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How one CEO survived layoffs day

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

The morning before announcing a big layoff, Jim Bryan made a call to his executive coach. And he received some invaluable advice.

As senior vice president of Encore Capital Group, a finance company based in San Diego, Calif., Bryan traveled to the firm’s Phoenix office to deliver the news in person. About one-third of that office’s employees were losing their jobs.

To prepare for the grim task, Bryan called his coach. He rehearsed his presentation, in which he explained the company’s financial straits and business rationale for layoffs.

Digesting his coach’s feedback, Bryan realized he needed to reframe his remarks.

“It became apparent that I was focused on protecting how I appeared,” he recalls. “I had unconsciously slanted my slides to prove it wasn’t my fault.”

Instead, Bryan shifted his attention to the employees’ feelings. Harnessing empathy, he says he sought to provide “what they needed at that moment.”

Thanks to some last-minute adjustments in his presentation, Bryan wound up conveying an emotionally honest message that pinpointed what was going on and how it would impact employees. He also committed to support them through a difficult time.

Afterward, Bryan resisted the urge to retreat behind closed doors. Rather, he circulated among employees’ cubicles and initiated conversations with them.

He approached laid-off individuals and chatted with them as they packed up. Many were initially upset, but his caring presence helped them compose themselves. He also leveled with employees who retained their jobs, helping them make sense of the situation.

“People came up to me and thanked me for staying there,” he says. “For not being the executive who delivers the message and then disappears.”

— Adapted from “The Powerful Leadership Tool You’re Not Using Enough,” Brandon Black and Shayne Hughes, www.thoughtleadersllc.com.

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