#129 from R&D Innovator Volume 3, Number 11          November 1994

FORUM—from our readers

“Benefits” from Downsizing

About a year-and-a-half ago, my group, as well as others in my company, underwent a significant downsizing.  One of our older product lines was dropped.  We lost not only able technical staff, but also some people with higher degrees.  I had managed this group for five years, and we had become a close and effective team.  With the loss of almost half the staff, we were devastated.  Morale plummeted and rumors flew. 

I must admit that my interest in further managing this group was flagging, and every conversation dwelled on misery.  I couldn’t imagine we would succeed, in such an atmosphere, solving any difficult technical problem.  Even though my position was pretty stable, I just wasn't “into it.”  In fact, I spent most of my energy looking for another position.

But since no one was offering me a job, it looked as if I’d just have to make the best of a miserable situation.  I felt I needed to become closer to each of my staff members, so I started by doing something new:  I invited my staffers, and their spouses, for a party at my house one Saturday afternoon.  I also bought fancy pastries for our weekly meetings, and spent more time talking to each person in his or her office or lab.  Before, most of my one-on-ones had been in my office.

In general, I dedicated myself to converting the atmosphere from negative to positive.  I made a point of not complaining about the "dumkopf" decisions of our president, which had been a regular topic of my conversation.  Rather, I focused on how we would attack each new project and why we were just the right group for it.  When a discussion began flowing toward pessimism, I tried to redirect it toward something positive.  For example, I stressed that our work could play a significant role in making the company the industry leader; and that, in turn, should increase the value of each one of us.

Slowly, just about everyone became more comfortable about their own security and about achieving project goals.  In fact, our morale was higher than ever--even in the "good old days."  We were actually doing more with fewer resources, which caused management to give us even more responsibilities (without more help).  But we didn’t complain; in fact, we took the new assignments as a sign of management's confidence in us.

Previously, I never thought I was a particularly good manager--basically, I left everyone alone.  However, this emotional experience has given me more confidence in handling difficult management problems.  I’m happy to say that others have also seen my potential--I was just promoted to division director!  Perhaps the most important result of this experience is that several of my staff independently mentioned that they appreciated how I’d managed them.  No one ever said that before.


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