The company I'm working is passing through some hard times.

Some people of my team got fired because of cost issues, but the ones that are still with me has to keep working, because our goals didn't change.

The dismissal process happened one week ago, and everyone are still in bad mood, because of the fear to get fired and mainly because of the persons that were fired - we have worked together for years.

When would be (or was) the right moment, and how would be the right way to motivate the ones that are still with me?

Tough question, I know...

  • There are some good answers here, but this seems more like a Workplace.SE question than a PMSE question. Soft skills and team cohesion are certainly important to project management, but it's not clear from this post that this question is being asked from a PM perspective. Maybe it could be improved?
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Oct 9, 2015 at 1:00
  • Yes, it is from a PM perspective. I think that it fits at Workplace.SE too. I just started here (PMSE), and the tags [motivation], [team] and [leadership] have some questions of this kind, so I decided to ask here... I don't know yet how it could be improved, but the answers are good to me and they are from the point of view that I was looking for. Tks for the advice!
    – FLemos
    Oct 19, 2015 at 19:10

3 Answers 3


This is a change management issue. Unfortunately, successful management of change - particularly negative change like what your organization is going through - has to start well in advance of the change. If this hasn't been done then you are looking at picking up the pieces.

And you can't pick up the pieces by yourself.

The key is getting several levels of management support in order to re-motivate your team.

  • At a CEO/senior management level there should be clear communication of why the change was necessary, why the choices made were the best ones, and what can be expected downstream. Ideally this communication is two-way, for example as a "town hall", so that the masses have a chance to ask questions and get reasonable, cogent responses from the execs.
  • At a middle-management level there needs to be similar type of communication dealing with more granular details... why were some people/units/projects let go, how your department leaders are going to make the best of a bad situation.
  • At the lowest level of management there needs to be discussion around how the remaining work is going to be redistributed, what expectations are at an individual level, etc.

Beyond communication, there may be a need for re-training, updating HR practices, corporate re-organizations, etc etc.

All of this (a) builds an awareness of why the change was necessary, (b) gives your team a chance to accept the change and (c) understand how to deal with it. You desperately need your remaining team to buy into the idea that the change was necessary, that there was benefit for them, and that they are safe. If your organization can't support you in doing this you will (based on my own experience at an organization that wrote the book on how to really screw up change management) see high attrition of your best people as they go to greener pastures on their own volition.


It is a bit counterintuitive, but in situation like this feeling safe - just a little bit - is very important. It will motivate people. Of course, nobody feels safe - not even you -, but you as a leader can do something about it.

Be positive, but not overly positive. A negative leader cannot provide a safe environment, and an overly positive leader is not credible - people are not stupid.

Share your information. When a company lets people go, there are way more questions than answers, and since information is not available people tend to fabricate answers, which are not about how the company will get up and be even better than before. They fabricate the worst things. You can manage the situation by sharing information, but let the people fill in the blanks by themselves. They'll feel safer if they are allowed to think.

Have an open door, in case they need help with the filling in. Moreover, you should start "smooth" casual conversations. Let them talk, and have a sense about what they feel. Create a "talking is safe" environment.

Do not start with new rules. It is common in life that when something happens new rules arises usually for damage control. One of the most common is "do not gossip, come talk to me first". This never works. Let people talk. If you have shared enough information, there won't be much to talk about. If your open door policy really works, there won't be much gossiping.

Keep trying, but do not be pushy. There will be hard conversations and long pauses. Do not push things, come back to a sensitive topic a bit later, or the next day.

Do not give up. Finally, you should not give up. If you do, it does not matter what you say or how you say it, people will know and it is over.

  • 1
    Excellent advice- I would recommend looking for Dan Pink's video on YouTube. It will give you some of the brain science behind why Zsolt's advice is solid. Oct 8, 2015 at 4:51

When things are hard, it is especially necessary to drive out fear by substituting leadership.

First of all, work at developing a larger, broader perspective. Stay away from the unnecessarily conservative doomsayers who collect in the small mental caves that they construct. Look at the distant horizon and you will probably realize that "hard times" are just globally-competitive times.

Networking [outside the organization] is more important in globally-competitive times than ever ... and it important that the organization understands why it cannot depend upon fearful, demoralized, myopic, CAPTIVE employees without any situational awareness of what is happening elsewhere. Situational awareness by all employees not just top managers is critical in globally competitive times. If your organization does not understand this reality you must leave your organization and allow it to starve and die.

It is far better for the resources inside dinosaur organizations to be deployed van to try to prop them up and change them. That is always true but it is particularly true in HARD globally-competitive times.

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