Throwing the CEO a Lifeline
Earlier today I saw an email asking CEOs what they are doing to throw their employees a lifeline. As a CEO, this topic warms my heart, but if I’m honest it’s only halfway heartwarming for me. I pride myself on taking care of my team and for the first time in seven years, right now, I can’t. Instead, today my team threw me a lifeline that will save our company.
Since my company was born in 2012, one of my most trusted advisors has been a friend who was also willing to provide bridge loans when finances were tight. Anyone who has boot-strapped a startup will know what I’m talking about. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, however, my bridge-loan friend is much less willing to offer the loan we need to clear payroll next week. I get it. He lost a lot of his wealth and the expendable resources he’d normally use for helping us in the recent stock market plummet and he’s spooked.
He didn’t give us a hard “no”, but he has asked me to prove where our expected revenue will be when this is all over and things get back to normal. He wants to be sure he’ll get his money back. The problem, however, is that 80 percent of our revenue is from K-12 Education; the last thing K-12 administrators have time for right now is to write the Letters of Intent we need, proving that the money will come in. Many of the students we serve are on free and reduced lunch plans and rely on school for their daily nutrition. Their districts are worried about “How are we going to feed our students?” or “What needs to happen to make sure our seniors graduate?”. We have strong relationships with our K-12 partners, but I’m not about to press them when they have much more urgent concerns than writing a letter for one of their many vendors. I may be backed in a corner, but I’m not heartless.
So, while in this tight corner, my executive team and I spent hours agonizing through all the scenarios. Eventually, we landed on the only strategy we felt that could possibly buy us five more months of operations while also still retaining the talented and passionate staff who have helped build this company. We decided to furlough our entire team. It won’t be a traditional furlough, though. Understanding that their net pay from Unemployment Insurance was well below what they were used to receiving we offered to pay the full difference in net pay when they return to work. Additionally, we’d continue medical insurance for the entire furlough period.
100 percent of the team agreed to this plan.
The conversations I had with each employee were as surreal as the times, yet they weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be. I’m sure they saw signs and read my body language in the days leading up to our talks and were not shocked to hear the new plan. Being able to tell them that we planned to reimburse them and keep them insured throughout the furlough was undoubtedly helpful; however, that shouldn’t overshadow the quality of humans they are. As I essentially laid them off, they stayed thoughtful, empathetic, understanding and even grateful toward me. Some offered to forgo the repayment, many genuinely asked about and cared how I was holding up through this tough time, but each and every single one of them stated they valued the purpose of our work and were committed to the continued impact on education we are making. They were ready to weather the storm together.
I read recently that employees want Caring, Purpose, Results, Learning and Enjoyment from their employer. I see this alive and well in the people I work with; money is a factor for them, but it isn’t even close to being their primary motivator for staying and grinding it out at our company.
My partner and I intentionally built this company with a foundation in culture. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. I am grateful beyond words for these people, my work family, who essentially provided the company with a pseudo-bridge-loan to help the company through our cash flow crisis. They care about this company, love the work we do, and threw this CEO a badly needed financial lifeline. It’s easy for stories like this to get overshadowed by fear, stigma, and hopelessness, but I believe in humans. Many in the health, education and public service industries are working tirelessly to help fellow citizens. Our capacity for compassion and love during the uncertainty and hardship gives me hope and energy, and hopefully it can help you too.
About the author
Edgar wants to live in a world filled with happy and fulfilled humans, where everyone finds value in their experience of life through play, work and meaningful human interactions. In this world, karaoke happens more days than not and there is always room for another friend to talk about positive systemic change. As a gregarious shenanigator with more than 20 years of experience in workforce and human development, he’s worked with a multitude of school districts and workforce agencies to explore and improve the way we approach our lives through his emotional intelligence curricula and training company, IMAGO. When he’s not inspiring change one young mind at a time or running innovative workshops around the nation, you can find him running around barefoot with his family and encouraging his team of change agents toward IMAGO’s vision for a happier, more emotionally intelligent world.