Ok, I’ll hold my hand up and say that, being a member of the wider L&D/OD community, I am, of course, somewhat biased about my belief in the huge benefits of ‘good’ training for an organisation.
However, I’m pretty confident that my bias isn’t so strong that it’s making me miss something about some of (to me) the obvious flaws in the retrenchment strategies employed by so many organisations.
First of all, whilst it’s not the main point of this post, there’s the argument that whilst there are unquestionably situations where a company has no choice but to let staff go, all-too-often many companies are simply too quick to pull the ‘retrenchment trigger’ as a way of dealing with reduced profits from a market downturn, rather than seeing the downturn as a natural part of all industry cycles – i.e. they go down, and they go up. So, rather than letting go of well-trained, loyal, hard-working staff, you work out ways to keep them on in preparation for the [almost] inevitable market up-turn (whilst other companies are frantically trying to recruit to meet the increasing demand). Not only does this mean you have a workforce ready to go but the loyalty and pride it breeds in the organisation is priceless.
Secondly, and, again, not the main point of this post (don’t worry, I’ll get there soon!), is the huge problem with the ‘Voluntary Retrenchment’ strategy. It’s a long-held opinion of many that in such a situation, the competent and capable staff will take the redundancy, netting a nice bonus in their pay and confident that they’ll get a new job in no-time, whilst the less competent and capable staff stay put, concerned that they will struggle to find a new job. I.e. You lose your ‘good’ people and get left with the ‘bad’ (or ‘less good’).
Lastly, (and the main point of this post) whilst some organisations are decent enough to offer training for the retrenched/outgoing staff to help them find a new job, etc. It’s surprisingly rare that organisations provide training for the staff that are staying.
I can only suppose that the thinking in this situation is that the retained staff are so joyously happy at having not had the chop, that they’ll be more positive and hard-working than ever before. The reality, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, with engagement levels in such situations often reaching all-time-lows and stress and anxiety levels reaching all-time-highs. This has an obvious effect on efficiencies, sick-leave, and, ultimately, productivity and profits. Unsurprisingly, in such a situation many of these people will jump at the first halfway decent job offer they get.
Whilst I obviously don’t believe that learning and development strategies can solve everything, I think it’s fair to say that if your organisation is going to let staff go but wants to maintain productivity, service, etc levels, then you’re going to need to make sure that the remaining staff are engaged and capable enough to do the job – i.e. if you want half the staff to do twice the job, then they’ll need to be twice as capable…and, in my experience, the only reliable, predictable, manageable, cost-effective, and sustainable way of doing that, is through well developed learning and development programs!