Survivors of the axe get a helping hand

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The Independent Online
Having one's achievements at work recognised by one's em- ployer is important to most of us. Research shows it is one of the most potent factors in motivating people. Regular promotion up the corporate hierarchy was an important way for employers to recognise achievement. However, opportunities for advancement have been severely curtailed in recent years because of delayering.

Delayering was often accompanied by other downsizing measures. Management redundancies reached plague proportions. In an effort to soften the blow, many employers used outplacement consultants to help those they displaced with their job search. These consultants helped managers take a hard look at themselves and appraise their strengths and weaknesses, skills, motivations, and life goals. They also helped develop their job search skills.

However, as downsizing and delayering was largely completed, employers became less concerned with getting rid of people. The new priority was making flexible and effective use of the survivors. But many of these had watched colleagues lose their once-secure jobs, were now overworked and had seen their promotion prospects evaporate. As a result, many were directionless and demotivated.

Outplacement firms, which prospered while rationalisation took place, needed a new role. They found it in helping executives in employment to define their career goals, identify where they needed to develop their skills and experience, and how to adapt to new ways of flexible working. The title "outplacement" was no longer appropriate, so helping people at work tends to be called "inplacement." Consultants offering inplacement services now call themselves career-change consultants, or career development consultants.

One of the largest "inplacement" firms is Drake Beam Morin, with 180 offices worldwide. DBM now describes itself as "international change and career management consultants". John Ferguson, director of its Scotland division, explains: "Companies like mine have been in outplacement for 20 years or so. And over the past five or six years we began to recognise the need for inplacement. The skills we use in outplacement tend to be skills- related to counselling, coaching and mentoring, helping people make the transition from one employer to another."

These days, career management is equally important to the individual, he says, but in a different context. "Companies are so dynamic now, with so much change happening, that the thinking process round your next role deserves just as much focus as would moving on from that company to another. So we are using the skill base that we have to take care of that."

He notes that although some organisations still have fairly hierarchical structures, and people can progress up the corporate ladder, many are downsizing and restructuring. The normal outcome, he says, is that "organisations become much more flat and the opportunities for people to move vertically have been reduced dramatically. So people have to think about moving horizontally, where they may not have considered that before."

Top management, includinghuman resource managers, are realising that people are becoming confused at having to change from the traditional corporate structures, patterns of career development and ways of working. Consequently, he says: "We are brought in. We may be called a coach, or a counsellor or a mentor. We provide individuals with a sense of direction, and we challenge them on aspects related to their present activity or where they perceive their future activity to be.

"The benefit of bringing an external person into the company to do that is that people open up far more to us than they would normally to their line-manager. The person might feel that `talking to someone internally may well affect my future'."

Although the organisation pays, to DBM the individual is "the client" and the organisation "the sponsor". Individuals need to be sure that coaching is confidential. Sponsors must agree that on any coaching assignment the consultant works with clients on a confidential basis. Only with instances like drug abuse would the consultant feel a duty to let the sponsor know.

Sometimes a new executive joins an organisation and decides the team isn't working well. So a consultant will be brought in as facilitator. But most work relates to individuals with work-related problems that either they or their employer have identified.