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In my career as a human resources professional, business integrator and leader, I’ve helped companies work to reverse the consequences of myriad bad decisions with regard to employees. It is my experience that most such mistakes were the result of poor planning, an underestimation of an employees’ response(s), a lack of understanding of their needs and poor communication of expectations. In most cases, the CEO’s focus was too much on driving the business towards the horizon and preparing for future challenges or the next life cycle, and not enough on the current employee environment. When leaders are too dialed in on the future, they detach from the here and now — risk making mistakes by underestimating what impact growth has on their greatest asset: the workforce.
Of course, leadership is a great enough challenge as it is: you own every problem in a company even if you aren’t the one directly addressing them. You’re also constantly under the microscope, judged and evaluated by people who have no access to the operational knowledge you possess, and have to make decisions trusting that you possess all the information to mitigate as much risk as possible and meet the demands of investors and stakeholders. It can be a heavy load.
Related: CEO Lays off 900 Employees in Shocking Video Call
When a leader makes a decision that impacts employees negatively, they often realize that they’ve rung a bell that cannot be unrung. A case in point is the recent layoff of more than 900 employees from Better. In December of 2021, the CEO of the New York City-headquartered mortgage company, Vishal Garg, made the decision to communicate this termination decision during a scheduled online meeting with all those involved — the ramifications of which were colossal. In addition to suddenly dealing with nearly a thousand highly-charged, disturbed and angry employees, the company found itself in the headlines of a very unforgiving media machine. Effects were so fierce that it was forced to shut down the brand website for a short period of time to gain control of the situation.
1. You cannot lead and communicate solely relying on technology
Humans do not respond well to impersonal action when their safety and basic needs are threatened. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famed “hierarchy of needs” details that, when a person has the ability to provide for basic requirements (food, shelter and clothing) as well as safety (in this case job security) supporting the acquisition of those needs, then that employee not only possesses the bandwidth to connect with others, but can build upon higher needs of self-fulfillment, such as achieving fuller potential. When someone is terminated suddenly, their world reverts to a realization that basic needs are threatened, that safety has been removed, and when employers and other leaders are not empathetic to that sudden transition, as seen with Better, the reaction is intensified, and the situation increasingly difficult to manage.
Related: The 7 Worst Mistakes Companies Make When Laying Off Employees
2. When you fail to plan, things get ugly
In a world in which people are increasingly reporters, whatever leaders do is now at risk of public exposure, and the rapid nature of social media means that bad news and bad behavior deploy faster than ever. Such accounts are also pretty much permanent. In the case of Better, one employee recorded the termination meeting with her reaction included and posted it online for all to see. So, think carefully about the timing and means of imparting any challenging news to staff members.
3. Don’t mistake convenience for quality
Technology has always been intended to be a mechanism for increasing efficiency and making lives easier, but it has also made them more difficult. Over-reliance on technology in leadership risks learning painful lessons: a good leader knows when it should be put aside when dealing with sensitive people issues.
Related: Here’s the Research-Backed Best to Deliver Bad News Way
In the end, if you’re considering moves that make a significant impact on a workforce, then consider all aspects of the human element before proceeding. These people work hard to help you achieve your objectives, and difficult times require not only your leadership, but your compassion as well.