Category: HR

Layoffs – The Reputable Way

j0433131 (2) With the news that Standard Bank will review costs which will result in layoffs, I thought it would be prudent to share some thoughts on doing layoffs in a reputable way.

So, you have been called in and told to cut costs by culling the workforce!

Just a simple exercise! FIFO method. First In, First Out. Basing your choice on what value the person has added to the organization.

This is the time for a Red Flag. Stop. Think. How can we part in a reputable way.  This is not just a HR or cost-cutting exercise. This is an exercise that can create long-term damage to your reputation. Rather think of it as an engagement exercise of sorts.

As a consultant I always tell companies to plan any retrenchment exercise with care as it is nothing other than another large scale change exercise, and as you know the only person that loves change is a baby with a wet nappy. My experiences below is based on having advised and implementing the downsizing of a whole company as well as my experiences as a consultant the past fourteen years.

Any retrenchment exercise has not only environmental and company impact but also psychological impact on both the people being laid off as well as survivors and stakeholders. They are all faced with uncertainty. Networks of relationships are interrupted.

I believe that companies should provide options: Examples:

** Avoiding Layoffs … there really are options ..Why not provide business start up training to those people – help them to become free agents to the organization? Allow them to tender their services back to the organization.

** How about running innovative cost-cutting campaigns in the business? Ask staff to come up with ideas and cost-saving suggestions. Make it a large scale awareness exercise and innovative thinking campaign.

** Companies should provide training to people on how to deal with being laid off. Many will take it personally, iro of the current economic climate.

** Managers should be trained with how to manage layoffs carefully and thoughtfully. A question that should be asked is: Are we looking at the human cost of these actions?  Layoffs are not about "headcount"; they are about people. Unfortunately layoffs spread a fear virus that can leave an entire organization weakened and open to attack.

The Fear Virus

Let’s assume that you are laying off 1000 people. Assume that each of the people laid off has close working relationships with just 5 people … that’s almost 5000 "surviving" employees who are now traumatized by watching their friends being laid off.  These people are now living in and acting from fear.  Plus their informal network for getting work done is shredded.  Productivity? Reputation Conscious? Not likely.

Now let’s assume that each of the 5000 traumatized employees spends several hours talking about layoffs and their fears to just 10 co-workers.  Now there are 50, 000 fear-based employees doing their best to do ‘’CYA’’ and avoid risk and management scrutiny. 

And these people as well as the original 1000 laid off people go home and have angry and fearful conversations with their family members, neighbours and friends. They spread messages that undertake a life of its own and become a virus of its own on all the social networks.

Let’s say that each person spreads fear and distrust of organizations to 10 people … now we’ve got a fear virus affecting millions.  At this point it tips and takes on a life of its own, creating environments where people don’t trust management and are not about to take chances, volunteer for new projects or propose new ideas. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point)

Would that company have a good reputation?  Forget it! The seeds for destruction is sown!

The same company will have to spend more the next time round to recruit staff and encourage employment (One of the dangers of Reputation Risk)

Here are some other thoughts that may help guide lay-offs in a humane and reputable way:

I firmly believe that communication is the key to successfully implementing any large-scale organizational change.  Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical. 

A former colleague used to write, "Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders."

With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:

  • Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
  • Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
  • Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
  • Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
  • Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change

This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process.  Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds.  It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.

Now let me put the above into practical terms. A few "nuts and bolts” regarding lay-offs that I picked up, being part of a team that had to dismantle an organization:

