Skip to main content

Hard choices and changes at work are in abundance these days. Layoffs. Reorgs. Resource cuts.

On a related note, we’re living in a crisis of trust.

Companies are efforting hard to lead these changes. But the bungling is rampant. And employees are losing patience and faith.

And while hard changes are hard, they’re a part of business — of life. And there are ways to just do it better.

Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Stop calling the workplace “a family.”

This fundamentally toxic belief is part of the problem.

A family’s love should be unconditional. But one’s standing in the workplace should be highly conditional.

Further, the family metaphor implies a parent / child relationship. When everyone in the workplace is — and should be treated as — an adult.

Only when we allow ourselves to believe we are loved and cared for by our organizations as if it were are family do our hearts become so susceptible to breaking.

Is this harsh? Yeah, maybe. But it’s time.

It’s also part of what we teach in our Activating Change Leadership Workshop.

2. Mind scars before making choices.

We’re all casualties of the last few years. The 2020s thus far have been rough. And not trivially so.

We’re all carrying baggage and nursing scars.

And while companies must be empowered to make hard choices, they must also consider the context.

A layoff, a reorg — any hard choice isn’t rolling out over silky clean slates. But over layers of not-fully-healed scar tissue.

In the cost-benefit analysis of a reduction in force, it’s way too easy to quantify the “wins” — the costs saved. But the human impact side is squishier.

As companies make these hard decisions, they have to recognize how much their teams have already survived. And to hold this context — and make every effort under the sun to avoid the hard thing — before they make the call.

3. Treat people as adults.

Leading hard change well really is this simple. Treat people as adults.
What does this look like in practice?

Stop apologizing that it’s happening and take accountability for how it’s happening.

Stop hiding hard truths behind flowery corporate speak.

Put it out there. Honestly and candidly. But also with empathy and care.

Stop waiting until the entire plan is fully baked. Speak up sooner. When you have a vision, but the details are still forming. Because adults have insights and experience that can actually help you build the plans when you invite them to.

Give people the truth — along with time, space, support, and an invitation to speak up. You’ll be amazed how much further this takes you than an 18-month roadmap built in an ivory tower.

4. Respect the loop.

Finally, acknowledge the value of intel at the middle and bottom of the org chart.

The most successful changes are the ones informed by those carrying them out.

So when the communication begins — be clear on direction. The why we’re changing, the outcome we need to deliver, the facts we already know.

But as critically — be out-loud about what you don’t know. Like how customers will respond or whether the new technology will create knowledge gaps, or whether a layoff will trigger the loss of institutional knowledge you’ve always taken for granted.

Create real forums for dialog with your teams as you go. Ask them real questions about how it’s going and what they need and what they’re learning and what tweaks you might make.

This feedback loops wins you so many prizes.

The insights you never knew you needed.

The engagement a team of people who feel ownership of the solution
Access to blind spots that were putting you at risk.

This is where the gold lives.