  6. Lack of training
    • Empower front-line management with authority; train them to use it effectively for the organization’s benefit
    • Don’t allow lack of awareness to be an excuse for inappropriate actions
    • Insure managers have training regarding legal issues affecting the manager/employee relationship
    • Ensure there is a clear understanding of corporate values
  7. Not establishing employee performance guidelines
    • Establish a reward system based on performance
    • Insure timely attention to employee performance issues to prevent staff morale issues
  8. Failure to keep up-to-date on legal requirements related to HR
    • Establish a network of experts for guidance
    • Participate in continuing education programs
  9. Lack of documentation
    • Insure proper tracking, measuring, analysis, reporting and follow-up
    • Meet all legal requirements for payroll documentation
  10. Failure to maximize the effectiveness of the HR team
    • HR should be an integral part of the executive team
    • Be pro-active rather than re-active to avoid negative perception amongst staff
    • Allow the HR department to be the catalyst for change management initiatives

Let us help you avoid these mistakes; contact us via our website or email us at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com for assistance with your HR strategies and structure.

What Your Employees Really Mean When They Say… (the hidden message your employees are trying to communicate to you)

Strategic Growth Concepts is pleased to present articles from time-to-time written by Human Resource related experts.  This article is from LaToya M. Palmer, an HR professional with  over 10-years of extensive experience in all aspects of Human Resources. She is President of the Michigan-based consulting firm, Palmer Solutions, LLC., which specializes in innovative HR solutions while also providing creative benefit management and payroll administration services.

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I’ve had many managers come to me and tell me that they are having problems with their employees and they haven’t the faintest idea why.  I love this…okay maybe I really don’t, but humor me.  Any good HR person will use this gem (that’s what I like to call coachable HR moments) to give the greatest advice any human resources professional can give; always listen to what your employees don’t say.  I know you are scratching your head, trust me, the HR Gods are smiling down on you.

Employees can definitely be, let’s say, cryptic in their communications with company management. For example, I had a manager come to me and say that he was having problems with a normally good employee who had come to him and informed him that she was really concerned about a co-worker because she had been missing a lot of days lately. After asking a few more pointed questions, it came out that this “concerned” employee had been picking up the slack.  So do you see the hidden message?  What the employee was really telling the boss was, “My co-worker is not pulling her weight and I’m getting left holding the bag.” Needless to say, the manager hadn’t realized he was adding more work to the “good” employee, and that he wasn’t addressing what appeared to be an attendance problem within his department. Had he been listening more intently to what she wasn’t saying in his earlier conversations with the “good employee”, he would have picked up on the real situation during those earlier conversations.

Here are a couple more “translations” for those of you who haven’t yet mastered the language of Employee Speak.

  1. You’re giving a very simple explanation and instruction to your employees about a decision that was made by you or the Executive Team, and your employee says, “I don’t understand.”  Translation: “I totally disagree with what you’re saying. I am going to continue to say I don’t understand so that when I do the exact opposite of what you’re instructing us to do, I can use my lack of clarity as the reason.”  Action:  You should take this person aside and ensure thru a private conversation that they really “get it” by allowing them to walk through the parts they “don’t understand”, and encouraging them to give voice to their disagreement so that any potential “lack of clarity” is resolved and no longer an issue.
  2. You get a “petition” from your employees stating they want to change something within the company. Translation: Alarm bells should be ringing in your ears!  Your employees are telling you that they don’t feel comfortable coming to management individually to voice their opinions. They only feel comfortable doing so in numbers. This is a ripe climate in an hourly environment for unionization and should not be taken lightlyAction:  There is a communication gap within your organization that needs to be bridged; you should initiate communication between appropriate management and employee representatives as soon as possible to address the reasons that this climate has developed within the organization and work to diffuse the situation to allow for easier communication between the parties in future.

Employees give you “hints” at their “hidden meanings” more often than you realize. It’s imperative for company management, and HR professionals in particular, to listen closely to determine the “real” message that employees are trying to get across in order to prevent problem situations from occurring.