Executive’s memo good lesson in how not to lay off employees

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It wouldn’t be that hard to write a book “How Not to Lay Off Your Employees” because just about every month or so a top manager, often at a large corporation, demonstrates how to really mess things up.

The latest was a memo from Stephen Elop, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Services business unit, who posted a long memo on the company’s News Center, starting out with a happy “Hello there,” and then burying the company’s news of a 12,500-person layoff after rambling through his announcement of the company’s plans.

It wasn’t long before Elop’s memo was taken to task online for dropping the layoff news bomb in his jargon-filled 1,100-word memo. (It’s still online at the Microsoft site at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2014/jul14/07-17announcement2.aspx.

The memo’s a perfect example of what not to do, and it’s amazing that 1) It even went out and 2) It still remains online. After saying Microsoft would terminate some 12,500 workers, Elop writes, “These decisions were difficult for the team.” Really? It was probably even more difficult for the 12,500 people reading the memo.

The memo’s jargon starts out with “our role is to light up this strategy” and “we want to be the confluence of the best of Microsoft’s applications.”

Any layoff of any size at any company, small or large, requires sensitivity to the employees and their families who will be affected.

And this is a job where managers simply must partner with HR. If there’s a memo going out from a manager, HR (and communications staff) has to make sure it’s written well, to the point and handled professionally throughout the company. These days, just assume that a memo can easily be circulated online or sent to the media by an employee who’s been fired.

All employees, those losing their jobs as well as those remaining with the company, are going to have questions. So any memo must try to answer possible concerns briefly, and leave the door open for any other questions to go through HR.

It’s really not that hard, but for some reasons, companies seem to keep getting it wrong. Odds are, however, there will soon be another example for Chapter 2 of “How Not to Lay Off Your Employees.”

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