  1. Give as much advance notice as possible.
  2. Have the lay-offs announced by the person with the highest authority possible, hopefully the decision maker or the top person in the organization to whom the person belongs or, minimally, the supervisor, i.e. someone the person respects or has some personal relationship with. (I believe that Standard Bank did this) For the sake of humanity, such notices should be made in person.  Retrenchment notices are stone-age stuff.  The notification session should be interactive sessions.  Those making the announcements MUST be briefed or trained on what to expect and how to handle various reactions, i.e. give them models like the grieving process (denial, resistance, exploration, commitment), have them prepare questions, etc.  If notification cannot be made in person, then telephone can be substituted if done properly and by the right person, e.g. someone the person has some relationship with.  If individual notification is not possible, it might be done in as small a group as possible, but this is certainly not a preferred alternative by any stretch of the imagination. Follow-up or augment the human notification with a concrete, written set of plans or guidelines that the laid off person can refer to as he or she tries to accommodate the lay-off, e.g. steps that will take place, contact people, how to access unemployment, etc.
  3. If at all possible have a workshop for workers which should be held immediately (within 24-48 hours of the notice) that explains things like unemployment, severance pay, job hunting, etc.  Experts should conduct the session but the leadership should be represented to help clarify how things will be implemented or viewed in the organization.
  4. A good counselling program should be available to the laid off workers, e.g. financial counselling, job searching, starting your own business programs, grief counselling, etc.  If at all possible, a list of job opportunities should be provided.
  5. As much as possible, respect the privacy of those laid off for as long as possible even though that will be eventually lost as transition occurs.  The word will get out but time gives the employee a chance to adjust or get thru some of the grief cycle before having to deal with well meaning co-workers.  Even expressions of sympathy may be hard to take for someone in denial or resistance.   If possible, give the laid off person some time off, but no more than one work day.  He/she will need a support group to help deal with some of the chaos they will experience and removing them from that becomes counterproductive if too long. 
  6. Provide a hotline.  Email offers a great venue because email can be routed to an appropriate expert.  If that is not available, provide a phone or drop box for people to provide concerns, anonymously if they prefer.
  7. The potential for workplace violence is real.  Think about it, very seriously; both from the perspective or prevention and remediation.
  8. Remember, not only the laid off workers will be affected.  Briefings or other forums where they can get information and share concerns are important for them, too.  The culture will be affected, not to mention the formal and informal organization.  Some thinking needs to be given to ensuring proper reconnection of the loose ends that will inevitably take place as people leave.  The people who are left need to feel a sense of regained homeostasis as soon as possible. 

I know many organizations do not deal with lay-offs so compassionately, i.e. notice is made and the employee is supervised while clearing his/her desk and immediately escorted off the premises.  This has changed due to legal restrictions, but the above suggestions will go a long way to show why the organisation regards itself as an Admired company, as it lives up to its brand promises.

The list above is is certainly not comprehensive but some stuff I learned thru first hand observation, I offer them because my heart goes out to the estimated 50 million people worldwide who will be affected this year.

Economically it will not always be possible to put all of the above into action, but remember you want to part ways with an ex-employee in a manner that the company’s integrity and reputation will not be jeopardised.

· For those who know of professionals who will be laid-off, please ask them to contact me. I may be able to assist them with setting up their own consulting practices. For the past twelve years I have run a program called Market your Consulting Practice that have been well received by those wanting to turn their professional knowledge into a personal advantage.

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Improving Communication – Management’s responsibility

Analyse any manager’s job description and you will seldom find Communication Improvement as a defined job responsibility, task and defined output.

Why? Is it because the process is seen to be elusive? The PR Practitioner or Corporate Communications Manager’s job? Just as a point could be made that we do not need HR managers , since the management of human resources is a line management function, so we can argue the point that to leave communication to the Communications department is to court disaster.

Traditional organisational structures are very good at compartmentalizing functions causing the "traditional silo effect". There is an old saying: " That which is not inspected, will never be respected".

To improve communications flow in your organisation, I have formulated a number of questions for you to ponder over and to discuss at your next meeting.

  1. Have all managers been trained in the communications responsibilities of their work? I believe that all managers need to receive training in interpersonal, intrapersonal and organisational communication. We cannot assume that people know how to communicate. We must equip them with knowledge and skills to do so. No media will ensure correct communication. People make communication work.
  2. Who monitors standards of communication and the handling of problems that have communications implications? Too often Labour Relations problems are solved using traditional IR methods, only to later on realise that the real causes were not addressed.
  3. Are communication responsibilities written into their job descriptions?
  4. Who is pro-actively and professionally managing internal and external communications in the organisation, and does that person have the professional know-how, responsibility, authority, accountability and status ? And most importantly is that person sharing and coaching the rest of the organisation or is he or she just managing their silo?

Still in doubt? Then ask any employee what breaks down more often than the photocopier or delivery vehicle. They will all say Communication. Why not make it a manager’s responsibility? Why not provide them with the tools to improve it?

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Catch them Early – An Employee’s First 30 Days

j0409404 Everyone spoke about Pres. Obama and Zuma’s first 100 days in office as being vital in setting a trend and laying the foundation for being a successful president.

So why are other employees treated differently?

Many managers forget that the first 30 days of a new employee’s tenure with the company is vital for that person’s career, performance and for the company’s reputation.

But in many companies, this process is left unattended. No wonder they call it orientation or induction. And, here I am thinking that induction is what you to do to a pregnant women, when they induce labour by putting small white pill under her tongue. Both terms just don’t cut it in my opinion.

This is where exposure to Armed Forces training helps. In the Armed Forces you undergo a period call basics. This process of culturization is also sometimes called psychological indoctrination. For instance, you get to carry a rifle for a couple of weeks, before they give you live ammunition. During this period you learn to handle your rifle under all types of conditions until you are accustomed to handling it.

