Outplacement and career transition doesn't just apply to the big end of town

Organisational Change
Paul Slezak

I’ll be the first to admit that for the majority of my career I was under the impression that terms like “outplacement”, “organisational restructure”, or “career transition” were something only the big corporates had to think (or worry) about.

Seeing headlines such as, “[Big Bank] to Shed Thousands in a Mass Headcount Cull to Move Jobs Offshore”, “Australian Offices of [Top Tier Law Firm] to Lose Hundreds After UK ‘Magic Circle’ Acquisition”, or “[Big Accounting Firm #1] and [Big Accounting Firm #2] Said to Merge Leaving Countless Jobs Uncertain as New Entity Streamlines Local Offering” would reinforce to me that redundancies only ever happened at the big end of town.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

After all, if a 45-person advertising, design, or PR agency loses a major account, this can result in an entire team having to be let go immediately; Certain positions in a reputable suburban accountancy or financial planning practice may not be required when a mid-tier national brand comes along and swallows it up; A startup which was on a fast-growth trajectory may suddenly find itself ‘on the precipice’ needing to let people go in order to live through another round of fundraising; Or even after 25 years, a successful family business going through a ‘generational changing of the guard’ might result in a ‘pivot’ or refining of its core offering with long-standing employees suddenly no longer required.

SMEs should absolutely think about outplacement or career transition programs, too.

When you’re running a SME, it’s not always easy to keep on top of it all. You do everything possible not to drop the ball but inevitably the area in your business that is often the first to feel the cracks is people. And the reality of running any small- to medium-sized business is that at some point in time you will find yourself having to let an individual or perhaps even a group of people go.

Despite the fact redundancies are often unavoidable, there are certain strategies employers and business owners should keep in mind to help prevent the repercussions of a sudden change or loss in staff.

For many, working for a SME is like being part of a family. If handled poorly, the unforeseen impact of a redundancy can cause lasting detrimental effects to the success of your business not to mention your employer brand.

When it comes to redundancies, you need someone in your corner.

By now I hope you realise that you’re probably not the first person who might think that outplacement programs are only offered to employees by the big banks, insurance companies, airlines, telco giants, or other multi-nationals in times of mass retrenchments.

Career transition programs are just as important and relevant for SMEs.

Often one of the hardest things for anyone being let go from a SME is the uncertainty of what lies ahead in their career, so it’s important to support them with an outplacement or career transition program. Helping them find their next role is not only a great way to give them confidence in their next career step, but it also shows them that you actually care.  

There’s no doubt that layoffs are an emotional experience for everyone involved (on both sides of the table). I will never forget many years ago having to let a group of people go a few days before Christmas. It was absolutely awful. Some of the team members took it (very) well; others (quite understandably) didn’t. Looking back, had I known that I could have offered them even just a few sessions with a coach to help them land on their feet, it wouldn’t have been nearly as gut-wrenching.

The person leaving your business shouldn't be alone at this time of uncertainty and confusion ... but neither should you.

Regardless of how long someone has been working for you, and irrespective of what role they may have played in the business, a restructure within a SME will have an impact on everyone in some way. However, if managed well, not only will the rest of the team feel more at ease with the changes taking place around them, but they will also respect you as the leader or business owner for the way in which you handled what is often a very sensitive situation.

Over the last 35+ years, we’ve been able to help over 100,000 transitioning employees (many from a SME or family business) maintain confidence, build a narrative, uncover career insights and transferable skills, find a new purpose along with a new role following a redundancy.

How many times have you read on a company’s website some phrase along the lines of “our people are our greatest asset”? And yet, when it comes to SMEs in particular, people are often the first to suffer when it comes to organisational change or restructures?

Career transition programs are critical to the success of any redundancy process and it’s certainly no exception for SMEs.

Many business owners and managers focus on creating a strong first impression when attracting talent into their businesses. However, it's just as important to leave a positive and lasting impression when the time comes to part ways. And while most organisations will put some effort into planning an induction or on-boarding program for new employees, it’s just as important to think about having a carefully thought-out off-boarding program in place for employees being let go from the organisation.

Every year we assist thousands of individuals, enabling them to find new and meaningful work whether it be in their field or sector, changing careers and doing something completely different, or perhaps even moving into retirement. We consistently achieve exceptional results and feedback, supporting employees to remember their former organisation positively when entering the job market following a redundancy.

As the owner of a small or mid-sized business, remember you’re not alone when it comes to having to make difficult decisions. We’ve got your back.