Once upon a time…
… on a Friday evening in November 2022, I received a text message from a client I had worked with 2 years earlier: “Hello Serge, these are difficult times. Do you have experience in turning around companies?” This was the co-founding CEO of a tech startup – 40 employees, 30% annual growth. When I contacted him, I learned that they were anticipating a cash flow crisis due to sales not growing as fast as expected while massive hires had been made.
“Serge, I have to lay people off! It’s against my values, but I must do it for the good of the company! Secondly, I want to turn our culture around, to leave more room for intuition. Today, we are too rational, which limits us to dare to test new thoughts, new approaches when we don’t have all the data. We don’t learn enough! While our technological markets are young and constantly evolving, we don’t manage to keep up with them.”
I coached this CEO so that he felt grounded to communicate this news to all employees. We held a 3-hour plenary to share emotions, doubts and answer questions, often very pertinent.
Then, negotiations for the termination of employment contracts began and a task force of volunteers was launched. The road is still long. But most of the employees have understood the harsh economic realities of the business world and remain mobilized on the project.
What touched me the most in this mission, which is still going on, is how much the employees were attached to the values of the company, which we had worked on in the past, and therefore how much they also experienced, like the CEO, and expressed this inner tug-of-war between the human and the economic.
Employees were treated like adults, confronted with reality, with their reality. It is these radical choices of transparency that allow each person to position themselves, to decide on their life and therefore to feel dignity. I salute this CEO and his co-founders who had the courage to take this side at the risk of seeing a large number of employees leave the ship. They surely showed benevolence, respect, authenticity and vulnerability, while being aware of the emotions involved. They have been BRAVETM leaders.