At Leadercast a few years ago, I fielded a very timely question.
During lunch, a young man asked,
“How does a good leader handle layoffs? Especially when they need to lay off a good and valued employee?”
Here’s what I believe:
First, I don’t think a leader should ask others to make sacrifices until he’s made some himself. So I’d examine other company expenses to see what could be sacrificed instead. So many executives, when faced with the need to cut costs, will sacrifice employees ahead of their own corporate perks. Instead of looking at the big picture, they see only their OWN picture.
But if an organization is only as strong as its weakest link, then leaders should do everything they can to avoid removing a STRONG link. A good employee is simply too valuable to let go without exhausting other options.
I do the same when hiring. I’ve always believed that if you find a good potential employee, you do whatever you can to get them on the team – even if it means creating a position or changing the budget. I once even gave up my own budgeted salary for a year in order to hire the leader I wanted to run one of my companies.
You may not be able to sacrifice your salary to keep an employee, but if they’re truly valuable, you certainly should be willing to give up the box seats at the baseball stadium, or use of the corporate jet, or your company-paid gym membership.
And after all the budget-busting, if you still need to lay good people off, then make it your goal to help them find a new position. Tell them you will be their #1 advocate. Offer to be a reference in their job hunt. Network on their behalf. Write the recommendation letter and/or make the phone call to the potential employer. Do whatever you can to ease their transition.
Finally, ask if you can remain friends even if they can no longer be on your staff. Who knows what the future may bring? Besides, as a leader, your goal should be to add value to the people you lead. When good employees leave and take a new position, it might offer them better opportunities than what you could have provided.
Originally posted May 20, 2009