EDITORIAL: Perspectives

I recently had a great conversation with an old colleague. He’s an HR Director within a large financial services firm and like many other HR folk has spent the last six months at the helm of a significant transformation of their business model that has resulted in a large number of redundancies.

Most HR business partners are well qualified for downsizing. Like it or not, even during the boom times, HR folk are regularly required to help separate staff (both poor performing and otherwise). We learn to design the process fairly, manage it with integrity and help the impacted staff maintain their dignity. Unfortunately most of us have had a lot of practice.

What differentiates the best HR people, is not the ease with which they handle downsizing, but the perspective they take during the aftermath. My colleague has reached the end of his downsizing program and already he is looking 6 months ahead. His business forecasts a return to growth in early 2010. To deliver against this plan he will need the workforce to be motivated. There is also a risk that retention will once again become a real issue (especially in emerging markets) unless staff once again become committed to a career with his organisation.

Although recent downsizing may have helped his business reach its bottom-line objectives in the short term, it may also have resulted in a disengaged workforce that will undermine those same financial goals in the medium to long term.

So what is he doing about it? My colleague has re-focussed his entire HR strategy on staff engagement. Right when most HR folk are taking a deep breath and some well earned rest, he’s increasing the output of his team, and challenging business leaders to increase their focus on people.

My sense is that this story is not unusual. Many businesses are struggling with just this same dilemma. The question for HR folk is what perspective will they take over the next six months?

Matt is the Director of HC. He is an Organisational Psychologist with 10 years experience working in HR or related fields. Matt has consulted with many of Australia’s largest and most successful businesses across a broad range of industries.

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