Navigating the Storm: Leading through layoffs

In the ever-changing world of business, you must always be prepared to face the unexpected. 

When the waves are crashing in and the wind is howling, your team is going to look to you for guidance. Your leadership during a crisis will often determine whether your organization weathers the storm or sinks under its weight.

That’s a lot of pressure!

A lot of you had your leadership skills put to the test leading through the SVB bank crisis. As speculation about what would happen with SVB started surrounding Twitter, many founders spent their entire weekend digging for bank options and locked in rooms exploring contingency plans.

The weekend was filled with uncertainty. Would money be available to pay employees? What would be lost? What should we share with our teams? How will the macro impacts of a bank closing impact our business? 

Being able to lead through a crisis is part of being a great leader. Because as a leader, you will eventually have to help your team navigate through turbulent times–including natural disasters, cash flow challenges, world wide recessions, rapid growth, regulatory changes, and layoffs.

I asked Twitter what recommendations they had for leading during layoffs, and the most popular answers were: 

  • be empathetic, 
  • be direct, 
  • and be thoughtful. 

(I’m lucky to be connected with a lot of incredible people, and appreciate all of the wisdom they shared.)

We all need help when times get hard. Read through this roadmap, share it, and save it as a resource for when you need it most.  (If you have questions, just reply to this email. I’ll always help how I can.)

5 essential elements of crisis management 

1. Be radically transparent

Embrace transparency as part of your leadership style. This may require stepping out of your comfort zone and being open about your fears and uncertainties. Make this the time to reflect on your core values and make decisions that align with them. 

How would you want to be treated in a similar situation? Act accordingly.

  • Schedule regular updates and meetings to keep everyone informed.
  • Create a centralized communication channel for sharing important information.
  • Encourage open dialogue and invite questions from your team.
  • Acknowledge uncertainties and share the steps being taken to address them.

During a crisis, it’s essential to be transparent and communicate frequently with your team. Even if you don’t have all the answers, your presence and willingness to share information can help alleviate anxieties. Be honest about what you know and don’t sugarcoat the facts. Remember, in the absence of communication, people tend to assume the worst.

2. Adopt a long-term perspective

Evaluate your actions and decisions from a long-term perspective. Ask yourself how you’ll feel about your choices in 30 or 50 years. This mindset can help you make decisions based on the company’s best interests rather than short-term gains or damage control.

Sometimes this will help you see why you need to put down the big projects you’ve been working on and start digging into your team or company’s immediate needs. (Survival mode is a very real season. Get ready to be scrappy and fight when it is time to.)

  • Prioritize actions that align with your company’s mission and values.
  • Engage in scenario planning to anticipate different outcomes and develop appropriate responses.
  • Focus on preserving the core elements of your business that contribute to long-term success.
  • Revisit your company’s strategic plan and adjust as necessary to maintain a long-term vision.

3. Be prepared for unexpected reactions

Crises can reveal a person’s true character. Be prepared for the possibility that some team members may crumble under the pressure, even those you least expect. Everyone reacts differently to stress.Take time to navigate your own emotions so you can support and empathize with your team during these challenging times.

  • Offer resources such as counseling services or stress management workshops to support your team.
  • Encourage team members to openly share their feelings and concerns.
  • Be compassionate and understanding when addressing individual reactions.
  • Remain flexible and adapt your leadership style to accommodate different coping mechanisms.

And most importantly, do the things you need to do to take care of yourself (walking, meditating, sleeping) so that you can be there to support the people around you. 

4. Just keep going

In times of crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose hope. Remember that your options are to either stop or keep moving forward. The obstacle is the way–face the challenges head-on. A resilient attitude can make a significant difference in the outcome of a crisis.

Keep people around who you can trust and create space to vent as needed, but be ready to get back up and keep pushing when it is time. 

  • Break down large goals into smaller, achievable tasks to maintain momentum.
  • Celebrate small wins and recognize the efforts of your team.
  • Foster a positive work environment by sharing inspirational stories or motivational messages.
  • Establish a support network of mentors or peers to lean on during challenging times.

Your team will be watching your every move. Take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror and record yourself talking so you can be sure your body language and tone are aligned with your message. 

5. Be radically human

(I stole this verbiage from a Starting Greatness podcast episode that was recommended to me by Chrisopher Lochhead.)

Regardless of your official title, if you consider yourself a leader you’ve invested in and developed relationships with your team. Recognize that a crisis doesn’t only affect your company but also the people involved and your relationship with them. 

This is the time to be all in on empathy, vulnerability, and genuine concern for your team’s well-being. By being radically human, you can foster a stronger sense of unity and support during trying times.

  • Create a safe space for team members to express their emotions and concerns.
  • Practice active listening and acknowledge the feelings of your team.
  • Share your own experiences and vulnerabilities to foster a culture of trust and empathy.
  • Regularly check in on your team’s well-being and offer personalized support when needed.

People can tell when their leader is coming from a caring place. 

Your Thoughts Matter I would love to hear from you! Based on your own experience, what would you add to this list?

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.

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