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How Do Effective Leaders Handle Change?

| July 28, 2009

by Jim Bruce

It seems like every week I hear of universities planning for, going through, or having recently experienced layoffs, terminations, or position eliminations as a result of the economic crisis we are experiencing.  Today’s reading – “Ask the Expert:  How Do Effective Leaders Handle Change?” — is by Mark Hannum, Principle Consultant at Linkage and looks at practices that enable leaders to be more effective in such tough times.   

Hannum talks in this short piece about many aspects of layoffs and offers a number of specific suggestions:

1.  Prepare yourself, as well as your organization, for the change.

2.  Treat people who are being laid off as human beings, with dignity.

3.  Give people – both those leaving and those staying – time to say goodbye.

4.  Look people in the eye when you deliver bad news.

5.  Deliver clear messages – both with the words from your mouth and those from your body – that are short, human, and candid.

6.  Have a plan for going forward that people have confidence in, that instills hope and optimism.

7.  Make your plan known early and repeat often.

He also notes that how you deal with those being laid off are tremendous signals to those who are staying.  “They look at your treatment of terminated employees as a bellwether of how they may be treated some day.  Knowing that a layoff will be handled with dignity, respect, and community will go a long way to keeping survivors engaged and motivated.”

For those of you who want to read more on this topic, I suggest a piece from the Harvard Business School’s Newsletter, Working Knowledge:  “Conducting Layoffs:  ‘Necessary Evils’ at Work”  <>.  This article, which is an interview with Joshua Margolis, a professor at the Harvard Business School, and Andrew Molinsky, a professor at the Brandis University International Business School, focuses primarily on those individuals who are called upon to deliver the termination notice and their preparation for the conversation.  I think that the three criteria for “success” that they identify are right on:

1.  The task gets done.  The individual grasps the message and the knows the process to follow.

2.  The individual feels that he/she has been treated in a way that respects his/her dignity and – as important– lays the groundwork to allow him/her to rebound and move on in a constructive way.

3.  The task is done in a way that enables the manager to sustain his/her own well-being, ongoing effectiveness, and moral sensitivity.

You hope that you never are called on to layoff one of your staff.  If you are, you’ll find excellent advice in this reading (actually, these two readings), advice I urge you to follow.


.  .  .  .  .     jim