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Closure, Layoffs and Learning: A Look at First Allmerica Financialís Life Division
To meet this challenge, the leaders of the life division decided to expand the learning effort. They would encourage knowledge sharing between employees and the acquiring company, and they would also encourage learning about career changes and personal development.
The resulting learning strategy hinged on five key components:
1. Connected, open leadership. “People need to trust you for the organization to be successful,” said Marilyn Smith, life division president. “People are smart. Be direct, talk to them often and tell them the truth.”
She and the other division leaders used this strategy throughout the two-year transition process. They let employees know exactly when individuals would be released, and when dates changed, they informed them.
As a result, employees could rest assured that their leaders wouldn’t hide information from them — they knew the leaders would be honest, even when the truth was difficult to accept. Employees’ trust in the life division’s leadership made it possible for them to spend less time worrying about what they weren’t being told and spend more time preparing themselves and the company for change.
2. Intimate knowledge of individual employees. “It’s important to know employees personally and professionally,” Brank said. “I met with each of the 100 remaining employees to discuss their situation. I learned who was too emotional for humor. I also knew who responded well to light jokes. It was that knowledge that helped me connect with every staff member. It helped me encourage them to step outside their comfort zone and learn.”
Additionally, she continually encouraged employees to take advantage of learning opportunities. Through the two-year transition process, Brank saw employees earn industry certifications, tackle stretch goals and join cross-functional problem-solving teams. Periodically, she would remind them to work on their resumes. Many of the longtime employees had difficulty accepting they would lose their jobs, but Brank learned who was resisting change and made special efforts to reach out and support those people. The approach worked.
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