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December 23, 2022

4 Guiding Principles of a Compassionate RIF

A dirt road forks into two paths

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript from the Norwest Nowcast above where the Principal of Norwest’s People Advisory shares four guiding principles for conducting a reduction in force (RIF) with compassion.

Hi, I’m Laurie Tennant. I’m a Principal with Norwest Venture Partners and I advise our portfolio companies on all things HR. I’m here today with a Norwest Nowcast about four guiding principles that can help business leaders navigate one of the most difficult workplace experiences: a reduction in force, or a RIF.

I’ve been through my share of RIFs in my 15-plus years of people management, and I advise businesses that have made the painful decision to execute a RIF to follow four principles in their process:

  • Number one is preparation;
  • Two is communication;
  • Three is empathy; and
  • Four is a future orientation.

So, number one, preparation.

As anyone knows who’s been through it, planning a RIF is a significant effort that will involve your executive team, your HR team, and your legal team – sometimes even outside counsel. You want to keep the timeline as compressed as possible but allow enough time for all the necessary planning.

Number two is communication.

Transparency is key, with both the employees that are impacted as well as the remaining team. You want to explain why the RIF is necessary and trust your employees to understand the business rationale.

Number three is empathy.

It’s okay to share the names of those who’ve been impacted and assure the remaining employees that those employees have been treated with care and respect. You also want to leave space for the remaining employees to ask questions and to process their own emotions around the event.

And number four is future orientation.

Once the event is complete, you want to broadly lay out the new structure and the go-forward plans. You can focus on the increased opportunities for building a successful company together, and always encourage employees to ask questions.

Of course, there’s much more detail involved in planning and executing a RIF. But keeping these principles top of mind can have a lasting impact on the well being of your employees, both those who leave and those who stay, as well as on the company’s reputation.

What have you found helpful in executing a RIF? Let me know in the comments.

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