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Layoffs are difficult for the entire workforce, as a new reality must be adjusted to. Strong leadership and communication are essential at these times, which is why leadership development must be prioritized.

If there is a ‘new normal’ in 2024, it is mass layoff. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of corporate employees have been laid off. UPS is just one recent example, announcing 12,000 job cuts just five months after agreeing a new labor deal.

Workers are facing unprecedented uncertainty, while their managers struggle to share the bad news.

With 92 percent of global employers expecting more layoffs this year, working people are justifiably asking: where is the good news for the corporate world?

Layoffs are difficult for everyone involved. Of course, those whose positions are cut suffer most acutely, but their colleagues also endure the guilt of being spared. The entire workforce is forced to adjust to a new reality. Despite the pain felt all around, layoffs often represent the only viable path forward when a company’s balance sheet doesn’t add up to a sustainable future.

If there is good news, it is that companies can see layoffs as opportunities to right the ship and sail to an even brighter future.

Navigating the Loss

A post-layoff scenario is a great time to take stock, although companies don’t always treat layoffs that way.

While there are many best practices related to the ‘front end’ of layoffs, including official communications and severance packages, there is much less guidance on the proverbial ‘back end’ of layoffs. But companies need to support their leaders after layoffs take place, understanding that managers and their teams must carry the load of their laid-off colleagues.

Companies can see layoffs as opportunities to right the ship and sail to an even brighter future.

While concurrently navigating organizational restructuring, hits to morale and confidence in the business and, sometimes, new positions with greater responsibility, employees are especially desperate for support in the days following the latest layoffs.

A post-layoff business turnaround can happen if a company supports leaders and their teams to drive change, align and focus on results, foster trust and rise to the challenges of new responsibilities. In short, companies need to invest – extremely cost-effectively – in the timeless pillars of leadership development.

Fostering Strong Leadership

Successful leadership development in the context of layoffs looks quite different than everyday leadership development. Whereas everyday leader development is largely about self-awareness, reflection, trust-building and individual capability or performance, layoffs shift the focus. Instead, it is more about delivering on priorities, executing together as teams and sub-teams, and rebuilding a culture of trust. In all of this, direct, honest and empathetic communication is key.

When employees see co-workers come and go, those who are retained expect reassurance, not only about their status at the company, but also regarding the company’s mission. Through daily or weekly conversations with employees, leaders need to make an evidence-based case that the corporate mission is still intact. It is incumbent on leaders to underscore the ‘why’ for staying the course.

Leadership development has an important place in the post-layoff workplace.

This is especially hard when, generally speaking, only 49 percent of employees feel comfortable speaking to their boss when faced with potential anxieties. Imagine how that percentage might change on the back end of layoffs.

Yet, when the communication channels between a leader and their team are consistent and strong, layoffs can become minor blips rather than major distractions. To that end, companies must recognize that leadership development has an important place in the post-layoff workplace.

Engage Your Team

Leadership development activities offer executives an opportunity to take a pause from the daily grind and re-orientate themselves to the work at hand – and those doing it. This sort of reorientation allows leaders to remember the big picture, the company’s mission, and to think beyond themselves to embrace the team-oriented mindset they know will advance their mission. Cue more communicative leadership, not to mention reduced stress.

Strong, targeted leader development is proven to reduce stress and increase engagement, and engaged leaders are more likely to be communicative. And yet, instead of supporting the growth curve of leader development, many companies cut their talent development budgets when profits dry up.

This is wrong. Perhaps the lack of investment in the ability to lead through layoffs is one of the reasons that layoffs rarely end up improving the financial position of the company.

Post-layoff leadership is complex and different. It requires targeted investments and high-impact touch points. It is less about handing leaders new concepts and frameworks and more about helping them apply what they know together. If companies want mass layoffs to catalyze growth rather than cripple it, they need to invest in the leaders who remain.

Carylynn Larson

Contributor Collective Member

Carylynn Larson combines leadership and team dynamics expertise with executive coaching experience to serve high-impact organizations around the world. In addition to coaching, she is often engaged as a facilitator for senior leadership team meetings and retreats, and as a consultant on organizational transformation and growth. Carylynn is also passionate about teaching leaders to coach, and is the author of two books: ‘The Coaching Companion: Get the Most from Your Coaching Experience‘ and ’Leverage Your Leader-Coach’. She serves as an executive coach at Churchill Leadership Group. Find out more here: https://churchillleadershipgroup.com/

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