The Cost Of Innovation: What Do You Do With Workers From a Cancelled Project?

Innovation is on my mind as we are on the Facebook campus finishing up the latest Recruiting Innovation Summit (put on by TLNT’s parent company, ERE Media).

Over the past six months, I’ve talked to many recruiting practitioners who are putting innovative techniques to work in their organization — some of which I wish I could have included in our agenda but either time (or their companies) wouldn’t allow.

One of the issues facing a couple of the people I talked to here was what to do with the folks who have been working diligently on a project and, for whatever reason, the budget or priority changes. When somebody’s project comes to an abrupt end, what do you do to help the employee make that transition?

Those who move on

Innovation is glamorized as a sexy thing to work on in most industries but it can actually be one of the riskier projects you can take on in the employment world.

Let’s say you work on a project for a big, generic Fortune 500 company, and you’re put on a project that could make a huge improvement in the current product line. So you work months (or even years) on a specific project, thinking it’s vital to the company. Then, some guy or gal in a boardroom in some other state decides to cut their losses on your project.

Not only are you suddenly done with a project you’ve invested significant emotional capital in, but you might have also just lost your job. And sure, maybe you were on a contract assignment or whatever, but it is still rough getting the sudden change in direction.

And for those industries under heavy scrutiny, just hope you weren’t part of the division that got cut because you couldn’t figure out the product issue at hand.

For those who have to move on to other companies because a project is discontinued, folks in HR need to help develop a reasonable explanation that both your former employees can use to help propel themselves into the next job, and, that the company is willing too also explain if asked.

For those who stay

The harder part, though, may be for those who stay within the company and get reassigned to other projects. There are several forces at work in this scenario as well.

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For one, these people may feel the stigma and baggage of the old project much more when they stay at the same company and see many of the same people they worked with. Another factor is that they may be pushed into products that may be midway through their development cycle or maybe aren’t the best fit for their skills.

In any case, it can impact the desirability to stay with the company. Even if you have a great employee who just happened to be on a product team that couldn’t ship a new product, they may feel the need to move on due to these factors.

In the end, it’s about retaining key talent

Obviously when the only solution to a dead project is to reduce headcount, the option to retain employees is much more difficult. But at the very least, those who were on the project should be treated with respect, positioned for success at their next stop, and kept in close touch with.

For those who stay though, the challenge of retention is a real one. I heard from one firm that lost the entire project team because they axed it and reassigned it within six months. And as the recruiting manager told me, they could have done much more to keep all of them there and in place.

Simply making the effort to help these people is great but also doing the more effective things is equally important.

Communicating with the employees who are reassigned, keeping close tabs on how their new assignments are going, and acting swiftly if things aren’t going as planned are all ways of dealing with the unsexy fact that projects fail, people make projects happen, and those people who are still part of your organization need to feel like they weren’t given the shaft.

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