"Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn't be here."
That's a powerful sound bite from Mark Zuckerberg directed at Meta and Facebook employees. It was part of broader comments the CEO made at a recent weekly employee Q&A session (which which my Inc. colleague Jason Aten first reported on a couple of days ago). Zuckerberg also announced severe cost-cutting measures and increased pressure on employees to execute as the company braces for tough times ahead.
"If I had to bet, I'd say that this might be one of the worst downturns that we've seen in recent history," Zuckerberg said. "Part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might decide that this place isn't for you, and that self-selection is OK with me."
At first glance, Zuckerberg's comments may seem like par for the course with a global recession on the horizon. But it actually reveals signs of a major problem, one that could severely damage Meta's outlook for years to come, namely:
Prioritizing short-term financials over people is a recipe for disaster.
Let's break down why these comments lack emotional intelligence and empathy--and what lessons you as a business owner can take away from it, to help your company not only survive the next few years, but set itself up for future success.
(If you find value in the lessons presented here, you might be interested in my emotional intelligence course--which includes 20 more rules that help you develop emotional intelligence in yourself, or in your organization. Check out the course here.)
No empathy, no psychological safety
Zuckerberg's comments come on the heels of another important piece of company communication, one that carried much the same tone.
"I have to underscore that we are in serious times here and the headwinds are fierce," wrote Meta chief product officer Chris Cox in an internal memo circulated to employees last week, and which was initially shared by The Verge.
Because of the current environment, Cox went on to say that the company needed to "execute flawlessly," and that company leaders needed to "prioritize more ruthlessly" as they figured out how to "operate leaner, meaner, better exciting teams."
So, what's the problem with the message Zuckerberg and Meta executives are sending to the company? After all, flawless execution and ruthless prioritization are necessary in times like this, right?
Research shows that employees thrive in an environment that promotes psychological safety, where people feel safe to take risks and make mistakes. By "turning up the heat," as Zuckerberg put it, the company adds unnecessary pressure and makes a bad situation worse.
Further, the idea of "prioritizing ruthlessly," combined with stricter management and monitoring of employee performance, relegates people to second place. It prioritizes the bottom line, while forgetting the people responsible for company success. (These comments couldn't have come at a worse time, with Sheryl Sandberg, who actually had a reputation for empathy and emotionally intelligent communication, recently leaving the company.)
But Zuck's comments aren't directed at those people, you might argue. They're targeted at the dead weight, the low performers. The people the company is better off without.
Wrong again. Meta can't send this message to subpar employees without the risk of alienating its most valuable ones--because performance and life circumstances change.
Even Meta's best employees make mistakes.
They get sick.
They start or grow families.
Their kids get sick.
They lose loved ones.
They get depressed.
By sending this type of message, Meta adds pressure to all its people. People who, after having a bad month, or week--or even a bad day--will fear how their manager is looking at them. Or how their next evaluation will go. Or how long they will have their job.
This is the opposite of a psychologically safe environment; it's psychologically damaging.
Working under pressure like this isn't sustainable. It hurts your people, hurts your culture, and hurts your cause.
In contrast, when company leaders see the big picture, when they make employees feel safe, that mistakes are OK, that they've got their backs--those employees will not only perform better over the long term, they will be inspired to remain loyal to the company.
But what if you're a business owner? You also see the recession looming. You're trying to figure out how to cut costs, and you're worried about some employees not pulling their weight (long-term), which makes things worse for those who generally excel.
What do you do?
Talk to your people. Have open, honest, transparent conversation--which admittedly, Zuckerberg was trying to do. But instead of communicating in the harsh tone of "this is how it is; get out if you don't like it," try to communicate with empathy and compassion.
Yes, acknowledge the challenges; communicate the strategy.
But do so without forgetting about the people.
Do this right, and you can still cut costs, execute well, and help your business to survive tough times--but you'll do so without alienating those who have helped you get here in the first place.
Most important, you'll build a sustainable, emotionally intelligent culture that both you and your employees can be proud of.
And that type of culture eats strategy for breakfast.