Response from Frank Navran, a management and ethics consultant: Greg has fallen into a common trap. He has wrongly defined the problem, equating downsizing with not seeing employees as the most important asset, thus narrowing his choice of options. The problem isn't whether or not to downsize. The problem is how to survive a (possibly short-term) downturn. This is a question of finding a balance among a trio of concerns: employees, customers and the bottom line. These three concerns are like the legs on a milking stool: They need to be nearly equal if the stool is to be stable. Employees, customers and the bottom line all need to be satisfied. Greg needs to communicate this redefined problem statement to all of the affected players: senior managers, employees, stockholders, vendors and strategic partners. All of these stakeholders can contribute to surviving a downturn through operational efficiencies, payment deferrals, salary adjustments, accelerated retirements, sabbaticals, leaves of absence or a dozen strategies, including layoffs. This isn't an either/or proposition. It calls for telling the truth, preserving trust and creatively seeking balance.
Frank J. Navran, a manager, trainer and consultant for more than 25 years, knows about downsizing from three perspectives: survivor, victim and change agent. Now Navran is a senior consultant responsible for the design, management and evaluation of ethics consulting projects for the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) in Washington, D.C. In addition, as the center's director of training, he spearheads more than 50 training seminars and workshops on organizational and business ethics for the ERC and its clients.
Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, p. 66.