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It’s never easy when companies must announce job cuts. Whether referred to as workforce reductions, downsizing, layoffs, or cost control measures, the bottom line is that it’s not good news for those directly impacted, as well as their families, co-workers, community and customers. And while such announcements may not trigger the company’s full crisis team to convene, there are lessons to be learned from traditional crisis communications response that can help reduce uncertainty, minimize damage to the firm’s reputation, and help the remaining workforce to more effectively deal with the changes and move forward.
Many crisis plans contain prepared language about the company’s commitment to its core values, particularly relating to its people and the communities in which it operates. Nowhere is this commitment to its people put under more pressure and skepticism than during the announcement of job cuts. One trend is to state that those impacted will be treated "in accordance with our core values of dignity and respect." Perhaps, but that’s vague enough that it could just as well be referring to a funeral service. When referencing values, offer specifics as much as possible. If outplacement services and training will be offered, say it. If severance packages will be offered to qualified employees, mention it.
A full-blown crisis response typically involves the implementation of a detailed plan that has been developed, practiced, and refined over time through actual experience and feedback. Layoff announcements should also be carefully planned and choreographed to avoid leaks, missteps, and confusion. Coordinating employee communications, required regulatory notifications, media response, and investor updates is crucial to effectively managing the process in a way that preserves the firm’s reputation and value, while respecting the impacted employees.
Gather the facts about the total number of people impacted, facility closures, relocations, cost reductions, customer impacts, etc. Next, develop key messages from those facts that will be delivered, as appropriate, to key stakeholders. Investors and financial analysts, for example, may view the announcement of workforce reductions and the associated cost savings as good news. It would be a mistake, however, to emphasize cost savings when communicating to employees. Oftentimes, it is as straightforward as sequencing the messages appropriately. For example:
Employees: demand is down in soft market --> need to reduce X positions --> in order to reduce costs by $xx to preserve business
Investors: demand is down in soft market --> need to reduce costs by $xx to preserve business --> will be accomplished by eliminating X positions
As with an unplanned, traditional crisis, it is critical to monitor media coverage, social media, etc. to make certain messages are working effectively and misinformation is identified and corrected if required. Don’t expect the coverage to be positive, particularly on social media and in the comments section below on-line news articles. You should, however, be on the lookout for dramatically overstated numbers, references to pulling out of the market, or other misinformation that may need to be addressed in subsequent news cycles.
At the end of the day, layoffs are an unfortunate part of the business cycle in many sectors. It can be tempting to quickly dispatch this unpleasant task with cookie cutter communications that convey the facts, but don’t address the unique needs of the full range of impacted stakeholders. But when approached with the same effort, sensitivity, and commitment to improvement that most companies bring to a typical crisis response, companies can successfully maneuver through the difficult task of communicating layoffs using many of the same skills and tools brought to bear in traditional crisis management.
Pierpont's team assists corporations of all sizes develop strategic communications plans. Learn more about how a reputation management specialist can help you today. Click here for more information or contact Chris Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.