Ground Control To Major Musk

How to control a media shitstorm!

In the same week that society’s pre-eminent observer of style and designer to the stars Nicky Haslam, known for his fascinating self-confidence and blue-linked Wikipedia page released the annual version of his much-fabled things-he-finds-”common” tea towel, thousands of people in the tech sphere lost their jobs, rather unceremoniously. Far be it from any of us to suggest culprits for Haslam’s next towel––not least when Cockapoos, cuff links, porn and food festivals already make the cut––but I do think “mass-sacking via email” should at least be a contender.

This comes, of course, after a myriad of minor implosions have happened in the news this week; Elon Musk removing some 50% of Twitter’s global staff as well as demolishing blue ticks ‘for the elite’ as we know it; payments company Stripe laid off 14% of its workforce around the world and now Meta, formerly Facebook, announces large-scale cuts to tens of thousands of hard-working staff. Musk made news over the past few days for a number of reasons, most severely, however, by way of a leaked email detailing if and how Twitter staff would be let go. The details that we have are thus: “Given the nature of our distributed workforce and our desire to inform impacted individuals as quickly as possible, communications for this process will take place via email,” the leaked email read. “By 9am PST on Friday, Nov 4th, everyone will receive an individual email with the subject line: Your Role at Twitter. Please check your email, including your spam folder.

“If your employment is not impacted, you will receive a notification via your Twitter email. If your employment is impacted you will receive a notification with the next steps via your personal email.” A number of former staff reported waiting hours to hear whether they were kept on or not, with others claiming to have been logged out of their internal messaging systems prior to the news. Simon Balmain, a senior community manager for the platform in the UK, said he believed he had been laid off. “Everyone got an email saying that there was going to be a large reduction in headcount, and then around an hour later, folks started getting their laptops remotely wiped,” he told the BBC. Appalling news for people who thought their bosses were alright, everywhere.

There are various ways you could sum up this situation to those with no idea; abhorrent, distrusting and perhaps more divisive than The Great Thong Olympics that is Love Island. In a similarly tricky situation, this week was the C-Suite of Stripe, who also sent out an email to all staff to discuss potential layoffs. A comparison was natural and immediate, especially given the compassionate nature with which the Stripe communications team expressed their message. They wrote: “​​There’s no good way to do a layoff, but we’re going to do our best to treat everyone leaving as respectfully as possible and to do whatever we can to help. Some of the core details include:

Severance pay. We will pay 14 weeks of severance for all departing employees, and more for those with longer tenure. That is, those departing will be paid until at least February 21st 2023.

Bonus. We will pay our 2022 annual bonus for all departing employees, regardless of their departure date. (It will be prorated for people hired in 2022.)

PTO. We’ll pay for all unused PTO time (including in regions where that’s not legally required). …

Immigration support. We know that this situation is particularly tough if you’re a visa holder. We have extensive dedicated support lined up for those of you here on visas (you’ll receive an email setting up a consultation within a few hours), and we’ll be supporting transitions to non-employment visas wherever we can.” The email in full can be found here.

Patrick Collison of Stripe’s email denoting layoffs is a masterclass in employer-employee relations in a number of ways. First, it features accountability from a leadership standpoint. Collison emphasised, ‘We made some mistakes,’ in lieu of blaming down. It also boasts clarity in ways Twitter’s mass email never does, proactively answering a lot of questions that
employees would have straight away. He then continues to set up an open line of communication (We are going to set up a live, one-on-one conversation between each departing employee and a Stripe manager over the course of the next day,” Collison wrote) while also looking ahead and showing genuine concern and empathy for those affected. Collison’s hand-typed memo then goes on to praise the laid-off workers, stating that they would make “fantastic additions at almost any other company,” and furthermore, announced the addition of “alumni.stripe.com” email addresses for laid-off employees who would like to start their own businesses and use Stripe’s products.