This process is based on the Cycle of Learning which takes employees through a process moving from being unconsciously incompetent to eventually becoming unconsciously competent. This continuous cycle I discuss in a document called Reputation Risk and the Cycle of Learning (e-mail me if you would like a copy).

In 1991 Warren Buffett said these now famous words: “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be understanding.  If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.”

Are these not the type of words a new employee needs to hear? But words are not enough. Should we not empower the new employee right from the beginning to factor reputation into his or hers actions and behaviours?

Should we not right from the beginning lay the foundation for success and performance?

A Proper Orientation program can go a long way to creating a platform for the employees future growth. If we consider that reputation manifests itself through communication and the experiences that a stakeholder has a with an organization, then this process is crucial to preventing reputation risk in any organisation.

By ensuring that we have dedicated and focused employees who understand the value of reputation as an asset can go a long way to preventing the manifestation of Reputation Risk.

So to assist your reputation management efforts, I have prepared a document for you called ‘ The First 30 Days – An ORIENTATION PROGRAMME with a Difference’’ which you can get by contacting me

Let me know if this is useful to you.

Using Colour in Job Advertisements

Reading the Job section of today’s Business Times I was presently surprised by the use of colour in trying to get a message across.

Of all the ads honours must go to XSTRATA COAL. Their advert is fresh and does not just position the company as possible employer, but the use of words such as balance, grow and achieve together with pictures and an explanation of the company’s operations, paints a picture that I think will attract the right caliber of staff.

From a visual identity this advert deserves its accolades.

The job ad for a General Manager states that the person will be responsible for achieving the optimum level of HSEC – Health, Safety, Environment and Community…thus the applicant should have ”a thorough understanding of complex environmental factors and know how to add value to stakeholder relationships”.

I presume.

Pity that few programs at higher educational institutions cover this in detail. REPUCOMM’s Stakeholder Reputation being an exception.

Commitment to Health & Safety is much more than Lip – Service!

I am intrigued by how often I read that management express their commitment to Health & Safety Practices in an organization AFTER an accident had taken place.

I think it is time to take a look at why Health & Safety Practices in an organization becomes problematic.Years ago there was a book called Fishes rot from the Head – it had to do with governance practices.

However the title is apt and points to where it starts. Waterfalls flow top to bottom.

It does start at the top. Senior Management are normally exposed to the Occupational Health & Safety Act through a rudimentary overview session. Sometimes this session last only a few hours, because management cannot attend a longer work session since they are always so busy. Fair enough. But how come they can always find the time to pay attention to it after an accident had taken place? Now when it is too late!

Training Managers in Health & Safety is also affected by the traditional view that senior management do not need thorough training. I mean they are highly skilled, often MBA qualified graduates and after all Safety is just common sense.

Is it? What is so common about it?

Perhaps the problem also in the What, Why and When of training. Once-off training is like going to church, once only. After all if you get the message, why go again? No, you go over and over because Repetition is the mother of skill.

Golfers practice their swings over and over, they often go back to basics BUT for senior management it is not necessary after all their job is just to direct. Isn’t it?

In Defence Forces around the world they use a basic principle when training new soldiers. I would like to take just two aspects of this and apply it to the South African situation.

1. Proper Job Instruction – What methods of training are you using in your organization? Competency based training or just awareness sessions? How are you measuring transfer and application of learning? The traditional Sit by Nelly approach is fraught with dangers.

2. Proper Job Indoctrination – This is similar to what the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town call the Immersion principle. For instance you carry your rifle around with you, you sleep with it, go to eat with it for at least a few weeks before you are even given bullets to shoot with at the shooting range. They make sure that you are able to handle your rifle in all types of situations before letting you loose.

In many organizations, PROPER and THOROUGH induction is non- existent. All you get is a vague overview.

I recall that about 15 years ago Xerox released the findings of a study that showed that there can be a loss of up to 98% of learning if there is no follow up, such as refreshers, mentoring and coaching back on the job.

Perhaps I need to share a practical example  with you. My job is to advise companies on how to build, sustain and protect their organization’s reputation. Some time ago I was off to a meeting at a client when I walked past a paint spraybooth. In the booth a young man was working with oil veneer paints spraypainting an object. Now these types of paint is dangerous and the young man is supposed to wear a certain category of respiratory mask to protect himself against hazardous chemical exposure, except his mask was sitting on his forehead.

Since I like to use humour to get my points across, I shouted at him saying: ”Hey man, put your mask over your mouth – a women does not wear her bra on her forehead!”. He laughed and shouted back:”It won’t help, the damn thing is blocked’!”

