Handling layoffs

Finalizing the list

  1. Have a core team that reviews the list of people affected
  2. Ensure the team keeps this secret–no one is to share with anyone else (not even informally) unless the entire core team agrees up front
  3. Ensure the list of people affected is driven by business rationale, not performance
  4. Double check if anyone on the list may need special care/support because of a personal situation

Setting up the cadence

  1. Do not set up any of the following meetings until a few hours before they take place
  2. People affected get the message in individual meetings, from their manager
  3. Plan for a short time span (a few hours one morning is best) where all announcements are made simultaneously
  4. Plan for an “all clear” meeting with all survivors, right after the last person affected has been notified

Message for people affected

  1. Don’t beat around the bush, focus on a clear message “your employment contract is ending today”
  2. Be ready to answer some “why” questions with business rationale, reassure it is not their performance, empathize with feelings
  3. Move to practical steps as soon as you can: when is last day, what will happen with company accounts/assets, etc
  4. Let them know what severance you offer - subject to signing severance agreement
  5. Send them severance agreement that contains key non-disparagement and non-disclosure clauses
  6. Pay severance subject to them signing the agreement
  7. Typically, leave company email/Slack open for a few days after the announcement so that people can say goodbye

“All clear” message for survivors

  1. Acknowledge that a painful decision had to be taken
  2. Provide some business rationale but keep it at the headlines
  3. Acknowledge who has been affected and that their last day was today
  4. Confirm that layoffs are over and that everyone in this meeting still has their job
  5. Pre-announce that you will talk about new plans in the next meeting (but don’t force it into the same meeting)

Ongoing motivation rhythm

  1. Do another all-hands ~1 week after the layoff, announcing new goals and exciting progress

  2. Start sending out weekly video messages highlighting your take on progress

  3. Increase level of enthusiasm gradually as the mourning process gets left behind

About Midstage Institute

We focus our practice on midstage startup companies that need to remain agile, and where what used to work for the smaller startup just isn’t as effective anymore.


We ensure founders and leadership teams win, with our over 40 years experience in venture-backed tech startups. We are Silicon Valley veterans with the scars and wins to prove it. We don’t use an inflexible off-the shelf methodology, we adapt best practices to you, your market, your company, and your leadership team.


We always:

  • Focus on right sized best practices to get to the next level
  • Focus on the 20% of effort that will yield you 80% of the benefits
  • Teach Perfection is the enemy, better is your partner and ally
  • Align with your business needs so you can thrive