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Why Reputation Matters
Six ways leaders can protect their reputation during a reduction in force

By Sanjay Sathe  7/16/2014
 

Impressions are a finite resource, which is why first impressions count. Yet now, more than ever, personal recommendations are spoiled by bad first impressions, and brand advocacy is sullied by negative PR.

In our social media-driven world, we must be aware of the impressions word of mouth creates—especially during sensitive situations such as workforce reductions.

Recently, Karen Stevens, vice president of Practice Strategy at RiseSmart, a provider of outplacement and career management solutions, identified six ways to maintain a strong employer brand during a restructuring that apply to everyone from HR to the CEO:

  • Recognize the impact of your brand. A positive employer brand is not a right; it must be earned. How a company’s employees communicate to others about leadership during a reduction in force (RIF) may shape how talent views the company in the future.
  • Employers must demonstrate that they value their employees. A good business plan will include room for severance and transition services to make clear in advance that the organization supports the well-being of its employees—even if the business can no longer support their roles.
  • Communicate the business case. Communication is one of the most important tools in establishing a positive tone for a brand during a RIF. Long before the event, the organization should include its employees in communication about the direction of the business (such as during all-hands meetings) so that when a RIF becomes necessary, they already understand that their roles are not being eliminated due to performance, but for economic or strategic reasons.
  • In addition, it is helpful to invest in manager training for those who must deliver the layoff notifications, so that these discussions proceed smoothly, and employees are again reassured that layoffs are not linked to job performance.
  • Keep the talent pipeline open. To be an employer of choice, companies must give impacted employees a reason to choose them again. Employees who perform well and fit within a company’s culture can make the strongest candidates for positions in other areas of the company.
  • Consider social media. Conversations about a company are going to happen on social media whether companies want them to or not. That company’s talent (past, present and future) may shape a large piece of that conversation.
  • If an organization is proactively following the above suggestions to establish value, communication and mobility, then it is already setting itself up for positive word of mouth and recommendations. A company should still be prepared for negative reviews, however, and must train its communications team to answer public criticism with speed, grace and compassion.
  • Offer transition services. Companies can help impacted employees turn a RIF into a career transition and should make sure that, above all, those employees feel supported in their search for a new role—in actions, not just words.

A company should give all impacted individuals access to job coaches, resume writers or job search tools so that everyone who leaves the company as a result of a RIF feels like they have at least been given a fair chance.

Business leaders must be fiercely proactive about protecting their brands, and the best way to do that is to genuinely care about and protect their employees, from the first impression to long after the last.  

Sanjay Sathe is president and CEO of RiseSmart, a next-generation outplacement solutions and career transition service.

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