Now, I could not leave it, because it was important to ascertain whether he knew why he was supposed to wear a mask. He did. When I asked him why he had not reported it, he said that he did so on many occasions, but that apparently there were no money in the budget.

So here is a young man, taking his life into his own hands and where are the managers who so succinctly wrote in the annual report – We care for people?

So now I was concerned. So off to management I went.When I asked the line manager to see his PPE register, he went blank.What is that, he asked.

Ok, to cut a long story short – the young man in the spray booth last got a new mask +/- 2 years ago. So where was senior management? Why were they not reinforcing standards, taking action. After all, they are the ones walking past him every day!

AND this was a branch of a listed company, one of the JSE Social Responsible index companies. Sitting on a time bomb. Sitting on a Reputation Risk time bomb.

The company was clearly non-compliant with the Occupational Health & Safety act. It clearly was not consistent – its actions, behaviours and communication was not aligned. For me an outsider it was clear that their values was not being demonstrated.

This may sound like being naive, but on my first visit to any company I can get one hell of an impression of the company just by looking at the state of the bathroom facility. In the Bible it is stated that if God cannot trust you in the small things, how can he trust you in the big things.

It is quite interesting that if you go and do root cause analysis of accidents, that it is often the small things that cause major damage.

Perhaps it is time for organizations to review their public commitment to Health & Safety, to do introspection and to rectify what is wrong. And that process can be started by senior management being willing to submit themselves to retraining and ensuring that they are up to date with the latest thinking in the field.

After all, waterfalls DO FLOW TOP to bottom.

Years ago, ISM (IBM in South Africa) had an advert that said ”If your failure rate is one in a million , what do you tell that one customer?” The same applies to other companies. If your death rate is one in a”million what do you say to that person’s family and loved ones?

How much are you spending on Stakeholder Relations?

So your organization professes that stakeholder relations is a priority for it.

So what % of PR expenditure are you spending on which stakeholder? What % of training budget are you spending on teaching managers to maximise relationships with stakeholders?

PR expenditure – is expenditure on attempting to influence perceptions of the organisation. What we try and do in stakeholder reputation work is to influence perceptions and ultimately affect stakeholder behaviour. Spending money on these relationships are not wasted. Spending money on learning how to maximise these relationships are not a waste.

We want stakeholders to act in a positive manner towards our organization. This means that we have to also measure their level of satisfaction in the relationship.

Analysis of this measure should include comparison of trends in the level of expenditure levels on stakeholder relations with trends in stakeholder satisfaction. This will provide the organisation with an understanding of the effectiveness of the ‘manage relations with stakeholders’ process and the efficiency with which it utilises its resources.

Since stakeholders differ and have different requirements, the resources required to manage relations with them will be different.

However it is necessary to measure the level of spending, impact and satisfaction. For example it takes investment and expenditure to build relationships with the media. If an organization does not deem this necessary and does not spend adequate resources on advertising and media relations, they only have themselves to blame when the time comes for a crisis and things go wrong.

Measurement of the level of expenditure on the management of relations with stakeholders provides an indication of the commitment to improving these relationships and assesses the efficiency of the ‘manage relations with stakeholders’ process.

Training managers to understand these processes and methodologies are not a waste, but an essential expenditure in building positive lasting stakeholder relations that can only benefit the organization.

Benchmark your Human Capital Management Practices

It is time again to enter the BEST Employers South Africa survey. This annual HR research & PR project is an ideal opportunity to benchmark an organization’s human resources processes and measure reputation success.

The ability to attract and retain human capital is one of the criteria of developing a sustainable reputation. By entering this survey – now in its tenth year, an organization can find out how they rate compared to their peers and best practice in industry.

Participating in surveys can:

  • Credibly position your organization as an employer of choice
  • Show the value of HR as a strategic business driver
  • Identify gaps in an organization’s reputation building approach and assist in closing them
  • Identify international and local trends to keep your HR practices current

For more information:


As a reputation management consultant, I highly recommend this participation. Developing a reputation as an employer of choice is no light task but absolutely essential.

Best companies attract top talent. Top talent innovate better and offer more value. Ultimately the organization will develop a superior reputation. It is a relatively simple formula.

A Good example of a company that used this type of survey is the banking group ABSA. They moved their position ranking from 20th to eventually No. 1 – for 2 years in a row. They even wrote a book about it called the Employee Brand.

Sure it took a lot of investment, but why did Barclays acquire the organization? Was it because of financial fit only or because of the people element? It is well known that in any Merger and acquisition the most difficult thing is to get the people element to blend.

Was this mere coincidence?

It is your choice to participate! Not participating does come with a cost. At least consider it with an open mind.