Diane Davis
Director, IC Implementation, Synopsys, Inc.

It is amazing how much stress is associated with reorganizations. My company just announced yet another one. Keeping your staff productive during the rumor stage is a managerial challenge that is complicated by today’s economy. People are afraid of losing their jobs, and many people think that reorganization is synonymous with a layoff.

Usually there is a reason for reorganization. Upper management might be trying to fill a hole because a key person has left the company. For economic reasons, upper management might think that a functional organization would work better than an organization in business units, or vice versa. Sometimes management thinks reorganization will get the creative juices flowing. Another possible reason for reorganization is that upper management or the board of directors is not pleased with an executive’s performance. Those people are paid big bucks for a reason. They, like us, are expected to perform. Whatever the reason, reorganizations are disconcerting. Change that results from top-down decisions, without any input from the people affected by the change, is much harder to deal with than change that individuals initiate themselves.

Unfortunately, reorganization might coincide with a layoff. So what’s a manager to do? I always think it is best to address issues as soon as possible. Talk to your staff either in a group or individually. Listen to their concerns. Address their fears as best you can. You might not be able to tell them specific details about the reorganization; you might not know them yourself. You can, however, be honest with them. If some of your staff start asking about reorganization or a layoff, you should gather your staff and address the issue. If you do not know whether a layoff is inevitable, tell your staff that you don’t know. If you do know, again be honest. If you have been told by upper management not to say anything about an upcoming layoff, tell your staff that you are not at liberty to tell them.

Encourage your staff to voice their concerns. Yes, you might be asked a difficult question, so do some preparation before your meeting. Think about what questions you might be asked and develop answers. I have been managing for a long time, so I just wing it during these meetings. I am comfortable telling them I don’t know or am not at liberty to say.

As a manager, you have a responsibility to keep your staff focused on the work that needs to be done. We all have jobs to do, whether or not there is a reorganization or layoff coming up. By gathering your staff and allowing them to voice their concerns, you can help them get past their fear of the unknown and thus have more energy for their ongoing tasks.