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There are difficult conversations that no one wants to have, and no one wants to hear but they're necessary, especially in difficult times like right now.
Those are conversations about whether you get to stay or whether you get to leave. That might be a job, a relationship, family matters- the conversation is the same.
I work with a lot of senior Executives and the calls that are pouring in, the emails that are pouring in, are similar in nature.
“I need to let go of half of my staff, and it's breaking my heart because I don't want to have to do it. Nancy, what should I do?”
You know, leadership isn't made for the faint of heart. If it were easy there would be a lot more people leading. But they're not you. You might be in a position of middle or senior executive leadership and, amid this pandemic, your staff of a hundred needs to be whittled down to twenty or forty or thirty. The number doesn't make a difference.
What people want to know is this: Is it harder to be fired or is it harder to do the firing?
I'll talk about my experience.
Firing somebody, letting somebody go, furloughing, laying off, redundancy … you can call it whatever you want… stinks.
It is not the experience we wanted when we took on the position of leadership or when we started our own business. It is very hard to look at another human being and say, “As of four o'clock today, you don't have a job.”
It is especially hard if that's one of your A or B players and they truly deserve to have the job. When it's a C player that you're letting go, you're probably doing them a favor because they're probably not in the right job, to begin with, which is why they’re a C player. So, you're liberating them from some shackles they didn't even know they had.
So, what do you do? How do you do it? How do you feel okay about it? I'm going to start backward.
You're never going to feel okay about it. You’re just not.
It is painful to look at another human in the eye (whether on zoom or in-person) and say, “You know that I have to let go of 10 headcount and you're one of the 10.”No matter what you say, no matter what you do, it's going to feel shitty for both of you.
Yes, offering your now ex-employee career coaching- that’s doing a great job. Offering some sort of package- that’s making the most of a hard situation.
But it's never going to feel like the right thing to do, even if it is.
So, what do you do? In the next week or two, we're going to address how to determine who to keep and who to let go of. But for this conversation right now, the best thing you can do for you and the employee is to be honest, transparent, authentic, and hold onto your integrity. That means speaking the truth although it would be so much easier to lie.
It would be so much easier to say. “Well my boss's boss said that we're going to have to let go of A, B, C players (i.e. non-revenue producing positions, new hires, etc.) or X, Y, Z person or Bob and Mary Sue, and so I had nothing to do with the decision (which is probably not true.)
But what will be significant is if you tell the truth.
So, it's going to sound like this, “I hate that we’re about to have this conversation. I suspect you know what's coming. I need to put you on furlough, or I need to lay you off or I need to fire you. Because we need to keep the business running.
I want you to know about the contribution that you've made to our organization. A, B, C, D (ie you a top performer, you easily create team, you’re a pro at getting buy-in, etc.) However, this decision was made based on the criteria of L, M, N, O, P. I didn't agree with the decision. I don't like the decision, and yet the decision needed to be made.
So, I am here. I've got your back. I’m supporting you even though right now at this moment, it sucks."
That's the conversation you want to have.
It's a lot harder to have that conversation than to say to somebody,” Well, HR decided blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” Don't do that. Don't do that yourself. Don't do that to your employee.
Another conversation you might have is this one, “Mary Sue, as you know from your performance reviews, you're not doing the job we need to do. And so now that it's the time for us to eliminate headcount, get rid of the redundancies, you are on the top of the list of people who are going to be released from their responsibilities.
I wish this wasn't true. What I know is that I think you're not in the right job, to begin with. What I know is that you can perform so much higher in a position that is more A, B, C, D, and less X, Y, Z. And so, we are going to get behind you, and we are going to provide you with the counseling that you need to get where you really belong. Please know that we're not taking this lightly, and please know that we will do everything in our power to support you.”
These conversations invite you to a place of
vulnerability, and courage, and bravery.
I'm telling you— there's no leadership course that I know of that teaches that.
So, you need to be human. Really human.
Had you not learned the lesson called, “Leave your personal life at home and come to work and just be a businessperson, you would know to say that.”
So that’s the sort of hat that you need to put on. Ask yourself, if this were happening to you, what would you need to hear to be able to process this? What would you want to hear to metabolize the information you're getting?
If this were your daughter or your son or your wife or spouse or significant other,
what would they need to hear to make this sort of, kind of okay? Even though it's not going to be sort of, kind of, okay.
Difficult conversations are called that because they're difficult.
Again, you're not going to want to deliver this information and they're not going to want to hear it.
But that doesn't change the outcome and the net net. I am hoping for your success. I hope that you and yours stay healthy and safe.