She has a built-in ability
To take everything she sees.
—Genesis, “Invisible Touch”
When facing the most crucial moments of communication, many of today’s leaders have become cowards.
Yes, I’m referring to the mass layoffs at Twitter, where half the workforce was pink-slipped via email. Yet that’s hardly the first time a company booted people by impersonal means. Last December, for instance, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg laid off 900 employees on a collective Zoom call. In 2020, restaurant chain Dig opted to alert its downsized workers via text message.
These practices aren’t limited to employers, either. Last week the firm that’s handled my accounting for the past decade opted to cut its smaller-client base. While I understand the business reasons, I didn’t find their approach—a largely impersonal form letter topped with a bold-font headline, “Notice of termination of our engagement”—particularly client-friendly.
What’s driving this lean into using tech tools to deliver bad news? True, no one likes to be the bearer of it. I’ve had to deliver layoff news to individuals four times in my career, and speak to news media and communities on behalf of companies dozens of times more. Every one of those experiences was gut-wrenching. But emotional distress isn’t an excuse for lobbing notes from behind a digital wall.
Technology is supposed to support good communication, not replace it.
The leadership at Stripe understands that. When the payment software company alerted its workforce of layoffs, it started with a remarkably honest memo from its founders explaining why. As I understand it, that will be followed by personal outreach to those affected.
When I met with my new accountant this week, I mentioned how the last one parted ways. They noted how they, too, had let small clients go in the past, and that it always involved a letter--after a personal phone call.
Is it fun? Absolutely not. But courage and empathy are essential for great leaders and great communication.
It’s time we started holding organizations—and ourselves—to that standard again.