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Feb 9, 2015

“Are we all set. Yes, we are all in compliance with the cost savings. All the numbers are correct. Just give me the go ahead and they are all gone.”

Then the conversation changed.

The executive listening to this rundown told the HR person to stop. Do you know any of these people? The answer was no.

Do you know whether it will be difficult for them to find jobs in your area? “I have no idea” was his reply.

Why does HR seem to like laying off people?

What are your plans for trying to help them land something? “I have none” was his reply.

This exchange was between a senior executive and his HR representative in a country outside the U.S. The HR guy was so eager to please and lay these people off that he had not taken the time to think about how they would land or what impact it will have on their lives.

He was absolutely clueless. He was just ready to just pull the trigger.

That brought me back to my first HR department layoff. Our fearless leader gave us all the sense that she just loved this role. She would joke about how when she came to an office everybody would hide from her. This brought a chuckle, but sadly, she was the only one that laughed.

Yes, we affect lives

We want to be the Human Capital experts, and that’s all well and good, but remember, what we do can have a big effect on people lives. Our people, as well as our organization, are looking to us as the experts in this area.

Whenever I read the news of layoffs, I do not think loss of market share, or failed strategy, or a poorly executed acquisition. No, I think of that person picking up the phone to announce the news of the layoff to their loved one.

What will you tell your kids when they ask? What is their new narrative going to be? This will be your organization’s brand when the chips fall. It won’t matter for all your efforts in getting the brand message right if you fumble on this life-changing event.

In my quote above, an executive was trying to get Mr. Hotshot HR to back up and think this thing through because we need to “put our stamp on this.” His concern was this: If we are a great company that is known for taking care of our people, we have to take the same amount of rigor in making sure that they are taken care of in these types of situations.

They will pay the price

HR is not always in the board or conference room when those decisions, projections, and acquisitions are made. But if those decisions do not work out, it’s the employees who will be the ones who bear the brunt of those mistakes and miscalculations. They will be in the cross-hairs.

That is why it is our duty to make sure that we leave no stone unturned in trying to help people make it through the layoff transition. This is not just a numbers game and being in compliance — these are people’s lives at stake.

I have always cautioned managers that if you can get good night’s sleep before a layoff, it is time to get a reality check. Unless you enjoy this immense power, it may be time to seek some other line of work.

Laying off employees is a universally thankless task, and there is rarely an easy way to deliver to someone the uncomfortable news that they are being let go. Unfortunately, this is a reality that almost every manager must face at some point in their life. And when they do, they must be prepared to treat the issue and the employee with dignity, professionalism and respect.

This is extremely important because by doing this in an effective manner, the ties with your soon-to-be former employees can remain positive as much as possible. If you don’t, your actions reflect poorly on your company and your management capabilities. Either you put your stamp on it or with the advent of social media, they will in the end inherit the power to put their stamp front and center.

Plan for it in the good times

My father’s favorite saying was “you dig the well before you need the water.” So, have a strategy in place for how your company will face business downturns. Plan it in the good times so that when the bad times hit, your plan should make more sense. It will help everyone face a difficult time together with mutual respect and dignity.

Communicate throughout the year, hopefully every quarter, as you would if you were a public company. Let your people know the challenges your organization is facing. The smartest guys in the room may be the ones that are not sitting in the room.

Get them involved and keep them involved in your business, because they surely will be involved when things go sour. Most importantly, keep your employees informed of your business’ progression or regression because in the end, no one wants to be surprised and ambushed.

It could happen to you

But then you could just ignore this until the situation is turned around and you are the one that gets ambushed. When that happens, well, then you may show a little more compassion next time.

Remember life is like a merry-go-round; what goes around, comes around.

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