Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Managing Layoffs

Layoffs are the common theme these days in the economy, and the biotech/pharma industry has not been spared from the pain. My last post 5 Best Podcasts for Business Managers was focused on managers polishing their skills and knowledge. Enhancing your management skills is especially important for keeping your current job or quickly finding your next one. This podcast is geared towards managers one the other side of the table, namely, those responsible for giving the bad news of impending layoffs.

It is very hard to manage layoffs well. It is unfortunately very easy and common to handle them poorly. Some key points on what to do are:

Transparency: Trying to keep your employees in the dark until the last minute often fails and results in low morale, rumor mongering, and fear. Everyone feels vulnerable when they see the top management in "secret" meetings and no one is providing factual information. In the absence of facts, rumors will fill the void of information that people are searching for and sharing. If your company is going through a rough time, do not sugar coat or attempt to give the "everything's fine" speech. Let the employees know what problems the company is facing and what the options are. Layoffs should not be the first choice, but if they are announced, people will better accept the decision if they see what led to the problem, why layoffs had to occur, and what the rationale is for who is being laid off.

Fairness A sense of fairness is extremely important when layoffs occur, both for those losing their job and especially for those remaining. For those remaining after a layoff, their is a lot of survivor guilt and anger. People feel bad for their friends who lost their job. If they feel that the layoffs were not fair and that good people were let go and bad people were kept, they will harbor resentment for upper management. If they do not see a rationale for who was laid off and who was not, they will think the layoffs are happening at random and that they are vulnerable for a future layoff. Those who were not involuntarily asked to leave, will likely start looking for opportunities to leave voluntarily.

Planning When laying off people, it is essential to do so according to a well defined and communicated plan. Make sure you, as upper management, have a plan for who is being laid off, what responsibilities will need to be transferred to the remaining personnel, and how the company will move forward with the new organizational structure. This plan should be clearly communicated to all personnel at the time of the layoff. If possible, it is always best to have all the layoffs at once. This will put the bad news behind you as quickly as possible and get things moving forward in the right direction. The worse thing to do is to have multiple layoffs announced randomly during an extended period of time. This will devastate morale and strongly inhibit productivity as people focus their time and energy on guessing who is next and preparing themselves in case they are in the next round.

McKinsey Quarterly just released a nice short video interview with Robert Sutton entitled Good Boss, Bad Times. Dr. Sutton gives some nice advice for managers dealing with layoffs. As he mentions, troubling times and uncertainty in companies can lead to a Toxic Tandem, where managers become blinded to the needs of their employees at the same time that their employees, who are working in a state of heightened anxiety, are scrutinizing their manager's every move. This is a vicious cycle as employees' increased sensitivity to their boss's attitude and signals progressively worsens as their boss's interactions with them become less and less open and responsive.

As with most things in life, it's easy to be good at what you do when things are going well. The test of the good manager is how they act and manage their people when things are bad. How you handle your team and employees during these tough times will determine your reputation as a manager. Hopefully, while the times are bad, your managing will be good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5 Best Podcasts for Business Managers

I have been attending a lot of management seminars lately for business development. The current trend seems to be less business development talks and discussions and a lot of job seeking advice and counseling. In this economic downturn, lots of people are out of work and looking for advice on how to get their next job.

I highly recommend polishing your interview and management skills to make sure that when that next job opportunity arises, you'll be ready for that elevator pitch, job interview, and next new job.

I strongly recommend listening to the many free podcasts that are available for business managers. My top 5 podcasts for business managers are listed below. They can all be downloaded from iTunes for free. If you don't have an MP3 player or iPOD, you can still listen to these by going directly to their websites.

1. ManagerTools Mike and Mark have been providing outstanding advice for several years now. They cover everything from how to give a strong handshake, how to run meetings, how to interview people and prepare for being interviewed, and how to manage people. This is a terrific podcast series and has won podcasts awards for the best business podcast.

2. The Cranky Middle Manager Wayne Turmel provides terrific interviews with management and business experts, authors, and gurus. He always provides terrific content mixed with his own humor and history lesson. Great show.

3. Project Management Podcast Cornelius Fichtner provides interviews, tips, and tools for project managers. Whether you’re a beginning project manager studying for the PMP exam or an experienced manager looking to extend your project management knowledge, this podcast provides a lot of valuable information.

4. PMLessonsLearned Henry Will set up this series of podcasts for project managers. They are divided into 3 types of podcasts each month: (i) project management education, (ii) PMP exam preparation, and (iii) project management job search podcasts.

5. StartupBizCast If you own or work for a small start up company, this podcast provides lots of excellent advice. It has a particular focus on small business marketing, with lots of good advice that any business manager can use.

Once you've listened to these (which can take a long time given the thousands of free podcasts available from these 5 alone) and you're ready for more: I recommend Negotiation Tip of the Week, The Public Speaker Quick and DIrty Tips, and Ethan Becker Speech Coach for more great tips to prepare you for getting and keeping your next job.

Good luck with your job searches. Let me know what websites, podcasts, books, and other tools you recommend.

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