Who goes in the lifeboats?

Who goes in the lifeboats?

You're captain of the Titanic. Other than the fact that the ship is sinking, it's a nice night. The band is playing, the stars are out and lots of pretty icebergs float by. But the sinking thing is a nagging reality, and it's up to you to decide who boards the lifeboats and who doesn't.

Managers in the information technology industry could be excused for having that same sinking feeling when they are faced with reducing staff. People - good people - have to go, and there's no easy way out.

There are many incorrect, career-damaging choices that can be made. Do it wrong, and you're the goat; do it right, and you keep your job.

These people need what consultant Tom Gaughan calls "an extensive rationale". Translated, that means a carefully crafted plan that relies on past performance and future potential to object-ively determine who goes and who stays.

Most managers agree that meticulous skills assessment is critical to success when people are laid off. They suggest using a matrix, writing down "wants" v "musts" or consulting closely with the human resources department. But they insist it's necessary to know what you have before you can know what you need.

When it comes to a list of "musts", most IS managers agree they must do the following: l Treat everybody absolutely fairly.l Strongly consider leadership potential and communication skills. l Base layoff decisions on documented performance. l Make sure that employees who aren't laid off feel welcome. l Hang on to people who understand business goals, even if they require technology training.

Technical and people skills are the twin pillars of talent you must scrutinise.

Technical people who have worked in application development have been exposed to their organisation's business needs and therefore have added value that doesn't come cheap and generally can't be hired.

Relationship-building skills are critically important. Technical people who lack communication skills create problems that may cripple projects.

Don't forget the aftermath. If employees feel they or their colleagues have been treated un- fairly, they may pack their highly valued technical expertise and leave. These people then need to be replaced. Don't make the mistake of assuming they'll want to stay.

You don't even want to look cross-eyed at these people or they'll go down the road and get a 20 per cent pay rise into the bargain.

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