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  • Don’t let culture fall to the side in difficult times. This is why.

Don’t let culture fall to the side in difficult times. This is why.

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

Five months into the year, 2023 has proved as tumultuous as the past few years. An uncertain economy has rocked businesses, while workers have been widely confronted dismissed.

During times like these, some employees may feel as if they are waiting with bated breath for their next job to be cut. And while one might assume they’re safe with a large, reputable company, layoffs at organizations like Meta have shown that may not be true. A questionnaire of 1,000 business leaders found that 74% of leaders of companies with more than 500 companies said they would have to make layoffs this year (compared to only 51% of leaders of companies with fewer than 500 employees).

Larger companies often ditch culture, creating a large, disconnected group of interchangeable employees. In these times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to ensure our businesses are united and ready to weather the storm.

What does a “close” company mean?

When I talk about a “close-knit” company, I don’t mean that all employees are best friends (although friendships certainly can’t hurt at work). A close-knit company means that there is a basis of trust and respect between employers and employees.

Hecht is not analogous to small – there are plenty of highly dysfunctional companies with 30 employees who hate each other. And while it’s easier to get to know your employees when there are only 30 of them, it’s not impossible for companies of 100 or more to do so.

In large companies, leadership should focus on cultivating close-knit groups throughout the organization. As the CEO of a company that employs nearly 100 people, I do my best to connect with all of our employees through retreats, social events, and daily interactions, but I still don’t have the time to get to know everyone. Instead, I try to model the connectedness I hope to see across the company by creating close relationships with my direct reports and fostering our company leaders and relationships with colleagues through mentorship programs.

As leaders, we should care enough to know our employees and recognize their unique contributions. If we see them as interchangeable pawns on a chessboard, they will see our company in the same light – interchangeable with the next offer that comes their way.

Related: The How-To: Choosing Between a Startup or Company Job

Focus on quality over quantity

Businesses can (and should) grow, but leaders often view the number of employees they have as analogous to their success. However, this often leads to overstaffing that managers cannot keep up with; productivity and profits fall, employees feel disengaged and layoffs threaten.

A small, close-knit team is much more powerful than a large, disconnected team. By investing in the employees you have before you hire new ones, you can ensure you don’t over-hire just to minimize positions if the company runs into financial hurdles.

Before you hire new employees, you should focus on retaining and supporting the employees you have. Do you need a new employee or do you need to set up new structures so that your team can be more productive and engaged?

Focusing on creating close-knit teams and productive employees is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Employees become more valuable every year and are rewarded with professional development opportunities, performance bonuses and other incentives. With higher productivity, companies can see better results and higher profits, and with a higher retention rate, employers can build a stable workforce with years of expertise. With a workforce of 500, it might feel nice on Linkedin, but the tight-knit company that focuses on quality over quantity will be better equipped to weather economic uncertainty.

Related: Tim Cook: Mass layoffs are a ‘last resort’ for Apple

There are still layoffs

While a close-knit company has a better chance of avoiding layoffs, sometimes they are unavoidable. In these times we must rely on the trust, respect and camaraderie that has been established to build a bridge that can be repaired.

Seven years ago, an unexpected change with a major partner forced me to run my company through layoffs. I was forced to let go of many outstanding associates and friends I deeply respected. As I considered how to handle the process, I imagined how I would feel if I were the one who got fired. So we helped find new jobs by bringing in experts to help with resumes and Linkedin profiles and offered as long as possible severance pay to soften the blow.

Furthermore, we were transparent with our other employees about what happened and why. Secrecy erodes morale and leaders must communicate openly and honestly no matter how scary the truth. I communicated with every employee about the reality of our situation and the plan to rebuild. This gave my employees confidence that we would get through this period as a team, and as we recovered in the following months, we only lost one employee who left for another opportunity.

Layoffs will never be easy, but doing them with compassion and transparency shows employees that we will always treat them fairly and we can move forward together to build a better company.

Related: Promoting a cohesive company culture can lead to profitability

Gather the troops

The trust you build in a close-knit company is the foundation we can fall back on when the going gets tough, and if there’s anything I’ve learned in my career, it’s that the toughest. The economy collapses, an important partner withdraws or we are faced with a global pandemic that paralyzes the world. If a crisis breaks out and we don’t have a united front, our employees will scatter in opposite directions at the first smoke.

When the bottom falls out, all we’re left with is our people. Don’t be the leader who cowers behind a screen, afraid to share the truth. Gather the troops, outline the battle ahead and lay out your plan to conquer it. With your team behind you, you can make it through the woods no matter how muddy you are when you finally get out.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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