Toughest Leadership Situation For Me Was…

I was with some friends the other day and one of them asked, “what was the toughest situation you faced as a manager in your 20+ years of leading your work teams?”  Talk about putting you on the spot, without any notice to prepare for answering that question. After taking a few moments to think back, the toughest moment came to me quickly and really clear. There are situations that you remember both quickly and clearly because they left an impression, either good or bad.

I need to set the stage a bit. In any work environment, you have cycles of good, great and bad times. This particular situation happened during the companies down cycles. Basically, the company was redeploying employees. Redeployment means that one group is having to downsize the total number of employees and hopefully another group can use that skill set and employee for their needs. In theory, it sounds like a good idea. There have been some employees that have done well in redeployment. Most of the time, the employees just don’t find another group that can use their skill set. Having to leave the company! With the statistics the way they are most employees would rather chose to separate from the company, rather than try their luck at redeployment. In my career, as a manager, I have administered (and have happened to me) three cycles of identification of employees for redeployment. Three times having to downsize (or eliminate) my team.

I will be honest with you, every one of these situations had tough moments in them. You are dealing with people! I have always tried my best to be an outstanding manager and leader for my teams. Relationships were built with each employee. I felt that my teams have always performed well in their given area. Those teams have stepped up and delivered some amazing results. Getting back to the question… The toughest situation was the second time that I went through the redeployment process.

Why the second time was tougher than the first (or third)?

  • In most organizations, there is always a level of “fat” built-in after the company has been in a growth (and great financial results). Downsizing was required and we all knew that it was best for the organization. Standing up and presenting to the team, was tough because we were going to lose some team member(s). The who was the white elephant in the room. Processes were followed to identify those that did not have the skill sets that were necessary to move forward. When the redeployment hit the second time, well, now we knew we were going to have to make big changes, both in workload and what we had to do to accomplish our work.
  • The first time, was all new to everyone. When I presented out the process of redeployment, many folks thought this was a good thing, as it would give potential opportunity to folks that wanted to do something different. In theory, the process look and sounded good. When the second time (one year later) hit, we all witnessed the actually reality of the redeployment process. Less than 50% of the folks that attempted to find work in a different group were successful. The theory was replaced with real data…
  • The third time through the process and I hate to even say it, I had become numb to the complete process. Numb! While I was going through the process with my teams, I was having it happen to me as well. I got to “feel” and experience it 2x.
  • The second time was the toughest!
    • I was actually having to tell some pretty awesome employees that they were being selected for redeployment. I lost sleep the nights before each discussion. I was being asked to make a radical change to the team and how we were going to accomplish our work moving forward. I had to put on a positive exterior when inside I was hurting.
    • I had built a very strong team. They all stepped up after the first redeployment and made the team even better. We were actually doing more with less. We were an example to all of the teams. We were going to stop doing some work, shift our focus and basically going to tell our internal customers that we will not be doing much of what they needed. Customer service was not a focus. It was all about cost and nothing else. If the company wanted to downsize, then everyone needed to feel the pain. You can not expect customer service focused individuals to not care about customer service. My job was going to get really tough. I was going to be put in the middle and the challenges were going to be huge.

What do you do? As their leader, you have to make sure that you are being providing your team with the right level of balance. Make sure to communicate everything. Make sure that when you are speaking you are being yourself. Tell them everything! For me, I was always upfront with what is happening. I made sure to tell them that  the only thing they can control now, is the work on their desk. I know times are scary, but we still have our jobs to do. I put on the company hat as needed. We all will take time to react to what is being communicated to us, just make that time moments and keep the focus on what we control. It was the toughest situation I faced in all of my 20+ years. As a leader, it is about your people and having them do some amazing results… We all knew that people and the work at this particular point in time, was not the focus. So, I tried to make sure that my focus was with the people and their amazing results. It was the only thing, that we could feel good about!