As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. When applied to an organisation, a closure can open up new opportunities for employees – but only with the right leadership.
Of course, the end of an enterprise is not often a cause for celebration. For many organisations facing imminent closure for whatever reason – including those affected by the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating economic impact – managing the process strategically is sadly not considered a viable option.
Yet when planning is possible, a well-devised transition strategy can provide an organisation’s workforce with the opportunity to gain new skills and experience, prepare for a new chapter, and cement a legacy in which they can take pride.
So, how can leaders effectively manage a closure to open up opportunities for their team?
It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that team morale stays high in such a period of change. Targets must continue to be met, which makes devising an effective yet realistic strategy – and getting buy-in from all internal stakeholders – an essential first step in winding down successfully.
From my own experience, I have seen the immense value of communicating clearly and transparently throughout the process, to ensure all team members are on the same page, know what is happening and what to expect, and continue to take ownership of their responsibilities.
For instance, as the EU-funded Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) winds down towards closing at the end of this year, in line with the expiration of its legal framework, we have implemented an action-based strategy to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible for our workforce and partners.
Focusing on five key clusters – welfare, communication, results, efficiency and legacy – this structure is designed to bolster team well-being, while enabling talent and skills to be shared across our different services.
We have prioritised communication and welfare from the outset of this new structure, with the aim of setting a foundation for a harmonious and productive working environment, despite the circumstances. Something as simple as a weekly newsletter, for instance, has been a helpful and impactful internal resource for keeping team members involved, motivated and up-to-speed with the fast-changing work environment.
People are the lifeblood of all enterprises, so putting their interests first and empowering individuals to continue developing professionally amidst huge structural change is vital. As planned closures often entail a streamlined staff structure, remaining employees can be required to wear many different hats – some of them completely new, which can pose a challenge.
Yet supporting and encouraging individuals to try out new roles through flexible staffing means that they can build new skills to add to their CV, enabling them to perform better in the job market. Especially for those who have been in the same role for years, rising to such a challenge can really boost confidence in using existing skills and deliver a sense of pride in developing new ones.
At CTA, for example, role-switching throughout this transitionary period has enabled team members to shine in new positions and work collaboratively across different departments – from digitalisation programmes or agribusiness development to financial administration and strategic corporate functions.
By keeping continued professional development a key priority and being transparent with the wider world about the closure, senior management can also help alert other organisations to the number of talented professionals soon to enter the job market, thereby providing a springboard for employees to make their next career move. For instance, by proactively communicating around CTA’s closure and legacy across social media, many employees have already been approached by recruiters.
Of course, while benefits can be garnered from the winding-down process, it is important not to get swept along with the strategy and lose sight of the end itself. Clearly positioning this reality is not only crucial to keeping staff motivated and ready for the next chapter, but also to keeping external stakeholders and partners up-to date.
With a 37-year history, CTA’s legacy is one that all team members – past and present – are proud to have helped build. Our work in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific has supported rural communities with innovative tools and the know-how to improve their agricultural practices and, consequently, their livelihoods.
So, although the Centre is nearing the end of its operations, we are working hard to empower our partners to continue our work and legacy – for example, by preserving our intellectual assets, including archiving publications online, and helping partners to find other sources of funding and support, so they can continue their work in the field.
The success of a closure management strategy cannot be measured solely by conventional key performance indicators – although these are undoubtedly important. It will be gauged by the tone of feedback from partners and the happiness and motivation of employees in the final few months, the path it has paved for them to move onwards, and the strength of its legacy.
A strategy centred around communication, transparency and teamwork will ensure that once the door closes, organisation and employees alike can go out on a high.