Never has that cliched business mantra, "It's About the People," hit closer to home for me than when I had to look in the eyes of those I was letting go. Failure is what I felt -- not their failure, but mine.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy but I had no idea how hard it would be. Sitting alongside the HR manager and the department manager, along with each person's direct supervisor, and seeing the full gamut of human emotions in the outgoing employees was, by far, the most emotionally draining experience I've ever had. From quiet resignation to tears, angry words, fear, and even some high fives as the outgoing employees lifted us up. I gave and received 16 hugs out of 17 people, which helped more than it hurt. As for the one who was too hurt/scared/mad, a call to her father hopefully let her know we cared and that it truly wasn't personal.
Wasn't personal huh?! Telling people we could no longer afford them, and seeing, hearing, feeling their pain was as personal an experience as I've ever had. Before doing this, I lived in La La Land about the value, self worth, and genuine need people have for employment. I knew people loved to work here but a job is a job is a job -- or at least that was how I felt before I took that job away. There was the first warehouse laborer, a Hispanic man who had worked for me for eight years and spoke little English, telling me in Spanish even I could understand, "Aquascape mi familia," (bite lip here). There was the young woman saying through tears that she had planned on retiring here (just kill me now and put me out of my misery). Painful as this was, I knew, of course, that what I was going through was 100 times easier than what they would soon be dealing with.
There were three things that allowed me to survive the day: One, the generous severance packages my management team had crafted. Two, the comment from the out-placement firm that our process should be a model for all companies to follow. And three, the real boost came from the calls, emails, and now cards being handed to me by not only those who survived but also a few who left. Today, I'm more inspired than ever to never, ever have to repeat a day like that. Now, the question is, will everyone else move on?
I'll let you know how we're doing and how it's working in my next post. Until then, don't forget it truly is about the people!