At our agency, we were confronted with an unpleasant situation. It is a common story--one that is reflected in the pages of Ad Age every couple weeks: Client meets agency; Client loves agency; Agency staffs up; Client changes marketing leadership; Client shifts work between agencies; Agency loses revenue and faces difficult staffing decisions. Of course, being a common situation in the agency business doesn't make it any easier to address.
When an employer faces tough situations like this, the tendency is to want to tightly control information. It seems typical for employers to try to hide the situation until such time a staff reduction is announced, and when that occurs the organization is frequently tight-lipped about it to the outside world.
At Fullhouse, our brand is based on frank communications, honesty, and care for our employees and clients, so that guided our approach when we found ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of having to release valued employees. Our transparency didn't just play itself out on Social Media sites but also in the internal communications we had with team members throughout the process. Two weeks ago we gathered the team and announced that some anticipated work was lost and that we hoped to learn more about our future at a client meeting. A week later we shared specific information about the new and reduced forecasts, and we were honest about all the options on the table. At that time, we promised more information within 10 days, and four business days later we acted. Our decision to reduce the size of the team was extraordinarily difficult, no more so than for the hard-working individuals we had to release.
Throughout the day, we were committed to keeping information flowing. As members of the leadership team were meeting with the affected employees, the chairman sent a message to everyone in the agency saying, in part, "This morning, we are taking the unwanted steps of letting some people go. This will be a tough day for Fullhouse, no doubt. The friends and coworkers leaving our agency are good people who have done excellent work. As a company, we are providing as much support and compassion as we can. I know you will provide the same." Then, that afternoon all employees were called together so that every single decision could be discussed and every employee given the opportunity to voice their questions and feelings.
Soon after employees were informed that coworkers were being let go, we began to participate in information sharing on Twitter. Tweets were broadcast that announced the staff reduction, contact info for the affected professionals were shared, and a dialog occurred about the circumstances. At the same time, links to the former peers' LinkedIn profiles were distributed throughout the team so that friends could post recommendations and assist with sharing contacts.
The reasons to embrace transparency were many, ranging from benevolence to self-interest. While nothing can remove the sting of being released by your employer, we were committed to helping our folks as much as possible; sharing recommendations and alerting peers at other agencies seemed a helpful if modest way to assist.
At the same time--as we counsel our clients--we recognized the need to be part of the dialog rather than sitting on the sidelines and hoping it will all go away quickly if we simply ignore the chatter. Aware that our actions would soon be common knowledge in the Milwaukee interactive community, we decided to have our executives be the first to break the news.
Of course, the primary reason to handle the communications in this manner is simply that it is right for our agency's brand. Transparency is the way we want to live, and if you don't live your brand--well then it's not much of a brand, is it?
Perhaps gauging the impact of our transparency after only one day is too soon to draw proper conclusions, but the experiences of the day helped to reinforce the appropriateness of our openness. In one day, I received three email messages and six tweets asking about the skills of the people we released. It may only be my "survivors' guilt," but I was very happy to be able to assist with new connections for the people we had to let go.
At the same time, perhaps because we were so forthcoming and involved in the Twitterverse, criticism was minimal. The most meaningful and appreciated responses came from some of the individuals who were let go. One sent a direct message saying, "Thanks for the mentions on Twitter today. I had a busy afternoon and today was actually a positive for me." And another, who has always been a class act, tweeted "I've still got nothing but love for Fullhouse. No hard feelings. They were in a tight spot."
These are tough situations, and no one walks away from a staff reduction feeling good about it. In the end, our transparency served to help those who are no longer part of Fullhouse as well as those who are. On a day like yesterday, that's about as much as anyone can ask for.
By the way, if you are in need of back- or front-end development, account service, copy direction, or project management, please comment here or drop me a message at aray-at-fullhouseinteractive.com. I happen to know a few folks who I would highly recommend!
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