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  • Richard Spilg

Walking the talk when dealing with senior level redundancies

When asked, most Chief Executives won’t hesitate to tell you that their employees are their organisation’s most important asset. And it’s great when those sentiments translate into authentic actions, especially in the most testing times. Like when costs need to be cut, and significant redundancy programmes implemented.

Increasingly, in this age of acceleration (1) and the “hollowing-out” of organisations, long-serving employees are being told that their skills are no longer relevant, and that redundancy is the only option. Consequently, the lives of loyal employees who believed they would be serving the organisation in a senior capacity until (and perhaps beyond) retirement are thrown into turmoil. Aside from the inevitable blow to the individual’s self-esteem and loss of confidence, a deep sense of panic attached to having to find alternative work at the same level of income quickly surfaces.

I’ve had the very positive experience of working with organisations that recognise the importance of providing the proper level of support to senior executives and managers who, usually through no fault of their own, are put in this position. On the flip-side, I’ve also seen organisations treat affected employees in a very commoditised way, especially when large-scale redundancy programmes are being implemented.

HR managers who really do care for their employees during times of restructure will try and secure full outplacement support, which includes clarifying future career roles that fit with individual needs. However, when large numbers are involved, cost considerations may drive them to use less-tailored outplacement support. And while that more commoditised form of support will provide some of the necessary basics such as a temporary workplace, helping with CV’s, identifying search-firms, helping prepare for interviews, etc., it doesn’t give the individual the support they should have, nor does it protect the employment brand of the organisation.

When redundancy programmes impact senior-level employees that may not previously have had the benefit of external coaching, organisations that are committed to fully supporting them through what is a traumatic time understand that coaching is a vital part of the solution. The individual’s initial instincts will be to get their CV in shape and find a new (and typically similar) role as quickly as possible. But absent a good period of reflection as to what it is they really want to be doing, they may end up chasing exactly the wrong outcome. Figuring out what feels congruent for them, and reconnecting with work that they are truly passionate about, becomes all the more important given people’s desire (and need from a financial and/or well-being perspective) to remain productive well beyond traditional retirement age.

Referring back to the times that I’ve worked with clients in this situation, I’ve seen the benefit of putting coaching ahead of the more process-driven elements of outplacement. Coaching will initially help reduce the client’s level of anxiety by bringing context and process to their thinking. As time is generally of the essence in these situations, the process is more structured than is the case with a “normal” executive coaching programme. The coaching is focused on helping clients identify key strengths and attributes and distilling them into really explicit ideas of what they have to offer prospective employers. Or it can help them realise that what they really want to do is start their own business.

Coaching challenges clients to ensure that the work they are seeking, and the organisations they may be looking to join, are completely congruent with their own values and beliefs. It also helps clients develop a distinctive personal brand – one that makes conversations about potential roles much more succinct and focused. Once the client has had the time and space to figure out what feels exactly right for them, the job of marketing themselves becomes a whole lot easier. And a really critical outcome is that coaching helps the client build confidence and resilience – which will be required for the potentially protracted, uncertain and frustrating period until that new opportunity is secured.

Some of the key tenants of coaching are that the “client has all the answers”, and that the “learning is in the doing”. In this context, coaching complements the traditional outplacement process by encouraging clients to tap into and develop their networks and to spread their nets as widely as possible to gain information and insights. Clients that have been able to build resilience and confidence through coaching are all the more likely to proactively put themselves out there – the reality being that the right job will most likely come from an entirely unexpected source.

By including coaching as part of the outplacement programme for long-serving employees, organisations can ensure their brands are recognised for being true to their contention that their employees are their most valuable asset. Although it will add to the short-term cost of out-placement, the longer-term benefit of being an authentic and socially responsible employer is unquantifiable. More directly, in a market as connected as New Zealand, that ex-employee may well end up in a senior role with a significant client of the organisation – with the ability to influence whether that relationship is retained or lost.


1 Thomas Friedman (2016) Thank You for Being Late

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