If you had to downsize any number of employees, how would you communicate your intentions to your people? Would you make it as painless as possible, maybe offer an outplacement solution, or would you terminate everyone with indifference?
My story is about the power of emotional intelligence, clear communication, and caring about people, especially during the current epidemic of layoffs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caring Leaders Communicate Clearly
My goal for this article is to showcase two distinct mindsets and approaches when it comes to communication and showing compassion for people based on the heads, hearts, and souls of the people in charge. I believe there's plenty of room for more compassionate leaders, especially during tough times when millions of people are losing their jobs.
The first approach to downsizing comes from one of my old friends and company owners. Let's call her Sally. Sally and I talked on the phone two weeks ago.
"Sally, how the heck have you been?"
"Not good," she tells me. Sally's mindset since I've known her is, "trust no one. Question everything." That's just the way she's built, and I'm pretty sure it goes back to stuff Carl Jung would be better at managing.
Sally made buckets of money, lives in a mansion, drives luxury cars, summers far away from the scorching heat of the Arizona desert, and is one of the loneliest people I know. But I love her all the same because the more I've aged, the less I accept what is, and that has made all the difference for my inner game.
"What's going on with your company?"
"I laid everyone off. We went to zero in revenue. All the bookings canceled or are on hold."
"What did you do with your people when you laid them off?"
"I fired them."
"26. All of them. I closed the doors."
"What are you going to do next?"
"I don't know. I need to finish this renovation at my house. Have you seen it?"
"No. You haven't invited me over in 22 years since we did business together. Do you live alone?"
"Now I do. I just kicked the bum out. He was worthless."
"That bad, huh?"
Sally grumbles a lot as if her inherent disdain or discontent needs to crawl out of the dark corner in her psyche. But, she has been this way since she started her business, and we were young adults learning the direction of the business world while working in the same industry.
"Yeah. That bad. I'll see what happens."
"What can I do to help you?"
"I'm thinking about getting a gun? Know anyone who could help me?"
"A gun? Uh, if you were going to buy a gun now, wouldn't you go to a gun store?"
"Which one do you recommend?"
"All the guns are sold out in all the guns store, just like the toilet paper."
"[email protected]#$ this virus. Really?"
"Yeah. My buddy told me the other day. Then I went to see for myself. It's true. There's not one gun on the shelf. Plus, don't buy a gun. You're rich. Do you have a security system at your mansion?"
"No. Why would I want that?"
That's Sally. I feel sorry for all of her people who lost their jobs within a month of a pandemic.
Charlie Works for People Who Care
Now that I've given you a glimpse at the mindset of Sally, let me tell you about Charlie, which is not his real name either, but it will work for my story.
Charlie is a sweetheart. I've known him for more than forty years because we went to college together. When I called Charlie, the conversation was much different that the one with Sally.
Charlie is a senior executive in business development for a major medical company. When he picked up the phone, I knew something was wrong when we talked the last time, a few days ago.
"Charlie, what's up? You don't sound good."
It could be he's been crying, but I can't see him, so I can't be sure. He hesitates before saying, "Hi Cliff. I'm okay. It's just that we got the call today that the cuts are coming."
"Oh, no. I'm so sorry to hear that. Did you have a sense this was coming?"
"Kind of, I guess. My manager has been great keeping us in the loop over the last few weeks. Most of us were sent home over a month ago. We had a sense this was coming because most of our facilities are empty, and our doctors don't have the normal elective procedures and surgeries. We've all been waiting for the surge we think is coming."
"What do you hear?"
"Oh, nobody knows. It was supposed to be this week, now we think it's next week, and it could come back in the Fall. I think that happened with the Spanish flu, or over in China. I don't know. It's all a mess. They're talking about salary cuts for sure, maybe even furloughs."
"When do you think you'll know for sure, and are they giving you any options?"
"Don't know yet. Management cares and communicates clearly with us. I most have a bunch of paid leave we'll get to use. But I'm one of the newest members of my team. And one of the oldest. So I don't know. I love this job. I can't believe this is happening. I've only been there two years, and I went through hell in two prior companies to get there. Now, all of this. And we're stuck at home waiting."
"I know. It's a real mess. The middle class is getting clobbered. Millions of small business owners are scrambling. All of this reminds me of the days when my dad and mom's hotel and restaurant business collapsed overnight when I was only 13. It was 1974. And unlike today where oil flows cheap, back then, the OPEC oil embargo tanked our economy overnight. But it was nothing like this."
I don't know what to tell my old friend, Charlie. He's such a great guy, with a great family, a sense of human, and he cares about people. Charlie is just one of those great guys who got to work for a great company that is now dealing with a catastrophic virus and pandemic.
It's easy to tell just by talking to Charlie that he's broken and hurt. Heck, nobody has it easy these days, and thank God for the front line workers who help us.
Overall, especially compared to the mindset of Sally, I can tell Charlie feels good about how his managers and their leadership team is willing to communicate.
Clear and consistent communication during tough times is what makes a big difference for the people who are part of any company or organizational culture.
Charlie is a rare benefactor in this regard because it's clear his company culture is caring, and that people are valued highly. Even older people like Charlie can get hired and be truly happy working there.
Towards the end of our call the other day, I said, "Charlie, what can I do to help you? I can't come over there and hug you, so here's a virtual one. What do you think is next?"
Charlie pauses, then says, "Cliff, thanks for calling and being there. I'll be okay, and I'll keep you posted for sure, because you care, and my company cares, and caring makes all the difference."
"Thanks, brother. I'm glad you work for such a great company. If any of us make it out of this thing without losing our lives, minds, or shirts, we'll be all the more grateful to get back to life as we knew it. And at this stage, I'm not even sure that's possible. All I know is the best thing to do during devastating times like this is to be caring and compassionate. That's what we need more than anything else."
The Difference Is the Heart
Now you know the story of two people, both leaders in their rights, and both successful depending on how one measures success. Sally values money more than people, or so it seems to me.
Sally must be good at many things if she was able to create massive wealth by starting and growing her company over many years. But it seems she is lacking when it comes to caring and having compassion like the feeling Charlie has a gets from his leadership team.
Most of us agree that the world needs more compassionate, caring leaders who foster a culture of accountability and performance with a focus on empowering people to be their best. We don't need more affluent and less caring, selfish people who live behind locked gates in big, empty houses that are full of bitterness, loneliness, and even contempt for all of humanity.
EQ is like your anaerobic threshold if you're an elite athlete who uses power meters and heart rate monitors to gain a winning edge; you can't train and change either much. You get what you've got when it comes to emotional intelligence.
The element of EQ that makes the most significant difference during the toughest of times is caring and compassion that leads to clear and consistent communication to the team, even if it is tens of thousands of employees working around the world, as is the case for Charlie's company.
Compassionate People and Leaders
In closing, I'm rooting that Charlie and his company will get through this mess, and everyone will be okay. If not, I know Charlie, because of who he is deep inside, a caring human being who's resilient, and a superb family leader will be okay in the long run.
I imagine that if the company that employs Charlie needs to downsize him along with others, they will take a very caring and compassionate approach. Only time will tell. If Charlie is lucky, like he tends to be, his company will provide an outplacement solution. Outplacement is the process of guiding employees out of a company in the most caring and compassionate way possible; coaching.
Charlie is the kind of guy who will take the outplacement coaching, and honor the gift given him and his peers by caring and compassionate leaders who are very different from Sally.
Thanks for reading my article. I always appreciate your comments and questions. If you'd like to connect for a conversation about transforming your company, culture, and business results, click here to join my community of leaders.