Monday, February 13, 2012

The Harder Side to the Soft Side of Business

Downsizing can be essential for an organization to survive. Its use as a successful strategic intervention, however, is too often marginal. Leaders often fail in the design and falter in the deployment. They connect the wrong tactic with the right intention. They use it as a means to a different end. They seem to forget the power of fear and bury the emotional implications of affecting someone’s livelihood (and/or reputation).

Downsizing as an improvement strategy is limited in its success. Perhaps it is semantics, but downsizing as a strategy seems wrong. In my work, it is a means to a strategic end. It may be an essential activity in order to align the resources with the intended outcomes and put people in better positions (literally) to advance the mission and achieve success.

The very challenges that bring an organization to this crossroads are often the circumstances that undermine its successful execution. A poorly managed business with a lack of leadership is not necessarily going to benefit from systemic redesign, organizational redesign or downsizing if the intended outcome doesn’t address the leadership void and the lack of business acumen. Also, cutting positions to reduce expenses can be “penny wise and pound foolish” when you diminish the ability to deliver on service or damage relationship channels with key clients. An organization that suffers from poor or disingenuous communication will only suffer more as a downsizing unfolds and people are left wondering or worrying about their future. Executive management without vision will not see more clearly after the downsizing is complete.

Successful downsizing requires broader consideration and visionary planning that starts with the end in mind (ala Stephen Covey). If institutions followed the steps outlined in the text perhaps downsizing would be perceived less negatively and the impacts felt less dramatically. Organizations that consider the options and the consequences are more likely to find success through the downsizing effort. Companies that work from a platform of respect and consideration are inclined to realize the positive results.

Downsizing can be brilliant when truly connected to the strategic intentions of an organization. It can make unworkable situations manageable. Downsizing can even help address weaknesses, when it is intended (and known) to be occurring for that purpose. Downsizing has a necessary place in the quiver and should be used by those skilled in its integrated design, multi-faceted deployment and long-term delivery.
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