How CIOs Restore Employee Trust After Layoffs

July 08, 2020

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

CIOs must carefully plan for what happens after layoffs to avoid drops in morale, retention and productivity.

The first few months of the pandemic were marked with layoffs--of varying sizes--across multiple industries. A Gartner poll taken in early May 2020 by finance leaders found that 25% of respondents’ organizations employed or considered employing workforce reduction as a means to reduce costs by July 2020.

. And while layoffs themselves require careful planning, strategy and transition, what CIOs often fail to plan for is the aftermath.

“CIOs spend too little time dealing with the emotional toll of layoffs and expect their employees to accept the situation and move on by themselves,” says Gabriela Vogel, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “This strategy often backfires and leads to drops in productivity, engagement and retention of talent.”

While reducing head count may be a necessary, albeit difficult, business decision, CIOs need to “PLAN” for post-layoffs: 

  • Prioritize actions

  • Leverage influencers

  • Anticipate resistance

  • Nurture realism

Prioritize action

After layoffs, identify and focus on quick wins or areas of low implementation difficulty, but high business relevance. This will boost employee confidence and signal a clear sense of direction. 

Give your team the space to voice thoughts and criticisms. It will shed light on issues you hadn’t considered and also highlight potential areas of future resistance. Make sure to ask about necessary capabilities to tackle these quick wins and task the team with creating pragmatic solutions. Co-creation will allow the team to feel in control, reduce anxiety and boost morale. 

Leverage influencers and anticipate resistance 

For each significant change, list possible influences and resistors, and how to leverage or mitigate each one. Identify each of the key stakeholders, as support from them will lead to a successful transformation. Keep this information updated as perceptions develop, but treat it with the utmost confidentiality. 

Nurture realism 

Regardless of CIOs’ personal feelings, they are responsible for supporting the corporate position. That makes it possible to lead the team without emotional judgment clouding the process. Own the hard facts about the layoff and work with other C-suite executives to create a recovery plan. Recognize that no one has all the answers, and there is no certainty in the future. 

Rebuild the trust 

Beyond the “PLAN,” make a concerted effort to rebuild the trust that is breached during a layoff. Initiate a dialogue with your team and ensure it is a two-way communication setup with both you, the CIO, and the employees sharing and receiving information. Activate a support network and make sure you’re checking up on the team and acting on feedback. Consider hosting an “Ask Me Anything” event to answer live questions from the team, which will allow you to speak authentically to your team and gauge the general team vibe. 

But planning is not enough. The post-layoff journey is not a simple one, but rather is a complex and evolving situation, and CIOs must pay special care to monitor and react to it. The additional stress of a global pandemic will only complicate the process, CIOs must also set the tone by assessing their own state of mind to avoid overloading themselves and others, as well as rebuild the foundation of trust with their teams through two-way conversations.

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