Retain by Investing

on October 10 | in Uncategorized | by | with No Comments

By Nancy Brown-Johnston

Today’s unfortunate reality is that many companies are forced to reduce their workforces. The names for this are ever changing—layoffs, RIFs, downsizing, redeployment, right sizing—to name a few. Workforce optimization is one of the newest ones I’ve heard, but the result is the same. People are losing their jobs and the individuals that remain, the survivors, are left wondering… Am I next? How will all the work get done? How will my job change? Who will be next? Should I leave before I’m selected?

After completing the difficult tasks of deciding who to release and how to distribute the remaining work, leaders are too often told that there isn’t money to invest in training or in developing the remaining workforce. This creates an additional burden of getting all of the work done without building their staff’s skill sets.

Stop and think about that. Every organization should be doing the opposite. During downsizing is the time to show the organization’s commitment to the survivors. It is these people the organization is counting on to pick up the pieces and do the work. I worked in Japan on a downsizing project that did just this — focused on engaging the survivors to build the new, leaner organization. The culture of forever employment demanded it, but every culture can take a page from their playbook. The people remaining in an organization after others are forced to leave need to be reassured that they are safe and important, and that they are going to be set up for success.

I encourage leaders to invest in the people who remain. Invest in the high potentials and the key performers so they will stay. Discover how to:

  • retain knowledge
  • generate new momentum
  • engage and motivate the remaining workforce
  • recreate the organization

These are fundamental challenges facing organizations after any downsizing. When a company invests in the survivors and builds their skill sets and knowledge, they generate loyalty and goodwill; they create ambassadors for their companies. This skill development is an investment and a message to these people they are the future and are critical to the success of the company and that the company wants them to stay.

Shown below is a popular change formula. In any change, all elements of the formula must be addressed to have a successful change, but when any one element is missing, the change can be easily and totally derailed.


When the SKILLS piece is missing, people first feel anxiety. They are fearful that they will fail and also lose their jobs. They also express confusion about what to do, and they can have low motivation and become discouraged or frustrated. Eventually, if their concerns are left unaddressed, they can leave the organization. Many good people leave organizations because they worry about what they do not know and do not feel the organization is committed to teach them. Leaders can address these fears by investing in their people in the tough economic times as well as in times of prosperity.

Is your organization doing everything it can to retain great people?

  1. What is your employee development strategy during challenging business cycles?
  2. Are your best resources committed to stay with your organization – how do you know?
  3. What investment are you making in your people to assure they will stay?


Nancy Brown-Johnston has worked in the field of training and organization development in many companies around the world, including General Motors, Saturn Corporation, the US Army, and Delphi Automotive Systems. Nancy co-founded and served as the director of Saturn Consulting Services (SCS), where she led the development of the SCS courses. She also managed the marketing and consulting services to more than 200 external customers, including Chevrolet, Opel, Saab, Delphi Automotive Systems, the U.S. Army, U.S.P.S., and Zeneca Ag Products.

The TripleWin Academy’s Professional Development Program provides theories, models and skill development in problem solving and collaborative consulting. For more information, see

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