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"Cutting Edge" Strategies for Reorganizing or Downsizing: The "Stress Doc's" Top Ten Tips for Tip-Top Management

[Cautionary Note: This article may be hazardous to the ironically-impaired.]

In this era of organizational restructuring or downsizing, or better still, right-sizing, or most on target, what I call "fright-sizing," the challenge for top management is having the savvy and guts to gut much of your workforce while still maintaining survivor productivity and team morale -- that "esprit de corpse." While some advocate a market- or politics-driven streamlining, I believe in a higher-level, visionary downsizing mode. To create a "lean-and- MEAN" working machine requires an Olympian management team capable of both thunderously jolting a downtrodden, demotivated workforce and being down to earth, "hands on" role models. (Oh yes, in these hypersensitive, politically correct times, just be careful where you place those hands. If you have any questions, please refer to Mitsubishi's personnel policies and procedures manual.)

Warning: Some critics will claim these forthcoming strategies produce less "lean-and-mean" operations and more "lean-and-mean-spirited" organizations. Ignore such soft-headed, liberal posturing. Now for your "Top Ten" Cutting Edge Commandments. Go for it!

1. Keep Employees Grateful and Humble. Continuously remind employee survivors they should be thankful to have a job. By not filling those vacant positions there's less competition for eventual promotions (assuming, of course, there's not another RIF - Reduction In Force). For recalcitrant, insufficiently grateful employees, some cheerfully designed signs -- "thank you for not whining" and "beware the effects of second-hand whining" -- may be prominently displayed in the work and break areas).

2. Avoid Negative Feelings through Positive Motivation. Hire a hot shot outplacement team to motivate people to ignore their feelings of betrayal, fear and rage and to generate employee enthusiasm and positive thinking about updating the resume. Reassure confused and vulnerable employees that a change of job or an out-of-state position is the new learning curve they've probably needed. Hey, it's so prehistoric, so "p.b." -- pre-boomer -- to work twenty or thirty years in one place.

3. Separate the Transitionally Displaced. Create a transition center for the dispirited who no longer have a job (but are still on payroll) that removes them from the rest of the company. Without distractions, these isolates will focus expeditiously on their future career plans. (And don't let anyone mistake this center for a leper colony; these individuals are ill-fated, not contagious.)

4. Beware the "Blame Game." Refuse to have management-employee team building/group grieving sessions; open expression of feelings just makes management the target of "another bitch session." (Please do not impute any sexist connotation to either open blabbering or the aforementioned "b"-word. These days, being a strong, silent John Wayne- or Rambo-type is not just a male thing. There are plenty of Rambettes out there.)

5. Don't Get Predictable. Keep information about the restructuring as vague and inconsistent as possible. In fact, the more disinformation the better. A certain amount of uncertainty heightens group competition and, hopefully, will disorient your best people and/or intimidate them from leaving (until you think it's appropriate, especially if they may be a threat to your own tenured position).

6. Demonstrate Decisive Displacement. Have new managers rapidly fill some of the positions of displaced managers, especially those managers who were well- respected; people don't need to dwell morbidly on the past. On a more positive note, this transition-transfusion also provides a real opportunity for new blood. (Of course, one hopes we are speaking figuratively here. You might want to have escorts, though, for these new managers as they leave work.)

7. Instill the Spirit of Overload and Accommodation. Make sure middle managers and supervisors appear to accept cheerfully "doing more with less," even if their employees feel they are at the breaking point. Low morale, heightened staff tension and anger or, especially, that self-serving term "burnout," are not sufficient counterindicators to "sucking it up"; nor is psychobabble about psychosomatic, stress-induced illness acceptable. (Cardiac arrest, however, continues to be grounds for excused leave.) Remember, a loyal master, I mean manager, who selflessly takes on an ever expanding workload without renegotiating priorities and time frames is a company icon. Such loyalty and dedication will surely inspire even surly subordinates to met the plantation's, I mean organization's, new goals.

8. Consider Token Team Building. If absolutely necessary, allow a small matrix group to meet sporadically to provide only positive ideas and buy-in for your ever evolving company vision (or is it hallucination?; so often it's such a fine line). Eventually retire the group with gilded framed team building certificates.

9. Create Social Diversions. Plan a company picnic, a Christmas dinner party, or some diversionary event for your beleaguered, "survivor shock" employees. When not enough people sign up (or refuse to contribute a potluck dish) send an e-mail saying how, because of lack of employee interest, regretfully, the party had to be canceled. You can also organize a committee to discover the reasons why people didn't sign up.

10. Retreat Reorganizationally from Reality. Avoid a sustained relationship with a consultant trained in reorganizational crisis, conflict, loss and grief work as this intervention will surely make things worse. You know because you once attended one of those touchy-feely retreats where they even made people briefly hug one another. Or you heard about a workshop facilitator who used a "let it all hang out" encounter group-like method on a law firm retreat with thirty litigators. Big surprise...The workshop turned into a primal attack/scream session and people didn't speak to one another for the next six months. (So the retreat was a wash; there probably had been too much socializing on company time anyway. Or maybe it was just one of those retreats where people took their vows of silence to heart.)

Of course, this consultant, from a well-known firm and with a prestigious degree, didn't have a clue how to deal with intense psychological dynamics or group interaction, including disarming predatory creatures. A true consulting superstar, however, will totally work out these basically minor post-restructuring adjustment problems. In addition, such a stellar management coach, if you act right away, should offer to place, on the same retreat, a big positive motivational bandage on all pre-reorganizational crisis dysfunctional work relationships, at no extra cost. If you do dismiss the retreat approach, there still is a safe, effective image enhancing option: send a couple of key personnel on a 3-day "team building" workshop. Then you can answer "affirmative" if anyone asks whether yours is a team-based operation.

In conclusion, if you or your executive management team has the courage and foresight to enact one or more of these cutting edge strategies, please let me know. As a reorganizational consultant, I certainly aspire to work with such a visionary, progressively "lean-and-MEAN" upper management team. I understand loneliness at the top. And believe me, you'll need all the help you can get!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions and Brigades, Ft. Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.

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