How to successfully project manage a workforce restructure

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workforce restructure

The pandemic has caused millions of businesses to rethink the size and shape of their workforce and a potential workforce restructure – and we’re not out of the woods yet.

If you’re called upon to plan a restructuring project, while it’s much like managing any other project in some respects, there are a few aspects that you really need to pay attention to when you start changing org charts. Follow these tips below and you’ll be on your way to a brighter future.

Start off on the right foot

In addition to the legal ramifications of formally making employees redundant, any proposed downsizing can be fraught with emotions like fear, anger and sadness. It is particularly important that you manage the message – internally and externally – in a sensitive way and keep on the right side of the law. Start by involving your company’s legal advisor and identify a spokesperson to make any company-wide announcements and interact with the media, if required. Review the business case for the restructure and determine the approximate number of positions affected.

Follow procedures to the letter

There are specific legal requirements to follow regarding redundancy consultation, legitimate reasons for redundancy and selection criteria. If you get any of this wrong, it increases the likelihood that an employee could feel they’ve been treated unfairly and bring a case to an Employment Tribunal. At present, compensation of up to one year of the employee’s salary can be awarded.

Focus on the notification event in your project plan

In addition to all the usual aspects of a project plan, how you manage notifications is absolutely critical. Everything should happen on the same day, and you should plan it meticulously. Some key things to consider include:

  • Plan for two streams of activity: everyone who is at risk and everyone else
  • When will you do it? (Friday is the worst day of the week for such an announcement; Tuesday or Wednesday is better so you are available to answer questions and manage the immediate impact).
  • How will you notify everyone at risk simultaneously – including remote workers and those on leave (including maternity leave, etc)?
  • Plan security measures at company sites in case of any extreme reactions
  • Plan an announcement to those not directly at risk soon after (and on the same day)
  • Put a process in place to handle any media enquiries or adverse social media activity
  • Do you need some employees to be retained longer than others (for example, to complete key projects)? If so, what retention strategies will you use?

Plan how you’ll support affected employees

Job loss is recognised as one of the most stressful life events anyone can experience – and in our current circumstances, that’s never been truer. The good news is that both those being made redundant and the people managing the project don’t need to go it alone. Providing outplacement allows you to support departing employees and means you can tap into their experience and expertise for things like notification training for managers. Using an outplacement provider during a workforce restructure also reduces the burden on the project team and your HR department and has been shown to reduce the risk of employees taking legal action.

Communicate throughout with remaining employees

You should also plan how you’ll manage the impact on people who aren’t leaving as part of the restructure. Some might be asked to take on more work, for others their job role may be changing. Many employees can become anxious and unsettled by a restructure – even if their job wasn’t affected – productivity may take a dip, or they start looking for a new job elsewhere.

The only way to address all these issues is for line managers and project leaders to have open conversations with their teams to understand how they’re feeling and take steps to address any worries or concerns individuals may have.

Managing a workforce restructure that affects people’s careers and livelihoods can be one of the most challenging projects you’ll undertake. One thing to bear in mind is that if you know that anyone being made redundant has been well looked after, and the company is going to be in better shape after the changes, your own resilience should be boosted and you’ll be able to deliver future projects successfully.

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