The dilemma of local leadership or A deep conflict of loyalties

There’s the decision. Costs have to be reduced, a reduction in staff is pending, perhaps the closure of a site or the sale of part of the company. The local management has the task of implementing the decision. A difficult task that plunges many managers into conflicts of loyalty. They themselves are insecure, but they want and should ensure that they act in a considered and secure manner.

So what happened before there was broader communication? There was a decision by headquarters – the local managers were hardly involved in this process, and if they were, then mainly as suppliers of analyses, data and information. With the decision, the task of implementation lies with the local management, which at first perceives the interfering support of the head office as helpful, but later, above all, as disturbing. The task now is not only to inform the people, to take their concerns and needs seriously and accompany them, to negotiate social packages, to start initiatives to give the affected MA an opportunity outside, but also to maintain productivity until the last day. The contact to the own employees becomes more intensive, they move much closer with their lives and the expectation develops that the local leadership will do everything to protect, maintain and maintain the own organisation. Naturally, conflicts arise here between what a head office wants and what local employees expect – and the responsible local management stands between both expectations. The personally challenging task now is to keep both interests in balance and to stay emotionally balanced. Good managers feel deeply committed to both sides – to the employees in their need, their worries and uncertainties, to the company that made such a decision for good reasons and with an eye to the bigger picture. A dilemma, often a moral dilemma, but always an emotional dilemma.

A particular challenge is to compensate for the loss of credibility that is inevitable from the very beginning. At the beginning, the local management already knows what is going to happen, but is bound to secrecy by very strict confidentiality agreements. If communication then takes place, one of the first accusations made by employees is: Why did you keep quiet for so long? How are we actually supposed to trust you, since you were involved in all this?

It is a difficult task, a task that deeply questions your own belief system. It is a task for which most managers are not prepared. How can they behave? How can they make room in the contradictions, the head and the heart equally? How can they deal with their own insecurities and worries and not let them distract them from their task?

Should managers be accompanied in such tasks? In all social professions it has proven to be a good idea to offer supervision for individuals as well as for teams. The point is to be aware of the situation and one’s own actions even in difficult situations. Only a guided self-reflection can help to be able to act and to act in the interest of all participants. We have had very good experience with a supervision approach in all the processes we have accompanied. The support helps all sides – the head office because it achieves its goal, the local management because it does not betray the interests of either side and can leave the process even with a clear awareness, and the employees because only a stable local management can ensure that new options for their own future can emerge even in this emergency.

Rüdiger Müngersdorff/Fetiye Sisko
Photo: Mauro Mora by