April 28

How to lay off people WELL during COVID?


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COVID or the recession hits and you have to lay all these people off. How do you go about that well?

There’s actually two things to do.

So the first involves identifying specifically who to lay off.

The second involves going about it in a different way than most people do, and in a different way than you naturally want to. 

How do you find who you’re going to lay off? The first step… You have to know your key values.

If you don’t know what your key values are, I’m not talking about performance and I’m not talking about who brings in revenue. 

I’m talking about your key values.

So for example, Starbucks is a big corporation. They are all about making money of-course.

But their key value is that human connection.

I was working on a team and we were deciding what to do with this one person who’s very low performer. Do we transition him to another shift? Cut his hours back?

If we were looking at just the numbers, we would have instantly said, “We’re just going to cut his hours back and pretty much let him go.” But instead we decided to look and ask, “What are our key values? What do we truly value as a company?”

And that was the human connection.

So we asked, “How does he impact the human connection?” And we realized he was one of the champions in the store!

When it came to the day to day job, he was very poor. He couldn’t do very well. He did the bare minimum. And that was about all he could get away with.

But when it came to the human connection and the morale and motivation of the team, he was crucial. So instead of cutting his trained him and developed his skills in one particular area until he was good enough to pass.

And then that’s all he did.

Now, skill levels of everyone else on the team were okay. No one was exceptional, but they were pretty good. But whenever he was working, he would raise the morale of the team so much that everyone performed exceptional.

If we had moved him to a different team or had fired him or cut back his hours, then the entire morale of the team would have dropped. But instead because we identified our key values and key value being the human connection, because we identified the key value of human connection, we were able to completely save the team and increase the performance overall.

You want to know exactly what your key values are.

Once you know that, then you want to identify the key performers who are the top people performing for these values because those are the people you don’t want to lay off. That’s usually about 20% of your employees.

Next you identify your detractors. The people who are actively working against your core values.

Employers hate to hear this, and I hate to say this, but oftentimes they’re actually people who are pretty good at their job. And those are the people who are often going directly against your key values as a company. Those are the people you want to let go.

What you’ll have left are your lower performers. Those who aren’t high performers, but also aren’t actively working against your value. That’s like the guy in my story.

Once you identify who you need to let go, the second part is to figure out how. How are you going to do it differently than everyone else?

There’s two parts to how you want to lay off someone in a recession where it’s not necessarily their fault.

The first thing is you want to do something that I call embrace the suck or you want to give your whole heart. It’s the exact opposite of what we want to do.

In a situation where we have to let someone go, we have to have a difficult conversation. Everything inside of us is screaming to take our heart out of it completely. 

Just go stone cold, completely unemotional. Read from a script. “Yes, you’re fired.” Next. To take the heart out of it completely. It’s an awkward conversation. No one likes to have it. No one likes to be on the receiving end. So we try to take and trying to detach ourselves from the situation – and I understand that. That makes sense, but if you want to actually lay off well, then you need to put your heart into it.

You need to be honest, have a honest heart to heart conversation.

That is, no, that is an absolute necessity. When you just become stone cold face, when you just become an unemotional, heartless conversation, what you are communicating is, “You’re not worth my time. Your dignity is less important than me feeling comfortable.”

That is the quickest way to kill morale, not only in the employees that you’re keeping, but also in the employee that you’re letting go.

And the final thing that you want to do is go above and beyond as always. How can you go above and beyond with your employees? And in this case, especially with COVID, what that looks like is explaining to them, “Hey, we can’t afford to keep you. We can barely afford to keep the doors open. So we have to let people go. And I’m sorry that you are one of them, but here’s what we can do. We can write you this recommendation letter. We can go and find out the process of what it looks like for you to start collecting unemployment. And for a lot of employees, that’s more than they’re currently getting paid at their job, which is great. We can go through and we can find other places that are hiring and we can give them a call and personally recommend you as an employer.”

If you can go above and beyond for the employees that you are letting go for the employees that you are laying off, then when the time comes for them to come back, when the time comes where you need more people, they will be the first in line and they will be ecstatic to do so. 

Not only that, if you lay people off and you don’t handle the situation well or if you handle it poorly, those former employees now will go and not only bad mouth you, but your company. You bring the entire level of your brand crushing down.

That’s how you lay off people well, in COVID and in a recession.


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