March 16, 2009

You’ve Cut as Much as You Can…Now What?

We’ve seen the staggering layoff statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on February 25, 2009 that there have been 25,712 mass layoffs from December 2007 to January 2009 for a total of 2,632,336 people impacted. This large number is hard to get your mind around. It seems lately that we all know someone who has either been impacted by a layoff or knows someone who has been.

How have the layoffs impacted organizations? In some companies, the layoffs were needed due to an overstaffing situation, in others, they may have lost business which resulted in a reduced workload. However, some companies might have already been operating with a lean staff so layoffs have created a situation where there is still a tremendous amount of work that a smaller team is trying to accomplish. The folks that are normally left after a layoff are your top performers but even your best people will eventually burn out if their workload continuously stays excessive.

After you have cut your headcount to the lowest you possibly can, now what? I believe the answer is innovation. It is time to think and do things differently. This is not just the job of senior leaders but of everyone in the organization. If everyone has the “we are all in the same boat” philosophy, you can capture the imagination and ideas of every member in the company. Involvement in the health of the company also increases employee engagement because people feel empowered to take action to improve their situation. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage and Reward Ideas: Let every member of the organization know that your company welcomes creative ideas on improving productivity, quality, cost savings, profitability and/or customer service. Create formal processes to capture and reward ideas but be careful of how much bureaucracy you put in your process so it doesn’t discourage people from submitting ideas.
  • Provide Process Analysis Tools: A flowchart is an excellent example of a process tool. By listing the steps in a process you may find that steps have been added that are no longer necessary or people are being involved that don’t need to be. Cutting steps or automating a piece of the process may reduce inefficiencies saving time and money. GE’s Work-Out program was intended to identify and eliminate unneeded processes and tasks that were left over from previous years and it is worth examining GE’s process to see how it could be used in your organization.
  • Capitalize on Teamwork: An organization is made up of a diverse group of people with various strengths. If everyone uses their strengths to the fullest, companies receive a better outcome. There are those employees who always come up with creative ideas but have difficulty executing them. There are others who are terrific at taking a new idea and refining it until it works. Others will follow a plan and execute flawlessly. Capitalizing on teamwork encourages everyone to contribute to the innovation process by valuing their strengths and finding collaborative venues to work with others of opposite strengths.

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