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TODAY’S STORY
6 Dec
,
2022

It is what it is but be nice about it!

We all have maybe one incident or two where our parents just didn’t allow us on a trip or an outing. This common experience is almost a mandatory part of growing up Indian.

Some of us were too afraid to ask. Even when we did muster the courage to ask, the pressure left us with little tact to actually make a convincing case for going out. You had to gauge the parent’s mood and lay out the relevant details of the event: the who, what, when, where, and why — with the hope that it got approved.

In the workplace, instances of such communication failure are quite common.

Imagine losing some money from your marketing budgets because you didn’t add the CTA correctly or overlooked a copy error. A lot is at stake here.

The complications are far too many in the case of a workplace as compared to managing trip logistics, although both are equally important to accomplish the task. Though when we speak of communication failures, they are most evident when the stakes are high, like poorly written layoff emails. And we sure have seen a slew of those this year, haven't we.

Here's Vishal Garg’s (Founder & CEO – Better) infamous layoff message to his employees on Zoom.

"If you're on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately."

And here's Twitter’s email to employees after Elon Musk took over as CEO.

Team,

In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday. We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company's success moving forward.

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. 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 next steps via your personal email.
If you do not receive an email from twitter-hr@ by 5PM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, please email peoplequestions@twitter.com.

To help ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data, our offices will be temporarily closed and all badge access will be suspended. If you are in an office or on your way to an office, please return home.

We acknowledge this is an incredibly challenging experience to go through, whether or not you are impacted. Thank you for continuing to adhere to Twitter policies that prohibit you from discussing confidential company information on social media, with the press or elsewhere.

We are grateful for your contributions to Twitter and for your patience as we move through this process.

Thank you.
Twitter

While the first example is certainly one of the most horrific ways to communicate layoffs, the second example can tell us a lot about the key details that are missing. But before we dissect the missing details let’s look at what can serve as a helpful guide to communicating difficult information.

Say hello to McKinsey's SCR framework.

The Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR) framework encapsulates how briefly crafted communication can also provide the necessary details. The components, S-C-R, are amply obvious so let’s get back to the Twitter layoff email, and check which key details are missing in it.

With a conversation as difficult as laying off employees, providing details of the situation is a no-brainer. Although, often in organisations, there is chatter that precedes such communication. As a general thumb rule, it is most useful to explain the situation from a decision-maker’s perspective because what gets around in chatter may not always be helpful information.

Twitter’s email starts out with the following:

Team,

In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday. We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company's success moving forward.

It is direct, doesn't beat around the bush, and starts with the complication and resolution in the first paragraph itself, even before stating the situation that warranties them. And even though honesty is usually freeing, giving out such a straightforward statement right at the start before describing the situation may come out as a little harsh.

An employee reading this doesn’t know the situation other than the overt changes that are taking place at Twitter. There is no effort to try to convince them of why the situation and complication demand such a resolution.

Clearly describing the situation works as a good start as it warms people up to understand the complication it has created.Another aspect of delivering difficult news is making a coherent logical connection between the situation, what created the situation, and the complications it has led to. If you were reading a book, the complications would essentially refer to what we call “the plot."

Elon's email does none of this. It simply assumes that employees know that Twitter is currently unhealthy. Finding out the reasons why it is unhealthy is also left as an exercise for the reader. And then it quickly follows it up with a shocking resolution. The entire thing is written in a very matter-of-fact way, but the problem is employees weren't thinking Twitter was unhealthy in the first place!

The one thing that the email solely gets right is the resolution. It is clear and simple to understand.

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 next steps via your personal email.
If you do not receive an email from twitter-hr@ by 5PM PST on Friday Nov. 4th, please email peoplequestions@twitter.com.

To help ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data, our offices will be temporarily closed and all badge access will be suspended. If you are in an office or on your way to an office, please return home.

