I am a middle manager at a privately owned company whose employees have endured two rounds of layoffs as well as cuts to their benefits. Those who managed to keep their jobs pulled together to save the company, but five years after the start of the financial crisis, they are tired and demoralized. The company’s response has been to offer low-cost or no-cost “rewards” in lieu of anything tangible. Now I’ve been asked to “sell” a reorganization that will place the people who report to me under even greater pressure. How can I object to this plan without jeopardizing my own future with the company?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.
There are two sides to this story. On the plus side, the employees who survived the layoffs have kept their jobs for the past five years with an opportunity for continued employment. On the down side, they have had to endure cutbacks in benefits and positions.
Without knowing your company’s bottom line, it is difficult to determine the owner’s motivation. Many organizations today are struggling just to pay their bills, remain competitive, and create enough of a profit margin to merit their financial risks.
Decisions that result in increased pressure for fewer rewards are tough for all parties. Your role as a front-line manager is to execute a business decision, but before doing so you should understand the reasons behind it. Once you have this information, you may see some alternatives to top management’s plan. You need to frame your comments in terms of potential risks to the company (decreased employee retention, morale or results, for example) rather than simply objections to change.
If you don’t have a viable alternative to suggest, focus on change management, on how you can best implement and communicate this decision. Managers rarely jeopardize their futures if they stick to presenting the facts in an objective manner without emotion.
Your team most likely knows you care. Be as honest and transparent as you can be, and focus on what you and your team can do to improve the organization’s bottom line.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Associate professor of industrial/organizational psychology, University of Windsor
If you’re in management and you have a principled and reasoned argument against a decision by upper management, then it’s your job to let them know. If you don’t because you’re afraid of the consequences, then I question whether you’re all that useful to the company. Having said that, any firm that would fire someone because it doesn’t want to hear thoughtful dissent from its managers is dysfunctional.
But if you’re asking about technique, then it depends on why you are objecting to the reorganization. Is it because you don’t think it’s in the company’s best interests, or is it because you won’t be able to sell it to your people?
If the former, make sure your objections are based in facts and a full understanding of the planned reorganization. Knee-jerk resistance won’t get you far. Simply express your concerns and outline why the decision will hurt the firm, and suggest alternative solutions.
If it’s the latter, then raise upper management’s consciousness about how demoralized everyone is. They might not be aware of what morale is like if they are removed from the day-to-day management. Ask for their input on how to get everyone on board and overcome resistance.
If you fail to persuade the company to alter its plans, then move to implementing the reorganization as best you can. Don’t sabotage the reorganization if you said you would try to sell it. If that’s your inclination, you should quit.
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