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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

February - 2009 - issue > People Manager

Doubts and Dilemmas with Downsizing - A Leadership Crucible

C. Mahalingam
Thursday, January 29, 2009
C. Mahalingam
Global recession is impacting the employment scene with a vengeance. Widespread job cuts have become common place. As if that was not enough, one of India's largest software services firms has run into a serious financial fraud of unheard proportions, leaving a huge question mark on the job security and career prospects of thousands of innocent and competent software professionals. In India, a job represents much more than livelihood. It is a social identity and is also a source of social security, with most of the employers taking care of post retirement health care and regular income for sustenance in the form of pension. While many IT and ITeS firms went aggressive with attractive sign-on and retention bonuses to win the much touted 'war for talent', and expanded their benefits programs and engagement initiatives to become the employer of choice, many of them have not thought of a proper 'outplacement' approach. This has resulted in many of these employees being left 'high and dry'.

This article focuses on the role of leadership during difficult times. This offers a perfect crucible for leaders to demonstrate their points of view about people, ensuring that everyone in the organization practices the much claimed 'our people are our greatest assets' value. Beyond creating the 'wall paper effect', these values need to be internalized by the leaders and externalized in their decisions and behavior. As a result of my discussions with many HR managers and business leaders, I have come to believe that there are some doubts and dilemmas that need the attention of the leaders and more importantly a clear articulation about them so that the whole organization understands how to navigate through these dilemmas with clarity.

Leaders come to represent a compass in the swamp – a situation in which organizations find themselves today. Let me focus on four key dilemmas that the leaders can help resolve:

1. Avoiding Adding Insult to the Injury

When you let go of people because your organization is not doing well, is it fair to brand these people as non-performers? If your organization's fortunes were intact, would you have still called them so and asked them to leave? Or would you have done everything you could to keep them 'engaged' and retain them? It is bad enough that they lose their jobs and have to suffer a loss of face among their dear and near. By calling them non-performers, are we not adding insult to their injury? And in the process, are we not also jeopardizing their future employment opportunities? As a minimum courtesy to people we interviewed and hired, we sold to our clients as our best people and more, can we not at least leave their self esteem intact by not branding them as non-performers? What is the compulsion for some leaders to claim, "It is business as usual and sending hundreds of people out with pink slips is a normal weeding out process?" Is it just to impress the media? Well the whole world knows that it is the meltdown and cost pressures that are driving this decision. The minimum the leaders can do is to acknowledge bad times and own the difficult decisions impacting people.

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