But honestly, without any regard for describing the situation, details explaining next steps just make the bad email, worse. Even though the details on how an employee will know their employment status are crucial, they’re not enough to make sense of why a step or situation arose in the first place. As a reader, you’d be annoyed because the story makes no effort to tell you why things are happening the way they are.

In a way, the email simply says, “It is what it is” but uses too many words to say just that.

And to be fair if you were to actually use the SCR framework, starting with a resolution is perfectly alright. What should follow the resolution, though, is a good description of the situation, how it has led to the current complication, and most importantly, how that complication justifies the stated resolution.

Just mentioning the resolution makes the conversation an order instead of allowing any understanding or interpretation to take place. This focus on mentioning the resolution is also the primary reason why we are never convinced when our parents simply say no when we ask them permission to go out for a trip. There is no logical reason behind it; it is what it is.

Let’s look at another example, this time a good one, from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

The Airbnb layoff email from the time of the COVID pandemic became famous for how well crafted, and thoughtfully it was written. But let’s focus on the key details that it didn’t miss out on:

This is my seventh time talking to you from my house. Each time we’ve talked, I’ve shared good news and bad news, but today I have to share some very sad news.

When you’ve asked me about layoffs, I’ve said that nothing is off the table. Today, I must confirm that we are reducing the size of the Airbnb workforce. For a company like us whose mission is centered around belonging, this is incredibly difficult to confront, and it will be even harder for those who have to leave Airbnb. I am going to share as many details as I can on how I arrived at this decision, what we are doing for those leaving, and what will happen next.

Let me start with how we arrived at this decision. We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill. Airbnb’s business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecasted to be less than half of what we earned in 2019. In response, we raised $2 billion in capital and dramatically cut costs that touched nearly every corner of Airbnb.

While these actions were necessary, it became clear that we would have to go further when we faced two hard truths:

We don’t know exactly when travel will return.
When travel does return, it will look different.

If you focus on the underlined phrase, you will realize how it starkly contrasts the direct mention of a resolution. The email doesn’t start with the conclusion a person arrived at. It sets ample context.

It details the number of times the founder has spoken to the team and situates a conversation around layoffs publicly and gradually transitions to the what.

Furthermore, it adds what complications led to the situation being created in the first place.

Out of our 7,500 Airbnb employees, nearly 1,900 teammates will have to leave Airbnb, comprising around 25% of our company. Since we cannot afford to do everything that we used to, these cuts had to be mapped to a more focused business.

A more focused business

Travel in this new world will look different, and we need to evolve Airbnb accordingly. People will want options that are closer to home, safer, and more affordable. But people will also yearn for something that feels like it’s been taken away from them — human connection. When we started Airbnb, it was about belonging and connection. This crisis has sharpened our focus to get back to our roots, back to the basics, back to what is truly special about Airbnb — everyday people who host their homes and offer experiences.

This means that we will need to reduce our investment in activities that do not directly support the core of our host community. We are pausing our efforts in Transportation and Airbnb Studios, and we have to scale back our investments in Hotels and Lux.

COVID-19 (the situation) led to the need to do things differently (the complication) and this is what is causing the layoffs (the resolution). It is all very nicely packaged, making the readers empathize with the author.

Even before concluding the email, Brian has paid maximum attention to providing details on how the layoffs will be conducted, how the communication will take place, and what help Airbnb will provide to those who lose their jobs.

The point to note with the contrast in both emails is how complete one feels to the receiver, and one doesn’t. And that, I believe, is the sole reason to consider using the SCR framework when you attempt either written or verbal communication.

Details matter while delivering difficult information.

Details build reasoning and add credibility to a resolution. Spending time to situate the event, explaining its causes, and what next steps you will be taking to fix the issues plugs all the doubts that may arise.

Hence, when attempting to convince someone, the key is to create ample mind space and build a high-resolution map for them to evaluate the information you’re providing. Failure to do so only gives rise to broken, poorly contexted information transfer.

And, there is no good excuse that makes poor workplace communication okay.

In case you’d like to read the entire Airbnb email, check this.

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