To be blunt, no one likes receiving or delivering bad news. As a boss, however, you need to be able to do it. Wavering times in a business’ timeline will happen, no matter how savvy you are as an entrepreneur; recessions, restructures and layoffs come for us all. Delivering bad news effectively is essential for maintaining morale, ensuring business competitiveness and protecting the brand. The good news is that psychology can guide us on the right way to deliver news like this. With that, here is how to effectively deliver news people mightn’t want to hear without them feeling ambushed, panicked or grief-stricken.

So, what to do when the shit hits the fan?

Owners and handlers of Musk, Zuckerberg and the Collison brothers have officially hit Threat Level Midnight and despite all seeming lost, it’s nowhere organisations like Pepsi, The Royal Family and Boris Johnson haven’t been before. Thankfully, there are ways out of almost anything. Just ask Prince Andrew!

Step One: Prepare, prepare, prepare.

When bad news is received, it’s often without warning. In a work situation, it’s often always taken personally, too. Situations develop quickly and responses need to match that to avoid surmising, fixation on headlines or further fear growth. Employees can feel taken by surprise and fear being out of the loop.

Too many businesses adopt the ‘never complain, never explain’ way of life, liking apologies with admissions of guilt, but that won’t fly anymore with forward-thinking, John Lewis-advert-loving millennials. A range of crises can befall a former Tesla CEO, whether it’s light populism, comparing Justin Trudeau to Hitler or winning the Annual Luddite Award in 2016. Whatever the issue, take action quickly, treat those around you as you would like to be treated, and don’t sack anyone over a mass email, ever.

Step Two: Delivery.

When employees receive bad news at work, a number of emotions may arise––one of them, grief. Grief can be immersive, enduring and provoke anxiety about what’s coming next.

The human response to receiving bad news follows something called the Change Curve. This is a series of stages progressing through blaming others, blaming self, uncertainty, acceptance, problem-solving and moving on. Understanding this helps you predict how employees are likely to react. Different communication styles can then be employed to ease the transition.

When the time comes to deliver the news, focus on being straightforward and compassionate. Bad news is negative by nature, so don’t dress it up or try to make it seem better than it is, or we can confidently predict that you will fail in the same way Musk and his cronies did.

Deliver tough news with empathy. This should be a two-way dialogue, so listen to them, and if they’re not saying anything, check in to see how they’re feeling (note how we absolutely did not say: “send a mass email and shut off your laptop”). It’s also important to think about how the news will impact them by putting yourself in their shoes and giving them time to process and respond.

Step Three: Prepare a crisis plan.

Whether you’re Harvey Weinstein or Olivia Wilde, a crisis communications plan is vital for businesses of all sizes. Headings should be potential crises (think of all possible scenarios); audiences (staff, customers, stakeholders, media); communication plans; what you say (statements, key messages) and, of course, who has the authority to activate the plan.

Make sure the plan is a practical document and not some theoretical tomb, this will be your saving grace if you do it right. While that will cover externals (optics, brand management, futureproofing) one must consider internal policies to put in place for times of panic. Ensure culture is mainlined by allowing protocol to take over in lieu of staff going rogue.

The critical thing is to quickly ascertain all the facts to fully understand exactly what the potential crises and potential impact may be. Once you’ve analysed the situation, you need to agree on the core message you want to convey. Is it an apology, a response or a clarification? Avoid arguing and appearing defensive. Be brave and try to do it in person. Do not lie, manipulate the facts or say nothing at all. Open the two-way street of communication and start from there. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail, or perhaps more appropriately, chat shit get banged, organise shit get sorted.

Our team is dedicated to providing you and your business with the absolute best business advice out there. When it comes to financing, we know it isn’t ‘one size fits all’. We approach each and every case from a fresh perspective, working with you to find tailored solutions that leave your business feeling stronger than ever. With our expert analysis, we translate figures into a language you can understand. Using timely, reliable advice, our experienced team of experts devise sophisticated plans to encourage cost efficiency & growth. For more information, get in contact with Fitzgerald Power today!