Ways to Effectively Structure Downsizing Meetings

Having a conversation about downsizing can be incredibly challenging. Here are 10 ways to structure downsizing meetings.

By Mara Calvello  •   June 20, 2023  •   7 min read

It’s never an easy decision to terminate employees, especially because the company has chosen to downsize. If this change isn’t handled correctly and with empathy, it can lead to a massive disruption among remaining team members and give a company a bad reputation for not caring about its teams.

When appropriately communicated, companies can minimize the negative impact of a downsizing event. Here’s how to lead meetings empathetically and steer your remaining team members in a positive direction.

What is a downsizing meeting? 

A downsizing meeting is when c-suite executives and team directors come together to discuss how to prepare to lay off a large percentage of the staff at the same time. 

There are three reasons a company may decide to downsize:

  1. The budget has been reduced
  2. New technologies have been adopted that reduce the number of employees needed
  3. The business is relocating to a smaller location

Downsizing can take place through the elimination of positions by restructuring the organization. A downsizing meeting takes place to iron out the details and decide who will be impacted by this reduction in force (RIF). Then, managers should meet with their team members and direct reports to let them know the company is downsizing, why it’s happening, and who will be impacted.

10 ways to structure a downsizing meeting

Not sure how to structure a downsizing meeting? Here are 10 things to do to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

1Be transparent

As the conversation takes place, it’s important to be as transparent as possible about the reasoning behind needing to downsize. The top leaders of the company—usually the founders and/or CEOs—should share all necessary information openly with other meeting attendees so that everyone is up to speed regarding the details of the downsizing. 

Similarly, it’s best to be honest with the answers if questions or concerns arise during the conversation. Because downsizing can be an emotional time for staff, honesty is the best policy, even if the answers are difficult to hear. No matter the reason for downsizing, employees should know the truth.

2Keep the meeting short

A downsizing meeting shouldn’t be a long and drawn-out discussion. Managers should get directly to the point, especially since layoffs are often a sensitive topic. Get right to the point, give all the information you have, and let the team know when the RIF will take place and who will be impacted.

Be sure to leave time for questions at the end so employees have time to convey their thoughts.

3Use a meeting agenda

Since a downsizing meeting needs to cover a lot of information quickly, it’s crucial to use a meeting agenda. This ensures managers have given their team all the required information, explained how the company will be moving forward, and provided the next steps.

A well-structured meeting agenda can help foster communication and trust, especially during difficult conversations. Using a tool like Fellow for all meeting agendas leads to productive and efficient meetings, especially ones that may be hard to have. Teams can also use meeting templates so they don’t have to start from scratch.

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Level up your meeting habits to boost engagement and productivity with a collaborative meeting agenda. Try a tool like Fellow!

4Take collaborative meeting notes

Taking meeting notes is another crucial step for effective downsizing meetings. Meeting notes are a place to record decisions, talking points, and insights that were discussed during the meeting.

The notes should include the more important details of the meeting—in this case, the details surrounding when the downsizing is taking place and the questions the team had for the manager.

Having your meeting notes in Fellow makes it possible to link all your meeting notes to calendar events and easily search for specific talking points, action items, and decisions.

5Be empathetic

Managers need to be genuine toward the employees being let go and understand the remaining team members who may now be tasked with heavier workloads. Also, remember that remaining team members may have lost close colleagues and friends during the layoff. Be sure to recognize these feelings of loss and uncertainty amongst the team.

Let both those who are being let go and the remaining team members vent their feelings and ask tough questions. Doing so keeps employees engaged with key conversations while instilling the team’s trust in their manager. 

6Hold the meeting early in the week 

Managers often think holding a downsizing meeting on a Friday afternoon is best for the team, but this isn’t the case. Instead, this meeting should take place on a Monday or Tuesday, giving the employees who are part of the layoff a chance to take positive steps toward launching their job search and finding their next role.

7Establish clear expectations

For the team members not impacted by the RIF, be sure they have clear expectations of what’s happening next.

Start by reassuring them that the RIF is over, as they may be on edge thinking they’re next. Then, let them know what to expect moving forward. This could mean changes regarding projects, strategy, deadlines, responsibilities, and key action items. 

8Decide who leads the meeting

Next, decide who is leading the downsizing meeting. It is strongly recommended that the immediate supervisor or manager of the employee who is being laid off conduct the meeting alone. Ideally, the manager and the employee have already established a rapport, meaning the employee will feel comfortable asking their manager questions about why the downsizing is happening.

Under special circumstances, a more senior manager or a human resources team member may also be present.

9Have a plan

Next, managers need to come up with a 30-60-90 plan. As the name suggests, this will outline objectives for the first 30, 60, and 90 days after the downsizing takes place. This list of expectations lets other employees know what will be taking place for each time frame.

Having plans laid out in this way also makes it easier to track progress toward goals, especially as responsibilities change and remaining employees take on the projects of those who were laid off.

10Set clear goals and objectives

Finally, it’s time to do some restructuring and think about the objectives and short-term goals your team needs to work towards in addition to long-term goals. Once everyone knows how their role and responsibilities may have changed, it’s time to get the team back on track.

To have a clear picture of how the team is doing, use Fellow’s objectives tool! There, it’s simple to stay on top of your team’s goals by clearly recording, defining, and tracking the progress of all objectives and key results. Progress can also be reviewed in team meetings so everyone knows how things are moving along!

How to keep remaining employees productive

Once downsizing meetings have taken place and all remaining employees are informed, team morale and productivity will likely both take a dip. Here’s how to keep everyone feeling productive and working with a positive attitude.

1Celebrate wins

After an RIF, be sure to celebrate the wins and successes of your team as a whole, but also those of individuals. This is especially important if you’ve noticed performance starts to decline. Show those employees that their team members are still doing the work and excelling by giving them a special shout-out in a team meeting!

Wins can also be celebrated by social media praise, a wall of fame, thank you notes, or gift cards.

2Focus on building trust

Sometimes after a round of layoffs, remaining employees feel like they can’t trust their managers or senior leadership. So, focus on how you can build this trust back up. This can be done by creating new opportunities for social interactions and team events, being consistent with words and actions, and asking for regular feedback.

Additionally, as a team lead or manager, to be trusted by the rest of your team you need to show your team members that you trust them, too. Give them more autonomy, avoid micromanaging their tasks, and give struggling employees a safe space to share their feelings.

3Host regular check-ins 

Another way to keep employees productive is to check in and hold one-on-ones with these team members regularly. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that “after a layoff, survivors experienced a 20% decline in job performance,” so managers need to have conversations with their team about job performance regularly, and if it’s slipping, find ways for improvement.

During this time, managers should ask for feedback, ask questions, and practice active listening.

4Foster open communication

Finally, work on fostering open communication. Whether this communication is verbal, non-verbal, written, or visual, let team members know you care about their input and want to know what they have to say about strategies, projects, and plans for the team moving forward.

No one said it was going to be easy

Downsizing can be incredibly difficult, and it can be challenging for teams to know how to move forward. Managers need to go into these discussions feeling prepared and empathic to the team members being let go. From there, steer your team in the right direction with open communication and transparency.

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