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Caela Farren, Ph.D. is President and Tom Karl is Vice President of MasteryWorks, Inc., Career Development Experts for over 30 years. MasteryWorks builds integrated career systems that align talent with business needs; help leaders and managers engage, develop, and retain their people; and empower employees to take charge of their careers. MasteryWorks solutions (which include consulting, leader and employee training, web portals, and assessments) create the foundation for impactful "career conversations" centered around increased contribution and performance, alignment of talent, increased retention, engagement, and career fit.

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Reorganization, Restructuring or Downsizing?
Career development strategies key during times of change
and uncertainty

by Tom Karl, and Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.


    Today’s troubled economy is forcing companies to evaluate a myriad of belt-tightening strategies. One such strategy is layoffs which are being announced at a fast and furious pace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate climbed to 7.6% in January 2009. By year-end, at least 2 million jobs are expected to evaporate, according to the Conference Board Employment Trends Index.

These massive layoffs are, however, just one part of the story. Slashing budgets, merging/acquiring, changing markets, implementing new business strategies -- leaders are exploring all these potential changes in their efforts to weather the storm.

Due to Layoffs
87 % are less likely to recommend their organizations as a good place to work
81% say customer service has declined
77% see more errors and mistakes being made
64% say their colleagues' productivity has declined
61% think their organizations’ prospects have worsened


No matter what strategies organizations choose to implement, there is one action step that all managers must implement: engender the buy-in, engagement, and confidence of employees. A successful transition depends on a manager’s ability to make these connections with employees -- and make them NOW. We cannot caution enough: Take immediate action or accept the potential consequences of decreased productivity, increased risk of losing skilled talent, and -- most important -- decreased employee engagement and loyalty.

While conventional wisdom may have you think that employees in this uncertain labor market should be happy to have their jobs, this doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, a recent Leadership IQ survey (June 2008) illustrates the negative repercussions felt as a result of layoffs. A full 75% of 4,172 workers who kept their jobs say that their own productivity dropped since their organizations let people go.

The survey also found that:

  • 87% are less likely to recommend their organizations as a good place to work
  • 81% say customer service has declined
  • 77 % see more errors and mistakes being made
  • 64% say they coleagues’ productivity has declined
  • 61% think their organizations’ prospects have worsened

A scientific study of national worker opinions by Modern Survey (released November 2008) adds even more fuel to the disengagement fire. The study confirms that employee engagement as a whole has clearly declined over the last year, with employee engagement levels showing a drop in every category measured, including a 7% decline in the number of employees that say they “take pride in their company.” An alarming 21% of U.S. workers were actively disengaged as of this past August when the study was conducted, a difference of four percentage points from August 2007. States Modern Survey President Don MacPherson in the company’s press release, “These findings should serve as a wake-up call to leaders and managers in any type of organization. As economic conditions worsen, you’ll be counting more and more on your employees to put forth their best efforts and to pull your organization through.

These results suggest that unless you pay special attention to the engagement of your workforce, and to maintaining the type of work environment in which employee engagement flourishes, fewer and fewer of your employees will be willing to “give their all” to help your company succeed.

We know that career development is one of the primary drivers of employee engagement. Almost all of the engagement surveys and/or employee exit interview data point out career development as a key area of employee dissatisfaction. Underneath this dissatisfaction lie questions around knowing what job opportunities are available to them; understanding the requirements for career advancement into these potential opportunities; knowing how to effectively present themselves as viable candidates; and knowing what resources – training, tuition assistance, development opportunities, etc. are available to them so if there is a gap, there is an avenue to enhance their skills and increase their potential for these roles in the future Especially now, faced with today's challenging environment, it is imperative that all organizations move swiftly to create a work environment that fosters career growth through enrichment opportunities and development. Here are five such career development strategies organizations should put into action during these changing and uncertain times:

1. Ready your leaders and managers.
Increase the skill and confidence of your managers to have effective and meaningful career conversations with all their employees throughout the change process. Building your managers’ skills in this area is critical. Their ability to convey the changes, engage employees on the potential career implications for them personally, and build readiness for any potential outcome is the key to success. The objectives here are simple: keep your best talent, maintain productivity during the change, and ensure that affected employees are redeployed or leave the organization on good terms. Remember --- these people are key to your employment brand and customer loyalty even after they leave.

2. Keep your best! Most important, don’t lose your best due to uncertainty or inaction. Remember, high performers are usually the most employable and many times are the first to leave given inaction. Your managers all know who these people are, even outside of the formal succession planning process. This is the time to be sure that your managers are ready and skilled in having effective engagement and career development conversations with top talent. Your managers are key to not only sharing their perspective on the changes occurring, but also acknowledging a top employee’s strengths, talents, contributions, and most important, why he or she will be critical in the future of your company. Be sure that you focus on your most talented employees --- the ones with specialized skills, customer loyalty, and long-term potential.

3. Ready all of your employees before the change or as the change is occurring. Remember, uncertainty leads to decreased productivity, decreased employee engagement, decreased customer satisfaction, and ultimately a decrease in the bottom line --- especially important to avoid in an uncertain economy. Help all employees get their own career development plan in place, understand the changes, and begin to formulate what could be the impact on them. With this foundation, all employees can begin to develop two scenarios for themselves: Plan A: What if I’m not affected? What would be the best short- and long-term scenarios for me? Or, Plan B: What if I am affected by the change? What will that mean for me? Will I have opportunities in other parts of the organization? What practical steps do I need to take? Just by helping individuals to better understand what’s going on and empowering them to be proactive in either scenario will increase their energy, their confidence, and ultimately their productivity and the speed at which they support your organization through the change.

4. Ready employees who will be affected by the change. Give them tools and resources to redeploy successfully to other more viable and growing areas of the organization that fit their professional aspirations. Redeployment should always be the first option if there are other parts of the organization where their talents could be utilized. Redeployment will not only support your affected workforce, but will significantly cut down on severance, outplacement, search, and hiring costs. Employees with a history with your company will also assimilate more quickly into other divisions and quickly become productive in their new roles. Give these employees the opportunity to clarify their strengths and accomplishments and the value that they’ve brought to the organization. Give them the skills to network, interview, and develop their internal resumes so that they will be viable candidates for internal positions. Remember, redeployment will not only minimize the negative consequences for affected employees but will also raise the emotional energy and productivity of those who stay in their current positions.

5. Energize the survivors before, during, and after the change. Remember, these are the people who you fought to keep and who will now continue to make your organizational successful. They too feel the uncertainty of the changes occurring around them. Affected employees’ roles and projects will be delegated to them, and soon they will begin to feel overworked and underappreciated. Head this off at the pass. Energize survivors by providing tools to help them clarify their own strengths, contributions, and career aspirations. Help them see why staying with the organization both short and long term will be a win-win for them and for the business. Jump-start and engage your survivors by helping them understand that this is an opportunity to take on additional responsibilities, gain new skills, and position themselves for future opportunities aligned with their own career aspirations.

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