First of all, I feel for you, as I feel for those you have to let go. This is not what you signed on for. You wanted to build your business, not tear it down. You wanted to be the boss people loved and not the one that sent them home jobless. You want this to go away.
As difficult as it is to announce layoffs, here are a few things I’ve learned from experience:
- Get it over with. There’s nothing worse than knowing this is going to happen, and having a slow drip of events until it’s announced. If you’re going to announce layoffs, do it right away. For the person who’s being laid off, this will at least give them a little more time to redirect and respond to their new reality.
- In line with this, don’t do “rolling” layoffs if you can afford it. If you have to layoff 25 people, don’t do 5, then 5 more. Do it all at once, on one day, and clear the decks for the organization to move on.
- Meet immediately with the “survivors” and let them talk out their feelings about what’s happening. If they’re scared and upset, don’t tell them not to be. Just listen.
- Don’t try too hard to justify the decision. Not all the survivors will understand the company’s overall financial position, its market forecasts, or even the risk tolerance of ownership. Just tell them the decision was made with a lot of consideration, which I assume it was. If trust is low in the organization for other reasons, this will be a tougher sell. If trust is high, then the explaining will be a lot easier.
- Many of the survivors will have lost friends over this layoff, and they will be tempted to commiserate with their laid-off friends who may feel unfairly treated. Ask everyone to try to avoid a negative retelling of stories and discuss other ways in which their friendship can show up in positive ways for their laid-off co-workers.
- Be brutally honest about what’s going on. Don’t promise to the survivors that their jobs are safe. Perhaps this is a good time to talk about productivity, and elimination of waste, and good service. These are things that each person in the organization CAN impact, so focus them on those things rather than on what they can’t.
- It is a great time to ask people to review processes, to tighten up loose ends, and to do more with less. In even the best-run organizations, recessions can sand off some of the rough edges of the business, and make it leaner and more profitable over the long run.
- Talk, talk, talk. Wander the hallways or the shop floor a lot. If you see people hanging their heads, a sincere appreciation for them might be significant. Let people talk – it almost always makes them feel better to know that you’re listening.
- Unless you have a Union requirement to do otherwise, use the layoff as the opportunity to strengthen the workforce. I don’t mean to be cavalier, but there will probably be people you hate to see leave and others that may have needed to leave anyway.
- PLEASE find the best way to deal with your own emotions about this. If you ever get jaundiced about laying people off, you need to find another job. This SHOULD be hard for you if you give a damn about people. Make sure your support system of mentors, friends, and family are given the opportunity to support you as you deal with this nightmare.
There’s a lot of emotion in this, so the leadership part of it is critical. In your leadership capacity, you are protecting the culture of the business as you initiate layoffs, and meeting the emotional needs of the organization as they go through this difficult time with you. But, there is also the need for good management to be in place for this process as well. Keep your manager hat on – you have a job to do here, and this is why you earn the big bucks.