When Crises Come with Painful Choices...

...transformative leaders respond with empathy and compassion

Crisis in all its forms—including COVID-19—often force leaders into a position where they must make painful choices to safeguard their organization’s future. Initiating furloughs and other reductions in a company’s workforce is just one example.

For leaders facing this scenario, it’s important to arrive at such decisions from a place of integrity. Leaders must also communicate and implement reductions with empathy and compassion. That includes providing support that helps employees most affected by the reduction to move on. And finally, leaders need to provide transparency into how they made the decisions.

When leaders behave in these ways, employees affected by the layoff—and those remaining at the company—will be more likely to trust their leaders’ abilities and intentions. As a result, those leaving will find it easier to move on. Those remaining will know that their colleagues were treated fairly. And they’ll be more likely to remain productive and to support new directions the company has defined.

What AlixPartners analysis indicates: Our observations of leaders effectively navigating the COVID-19 crisis suggest eight lessons for responding to crisis with empathy and compassion:

  • If a layoff is unavoidable, communicate the interim measures (such as executive pay cuts and hiring freezes) already taken—so everyone knows the reduction is truly a last resort.
  • Take action once you’ve made the decision, and provide the support employees need to move on.
  • Make sure members of your executive team understand why the reduction is necessary, and involve them in developing talking points about the decision, so they can communicate it with empathy and compassion to their own teams.
  • Clarify the path forward, explaining which strategic priorities your company will stay focused on, and which (if any) will be designated as lower priority for now.
  • While weighing complex trade-offs (such as whether to cut large numbers of junior staff or a handful of highly paid executives), look to your company’s core values for guidance.
  • Give leaders across your organization the information and lead time needed to communicate reduction decisions with empathy and compassion to those affected on their teams and to field questions from employees.
  • Explain to layoff survivors how you arrived at the decision and what kinds of support are being provided for those affected, so they’ll know their colleagues are being treated fairly.
  • Don’t be afraid to show emotion in a way that’s natural for you when communicating the decision to others—now, more than ever, people need to see that you’re human.