Rex Gatto
Rex Gatto
Mickey Gatto
Mickey Gatto

Talent Management Lessons for Leaders

How to survive and retain top talent in today’s economic crisis.

August 3, 2009
by Rex Gatto, PhD and Mickey Gatto, MEd

Today’s economic crisis has been an extremely difficult and emotional time especially for those HR professionals who are in the accounting and financial industry and who have the task of delivering the message to those being laid off and those staying. There is no logical, satisfying way for HR people to justify layoffs because currently, layoffs are happening to those who have “done nothing wrong” and in fact, have done everything right. However, HR people in organizations who are humanistic are doing some of the following things:

  1. They are letting people know the possibility of layoffs in advance;
  2. They are finding ways to support the employees, such as having them take classes on resume building and interviewing skills; and
  3. They are providing meetings for families to discuss how to deal with their money during a period when someone is laid off, or how to borrow.

Unfortunately, most organizations today simply call people in and in a very sterile and uncaring way, say “you have been laid off, security will walk you out, your computer has been locked, pick up your things, put them in a box and leave.” This is what happens when organizations are led by people who lack integrity, insight and the ability to create vision. If accounting and financial firm leaders take care of people through layoffs, the transition would be smoother and the people actually having to deal with this, would be better in the transition of change. It would not take a great deal of time for leaders to stop and reflect as to how they can humanely lay people off.

Emotional Status of Non-Laid-Off Staff

People who have survived a layoff go through an emotional upheaval. In addition to guilt, the survivors find themselves with consolidated job responsibilities and an impossible workload. Leaders need to pull people together and communicate that many jobs have been consolidated. They need to let people know that they are in this together, are reorganizing and building a new work team that will now be responsible for heavier workloads; that no one has a defined area; and that they are going to be responsible for the work production as a team. It is not the time to talk about job descriptions, but rather focus on team responsibilities, how the team will work together, how it will get through this tumultuous period. There should not be any “I” statements, only “we” statements. The process should be one of a team that will accomplish the goal and do whatever it takes together. People will be drawn to inspirational leaders who are visible and courageous in leading.

Resilience is the ability to come back from a trauma. People will be resilient if they see hope, if they see people who are willing to work with them and help them in many ways. An opportunity is lost if leaders are not visible on a day-to-day basis. Imagine Ulysses S. Grant going to his troops and saying: “We are in a war for survival and it has been devastating. It has been a long war, hard fought and I know you all have made many personal sacrifices. I tell you what, I will be back in a year or so to see how things are going.” That is what many corporate leaders are doing through their silent and absent voices. Leaders need to be visible, inspirational and compassionate. They need to be out in front of their troops, leading them, communicating success and inspiring them to do more.

What CPA Firms Should Do

Companies that have failed need to acknowledge the organizational changes and the emotional stress on workers, risk creating an even greater mentally unhealthy and unproductive environment than that caused by the current economic crisis. Many people feel overwhelmed right now, but leaders can address these high levels of anxiety and stress by being aware and proactively addressing issues, thus creating psychologically healthy workplaces. Good leaders must provide feedback on a regular basis, recognize high performance, let people know specifically what they are doing right and in a very constructive caring, mentoring, coaching way, support people. The stock may have collapsed, but the morale of America doesn’t need to go with it. It is going to take a unified front for all to get through this. The next few months may spell doom and gloom, but the fire is out and creating that team approach, helping people understand what it means to be resilient and working together will produce the new growth.


We have seen the fire burn, smelled the smoke and are watching it fade out. We have taken a look at those who are leaving, those who are delivering the news of change and those who have survived the layoffs. Now the cohesive glue of trust must be applied. This team approach of sharing information and pulling energies together is the right way to go through this economic, emotional, changing time. Both CPA and HR leaders must now demonstrate quiet confidence in guiding organizations towards success.

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Rex P. Gatto, PhD, is an internationally known speaker and author whose insights and breakthrough research on the characteristics of U.S. management have helped organizations enhance their productivity and individuals enrich their lives. Gatto has been featured in The New York Times, The Accounting Web, Polaris International Quarterly, The Aspen Law and among others. He has authored the highly acclaimed Smart Manager's FAQ, in addition to books on stress, presentation, work/life balance and mentoring. Mickey Fitzgibbons Gatto, Med, is a professor in international education for over 20 years at Point Park College. She has helped businesses effectively cross cultures and expand their horizons. With her extensive experience abroad, she has authored How to Do Business Cross-culturally and Personality Style in Cross-cultural Adjustment.