The Ethics Coach: In Tough Conversations, Do This.
Q. I need to close my company and file for bankruptcy soon. We’re still finishing up a few projects, so when should I tell my team? And my clients?
A. Sorry you’re going through this, but as you know, now is not the time to wallow. It’s a time for action. Ideally, you’d have begun telling your employees within a day or two of deciding to shutter the company. If decision day is long past, then today is the day. Chances are, your team already senses a problem. They’ll be relieved to know. And you should do it before the rumor bonfire has scorched your relationships.
Be honest and helpful to your employees. It’s the right thing to do -- but also, frankly, you need them to stay and assist you. Talk to them about how you can help them find new jobs (such as making introductions or referrals) and invite them to come to you with specific needs. Explain how long you’ll be able to pay them. Let them know that, although you understand it will be challenging, the remaining projects need to get finished -- and at the usual company standards. Ask each employee to commit to making it happen. If possible, offer incentives for finishing all client work.
Also, tell employees that you’ll be talking to each client later that day. Then, get at it: Call all your clients and say how much you appreciate them, what your plans are and what they can expect. If key employees bail and you end up without the right talent mix to finish every project, tell the affected clients you’ll make introductions to competitors who can finish the work without disruption.
Your best chance at coming back from a failed business -- in the same industry, or if you want referrals in the future -- is to demonstrate integrity in the midst of a challenging time. People won’t forget it.
Q. My business partner and I disagree over how to promote our startup. I want to talk about us as if we’re thriving --which we will be in five years. He thinks that’s lying, and says we should talk about our business as small but growing. Who is right?
A. Your business is growing because you’ve met (or exceeded) customers’ expectations. Don’t lose sight of this. Vision helps a business flourish, but your actions -- not predictions -- make it real. Clients get wise to deceptive advertising, so why risk your credibility?
People don’t want to unknowingly pay you to learn on the job. However, many will happily pay a young company they trust. So don’t worry about promoting your future. Work on aggressively creating that future. You’ll soon build a track record of satisfied customers whose testimonials will create the most enduring promotion.