Let's be real; times are tough for a lot of businesses. Many executives have had to rethink their workforce strategies and labor costs. And while layoffs are never easy, it doesn't have to be something organizations (and the people in it) simply survive. It can be an opportunity to build a more equitable, inclusive, innovative, and adaptable culture. Not to mention, a revered brand that customers are willing to pay a premium for.
Times of crisis are a test for even the healthiest of organizations. Understanding the dynamics of culture and its influence– both inside the business and out –requires leaders and teams to move beyond performance metrics to a more meaningful conversation. Once you can define the values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape your culture, you can use the knowledge to reinforce the positives, shift the negative, and reimagine the path forward.
Following a layoff, it's natural for leaders to want to struggle quietly behind closed doors deciding how to move the business forward. But for the employees that remain, the silence and uncertainty can be a crippling distraction.
It can take time for culture-related crises to surface. But when they do, it can appear in seemingly unrelated ways. Low productivity, waning customer satisfaction scores, difficulty attracting and retaining top talent, and stalled growth initiatives can signal culture misalignments. Left unchecked, these issues can fester and severely impact the bottom-line.
So, what can executives do to help their business and employees bounce back after a layoff?
Here is a 3-step action plan to get you on your way.
Step One: Understand What Makes Your Culture Tick
CultureTalk defines organizational culture as:
"An invisible force made up of beliefs and behaviors that operate beneath the surface and impact how individuals unite, respond, and move forward (or backward!) behind a common purpose."
So, do you know what your team believes? What motivates them to do/think/act differently? While there are many different tools and exercises to help you understand work preferences and personality styles, it's crucial to look beyond performance metrics and engagement surveys that focus on 'I' and not 'we.'
Perform a Baseline Culture Audit to identify cultural strengths and weaknesses.
Talk to employees, customers, business partners, and other stakeholders. Ask them about their experiences working with your organization.
Once you have the data necessary to understand your culture – you can improve it by building strategies to reinforce the positive attributes and shift 'shadow' beliefs and behaviors.
Step Two: Rally Around a Meaningful Mission or Purpose
Several years ago, I attended a meeting where the CEO asked a large group of employees to recite the company's mission statement. Despite it being clearly communicated everywhere, few actually knew what it was. Why?
Having a mission or purpose that people feel personally connected to can energize and motivate them when they need it most.
Is your mission or purpose a driving force?
Ask around; do people know what it is?
Do you have systems and processes in place to support and promote it?
Can everyone at all levels of the organization play a role in achieving it?
If you answered no, you can use your newfound insights to define a mission that everyone can get behind.
Step Three: Engage Teams to Reimagine the Path Forward
Choosing to engage teams rather than shutting them out can open the door to a wealth of innovative ideas and perspectives. Their input and ideas can help you discover new ways of working, new business models, partnerships, and operating infrastructures.
A focus group or 'task force' is an excellent way to engage teams in designing solutions. Remember, you have to be willing to listen to your employees and implement their ideas. In doing so, they will have a greater sense of ownership and pride. Now, change is not happening to them; change is happening for them.
Employees who feel their voice is heard are nearly 5x more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. (Salesforce, 2018)
By making company culture a priority, executives can minimize the ripple effect of a layoff and emerge with a stronger, more motivated team in place.