Layoffs and leadership communication lessons from Yelp

US-based local business search and reviews website Yelp had released two kinds of communication last week. When looked side-by-side, they warrant an interesting observation.

To start with, both communications were released on the same day – April 9, 2020.

The first one was Yelp’s SEC filing (PDF) since it is a listed/public company. The filing is dated April 7th, but was shared with and made public on the 9th.

The second one was an email to the employees by the company’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Stoppelman – this was shared as a blog post.

The audience for the SEC filing is the SEC and investors. But considering it is made public, any/everyone is an audience too. The audience for the letter was Yelp employees since it was shared an all-employees email first and then as a blog post. But it’s a public blog post – so, universal audience.

Next, look at what is common to both communications.

1- interest in restaurants, Yelp’s most popular category, has dropped 64% since March 10th.

2- workforce reductions affecting approximately 1,000 employees and furloughs affecting approximately 1,100 additional employees.

3- deferring share repurchases under its stock repurchase program indefinitely.

4- 30% reduction to the base salaries of the Company’s other executive officers.

5- Two paragraphs of disclaimer: ‘Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-Looking Statements’.

What’s different between the 2 pieces of communication is a simple elucidation of leadership communication.

Jeremy layers all these facts in the email/blog post along with a generous dose of optimism and gratitude. In one paragraph, he explains the magnitude of what is going on really well:

This is very tough news to take in. In all of our nearly 16 years, I’ve never seen a crisis of this magnitude and impact on our business. Today is an awful day for all of us, and especially for our departing colleagues and friends. I want to be clear that these personnel decisions are not reflective of an individual’s talents or worth to Yelp and I hope you all remain proud of the impact you’ve had. We sincerely thank you, wish you well and will support you through this challenging transition as best we can.

The optimism is more pronounced in the email/blog (“I have no doubt that ultimately we will come out of this stronger and more prepared to deal with the peaks and valleys that lay ahead in the years to come“) and more cautious and business-like in the SEC filing (“the Company believes the demand for its products and services will rebound as local economies recover and that taking these cost-saving measures will position it well to serve both consumers and local businesses in the recovery and beyond“).

I’m fairly sure many companies/start-ups may be going through what Yelp is going through too and felt this comparison, and the email/blog post is a particularly useful piece of communication to refer to, on how to humanize leadership communication.

PS: Also see this video and the speech, for additional inspiration.

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