Germans are known for precision. This 2,000-word email sent to staffers about an impending layoff of 18,000 at Deutsche Bank is not that. But it does show a CEO, Christian Sewing, who feels he owes his staff an explanation.

Here's why that lengthy note is a great way to spread unfortunate news.

Information always helps

Losing your job is terrible. There's no way around that. But understanding the whys often helps with the transitions. Sewing says:

First let me say this: I am very much aware that in rebuilding our bank, we are making deep cuts. I personally greatly regret the impact this will have on some of you. In the long-term interests of our bank, however, we have no choice other than to approach this transformation decisively. Only then can we build on our long-standing history and make Deutsche Bank a leading bank once again. A bank which we can be justifiably proud of.

This is standard business-speak we'd expect out of any PR person assigned to write a message from a CEO. But then he goes on to give actual explanations of what he's doing and why. He explains the goals and how these changes will help Deutsche Bank reach them. He talks about the specific people in each leadership role.

Everyone reading that knows what is going on and why the cuts are necessary. 

The employees know the extent of the layoffs from day one

Survivor guilt and fear is a real thing in layoffs. Two people from your department get laid off and everyone who remains wonders if they will be next? Clear communication helps people know if they need to panic. Clear communication helps keep your remaining employees engaged at work--they know their roles will continue under the new structure, so there is no need to search for a new job and leave.

Planning, planning, planning

While I don't live in Germany, I do live in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland where there are a lot of cultural overlaps. In my experience, decisions are careful and slow. This often drives the American me crazy, but it was my choice to come here. 

I'm not alone in this perception. John Otto Magee, an expert in German-American business relations, says:

The American tendency to move fast in order to achieve results quickly can become a source of confusion for Germans. They often have difficulty identifying a clear logic behind the actions taken. What Americans would term rapid response coupled with a high level of flexibility, their German colleagues would call "Aktionismus"--literally actionism--or nervous movement without or at the expense of thought-through planning then action.

While it may take them forever to come to a decision, you can feel confident in the decision, once made. They aren't going to back up and go a different direction.

While there are good and bad things about this culture, in the case of a company transformation, it can be reassuring to employees and investors.

The law plays a role

Germany doesn't have at-will employment, as most of the United States does. This means employees truly have contracts, and the rights strongly favor the employee. This causes problems in some areas, but in the case of layoffs, it gives employees a strong understanding of what's happening, what their rights are, and what benefits they can expect to receive.

Layoffs in the United States are often filled with confusion and fear about what comes next. It's not that Germans are happy to be laid off, but they can pull out their contracts and read a clear explanation of what to expect. That helps as well.

If your company has to undergo a transformation, take a page out of Deutsche Bank's playbook and give clear and thorough information to your employees.

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
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