Letting People Go - The Easier Way

By Martin Haworth
Martin Haworth

For most leaders, one of the most challenging activities they will ever have to do is when organisational change means there is a requirement to let people go. To deprive people of their means to survive hits the very bottom of our favourite tasks in the role we do.

And there is no easy way to do this.

In the George Clooney film ‘Up in the Air’, corporates ‘buy in’ experts to do their dirty work for them and in that movie, the star of the show, Ryan Bingham does as good a job as he might do, given the circumstances.

Being the purveyor of as bad news as could be possible in the workplace, isn’t going to be fun, however you might dress it up.

For many leaders - most even - the seeming luxury of outsourcing letting go of employees is not an option, and many might argue it is simply wrong to dissociate from taking the fullest of responsibilities for a leader.

Although it can never be a nice part of a leader’s role, making someone redundant from their job can be managed in such a way as to make it easier, and here’s how.

Firstly, as a leader, you have an obligation to be whole.

Part of this will be the highs of success. And another will be to deliver the more difficult messages too. Taking full responsibility is actually seem by your people as a positive skill in you. So be ‘the one’ who leads in all situations.

Secondly, in most countries of the world, although difficult choices might be imposed on you, decisions are yours.

This is often done for technical and legal reasons, but you are the person who will be seen to be making the decision about who comes and goes in your workplace, so be clear, professional and assertive.

Thirdly, dissociate yourself from that decision.

And be professional, supportive and compassionate for your people. If you have been there with them in the highs, you have to be strong and with them in the lows too. It’s in the job description, even though many might not be fully focused on it.

Fourthly, be proactive.

This could come at the top of the list, for you need to be a good leader ALL of the time. This is about having constructive, professional and dynamic relationships with every one of your people - all the time. You can’t pluck ‘relationship’ out of a hat just when you need it. Yet when you do need it as you let people go, they will often understand better when you have been there for them in many ways in the past.

Finally. Be prepared for the act.

Being professional in how you take such action is vital. By being fully prepared; clear with facts; organised to help with all the questions they will have and provide support in the discussion, will go some way to assuage the numbness and shock they might feel.

Redundancy need not be (and rarely is) the end of the line for many people. There will be opportunities as the process evolves to help those affected see the possibilities that changing jobs offers them. For many it will not be immediate. For them it may take time and discussion for them to recognise that there might be a more interesting path ahead of them.

Each person will find that in their own time and you as their leader can be there to facilitate that. A memorable moment in ‘Up in the Air’ is where Clooney reminds the employee of their passion for cooking and the possibilities start to give them hope. It is an interesting and consistent fact that around 70% of employees are unhappy in their current work, but they get stuck. Redundancy can open up new - if scary and challenging - horizons for them.

Be organised. Be present. Pace yourself. Be the one who, despite the unpleasant role you have to take in this circumstance, is truly there for them. To hold their hand a bit. To support next steps and above all, to help them see that they are valuable people, but in this instant, issues outside their control have overtaken what they can control.

And when they do take it, there is much possibility on their lives when they recognise it.

For you, being constructive, supportive and encouraging for these people, often in distress will make the activity so much more fulfilling and ultimately and positive experience, as far as possible for you. Being there for them is also about being there for you, yourself.

Martin Haworth is an experienced UK-based coach and trainer with TNM Coaching, working worldwide with enlightened organisations who see the light in leadership and management development.