You know how to hire and retain, but do you know how to let people go?
Dealing with staff can be the toughest job for any CIO. Performance appraisals are part of every manager's role, and as a consequence there can hardly be any CIO who has not had to advise, castigate and probably terminate the employment of at least one staff member. And often with little formal training or preparation in the finer points of human resources management.
What then of dealing harshly with employees when it is not their fault? Whether through mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing arrangements, cost reductions, business restructure, decline or collapse, in the current environment, redundancies, retrenchments and mass terminations are not uncommon, and often are reported at unprecedented scales. Retrenchments of thousands of staff are regular fodder for the media. But behind every headline there are countless real-life human stories, of hardship, anger, confusion and bitterness.
This affects all departments of an organisation, including IT, and many CIOs themselves have been retrenched. And while being thus dismissed does not perhaps carry the stigma of personal failure that it once might have done, it remains an unpleasant and unwished activity - on both sides.
It's also important to remember that there's more to retrenchment costs than those being brought to the bottom line. Doing terminations right has a commercial benefit, and protecting your organisation's "brand" has to be considered a major issue when retrenching or sacking numbers of employees.
After all, would you want to work for a company with a bad reputation when it comes to redundancies? A firm that seems to have no concern for the wellbeing of individual workers? The sort of organisation that lays off large numbers of people the day before Christmas? The industry grapevine is a very efficient communicator of bad news, and any story of callous behaviour or ill-treatment of employees travels fast.
"You can have all the best facilities and entitlements, such as bonuses, creche, leave, study, and so on, to make yourself the most attractive employer, and then pull it all down if you treat people badly, with disrespect," says Mark Burnicle, the national business development manager, people and development, for recruitment firm Robert Walters.
There can be no worse planning, and none more demotivating to staff, than when the media release the details of job losses to the public before the company has had a chance to tell employees.
"The workplace becomes a battlefield," says Brad Swebeck, an independent legal IR specialist. "With rumour of impending doom, the silent strike is put into place by employees and loss of productivity follows, not to mention the possible theft or destruction of intellectual property and confidential information, usually to competitors who relish the predicament of the company concerned.
"Resumes hit the market at a furious rate. The employer is all but dead in the water for about three weeks. This is enough time for the market to write the company off and for nervous investors to follow suit by dumping stock," he says.
"You have to face it, do it and move on," one CIO says. "Most companies have learned to tell the truth up front," he claims, although it seems at times that there are still enough out there who would rather the truth went quietly away.
How then do CIOs deal with the hardest job? What do you need to know and do, and how do you avoid making a difficult situation even worse for all concerned? Ultimately, if you do it correctly, you will not have trouble keeping your best people or attracting staff for all departments in the future.
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