Although much of the public gaze is on blue-collar workers losing their jobs, they won't be the only ones to have had their lives upended. Managers, executives and professionals are also in the firing line as the economy free falls and business leaders lose their nerve. Recruitment consultants report hearing from unusually large numbers of out-of-work middle managers.
It is worrying that managers are considered expendable by employers - just as middle management was starting to recover its position in the corporate firmament after the lunacy of the downsizing-nineties. But here we go again declaring open season on middle managers. When there is any hint of strife, the bean counters issue their predictable but deadly dictum: "Cut headcount by 10 per cent."
Gutting organisations of managers and rising talent in previous slowdowns is one reason why the war for talent went on to become such an entrenched feature of business in the new century, and is a contributing factor to the abysmal organisational leadership that presaged the world's descent into recession. The lesson from the recent past is surely that organisations should be building their management and leadership talent for the future, not hacking into these resources at the first sign of trouble.
Organisations often rationalise that wholesale sackings are an effective way of weeding out poor performers. This is a ludicrous proposition. Mass retrenchments may well weed out some dead wood, but often it is an organisation's best performers and most promising talent who are caught in the net. And when it is time for these organisations to rebuild, they are caught flat-footed. If an organisation can rid itself of poor performers only by wiping out whole swathes of people, what does this say about the ability of these organisations to manage their "human capital" and organisational processes effectively during the good times?
With so many of our current woes clearly attributable to poor management it is staggering that many organisations feel it is a good idea to denude themselves of management talent at such a crucial time.
Top-performing talent will be the difference between success and failure as companies tackle the challenges ahead. Smart companies will ensure that they keep their top performers and shed their weak performers.
Short-sighted, bloody-minded companies that reveal their true colours by turning on their own people are a godsend for switched-on companies that have been starved of talent. There has never been a better time to cherry-pick high-calibre staff from other organisations or to snap up good managers who find themselves between jobs.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.