My startup made difficult layoffs. Here’s how I kept morale up and our culture intact

As CEO and cofounder at a tech startup, I was confronted with how the pandemic would affect my own company and the people that make it work. And like so many other businesses, ours was not untouched. The decision to lay off staff to survive the first wave of the pandemic was the most difficult…

My startup made difficult layoffs. Here’s how I kept morale up and our culture intact

As CEO and cofounder at a tech startup, I was confronted with how the pandemic would affect my own company and the people that make it work. And like so many other businesses, ours was not untouched. The decision to lay off staff to survive the first wave of the pandemic was the most difficult of my tenure at StreamSets. It came just days after celebrating news of a hard-earned accolade—a prestigious best workplaces award. To win an award that celebrates our business for putting culture first and to closely follow that with a reduction in force was jarring, but in coming to terms with the sudden new reality, I realized that to preserve the trajectory of the business over a multiyear time horizon, we needed to take decisive action.

Normally, when there are macroeconomic challenges, there is a historical precedent to use as a point of comparison to make educated predictions about the future. This pandemic has not allowed for the same perspective. The volatile supply chain also complicates informed decision-making, as does the human element—a workforce suddenly faced with varying challenges at home and the genuine fear of an uncontrolled virus.
Taking action while preserving the workplace requires a delicate balance between business viability and company morale. So, we took a keen eye to evolving our DNA in a way that would let us keep serving our customers, stay profitable, and preserve our core values that helped win that best workplaces nod.
Here were three guiding principles that got us through what still may be a first wave of the pandemic
Acknowledge limitations in what you know
For me, integrity means trust and disclosure: presenting the truth, but also acknowledging our limitations. This mindset came into play as I thought through the need to reduce our headcount.
We looked at every expense. We took every measure to reduce wherever possible. But in response to the COVID-19 macroeconomic crisis, I ultimately decided to conduct a reduction in force, so we could better control our own destiny. When faced with difficult decisions like this, the temptation is to wait and monitor, but avoiding tough decisions leads to inertia, and inertia in uncertain times leads to decline and could mean the ultimate failure of the business. 
Even though we analyzed many ‘what-ifs,’ as a leader, you can’t present that uncertainty to the company. There is an important line to walk between transparency and disclosure, and in moments like this, it is tempting to confuse the two. As a leader, you must p
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