Job losses are never easy. But when your organization winds down on one coast, moves cross-country, and therefore everyone is likely to lose their job, it creates a pain felt at every turn—emails, phone calls, meetings, goodbyes. Doing this during a pandemic, economic downturn and nationwide protests will bruise the mind, body, and spirit of even the toughest leaders.
If it feels that way for the organization, imagine how it feels for the people being let go.
The Broad Center, a national organization focused on leadership development in public education, has found itself exactly in that situation. For twenty years the center has identified, trained, and supported leaders dedicated to ensuring young people receive the excellent education they deserve. At the close of 2019, the organization—through a $100 million gift from philanthropist Eli Broad—began the process of transitioning from Los Angeles, CA to the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut.
While this meant the Center had a powerful new home within Yale’s impactful ecosystem, it also meant the jobs in Los Angeles would phase out from mid-2020 through mid-2021.
The organization immediately built a team focused on launching The Broad Center at Yale School of Management and on supporting team members with their career transitions. Tandia Elijio and Fernando Ayala Vaca are members of that launch team and I recently had the opportunity to interview them. Their primary body of work has been building career supports, which include:
· Resume books distributed within their industry.
· Resume feedback
· LinkedIn profile feedback
· A job board curated with relevant roles
· Internal “career advisors” for individualized support
· Advisory Teams (A-Teams) for group support
· Workshops on a range of career topics
· A virtual channel for colleagues to share jobs and advice
Just as these were being operationalized, Covid-19 began to rip across the country. This was followed by an economic shutdown and then national uprisings triggered by the killing of George Floyd. The job market quickly became uncertain and complicated. Elijio and Ayala Vaca doubled down on their commitment to supporting colleagues while adjusting to an entirely new landscape. Their approach to talent management provides lessons for anyone working through the difficult process of letting great talent go.
Chaka Booker: What have you learned about supporting career transitions during turbulent times?
Tandia Elijio: We’ve pivoted from being reactive to being proactive about the types of supports we provide. That requires us to have intimate knowledge about where each person is in their job search process, how they’re approaching it, and then diversifying the supports we offer. Some supports are relevant for the entire organization and some are things individuals opt into due to their particular search. It can’t be one size fits all and requires a mix of self-service and full group supports.
Fernando Ayala Vaca: We’ve also drawn on a lot of support and knowledge through cross-team collaboration. We worked with other teams in our organization to develop the arc of our workshops. A colleague on another team lent their experience advising program participants to help us find the best way to build in-house career advisors. Other team members provided insight on how to best create and distribute a resume book. We’re the ones leading this, but it’s not just one team focusing on it.
Booker: Tell me more about why the cross-team approach has been valuable.
Elijio: Individualized supports take a lot of effort and cross-team collaboration creates capacity for people to get what they need from the process and communicate feedback about the process to people they are comfortable with. In times like these, you need something more personal and responsive. This approach makes it feel less tactical and more of a feeling of being supported by people who know and care about you.
Ayala Vaca: Collaboration brings in different perspectives and feedback we may not have gotten with just us working on it. The idea for creating a resume book kept evolving and improving because we drew in ideas from across the organization.
Booker: Are there specific ways the pandemic shifted your approach to career supports?
Elijio: Hiring has slowed down, so it’s harder to find a job. Fortunately, we know a lot about the organizations in this sector, so we’re able to anticipate what might happen. As an education nonprofit, this was important because we want our folks to stay in this space. But the pandemic forced us to think about whether there are for-profit opportunities we should be exposing them to. Are there nonprofits outside of education that do similar work? A lot of people prior to the pandemic had a clearer vision of what their next role should look like. The pandemic changed that. We realized our vision for what they could do next was too narrow. If we really wanted to help them in their search, we had to broaden it.
Ayala Vaca: Our approach is very people-centric. Before the pandemic, a lot of that was driven by the ability to quickly connect with folks in person. I could easily go to one of our senior leaders’ offices and say, “You have a minute to just talk? I want to bounce some ideas off you.” But when the pandemic hit, we switched to a virtual setting and it’s more difficult to get that kind of comfort in the moment. It’s harder to get that type of thought partnership. It made it even more important to break down virtual barriers by offering supports like A-teams and reinforcing this idea of connection in a time of need.
Booker: What have you found that people need most in these moments?
Elijio: A person’s emotional state can affect their ability to successfully navigate a job search process. It’s already hard to find out your job is going away due to an external circumstance. That emotional impact has informed our decision to balance the traditional tactical pieces of a job search with a feeling of community and even celebration. We’ve been trying to add a lightness to the job search process to help people speak more candidly about what the challenges and barriers are. For them to feel safe and to know they’re not the only one. People losing their jobs can feel icky. How do we break through that? As opposed to viewing the job search process as something you can’t talk about out loud, we made sure to create supports with environments that allow more transparency and less awkwardness around having candid conversations.
Booker: What supports have gotten the most positive feedback?
Ayala Vaca: Anything that involves moments where people can meet with somebody and discuss what they’re looking for. Internal career advisors have done that. A-teams have helped as well. Some people prefer one-on-one conversations, others like the group setting. It lets them share what barriers they’ve faced since the last time they met as well as give updates. Career advisors are an opportunity for them to bounce ideas, get advice, share their experiences and allow that moment of connection.
Elijio: Workshops, but the piece to call out is that we avoid doing one-off static activities. If we host a workshop on resumes, we’ll include breakout sessions where you can get real time feedback. We make sure the workshop is interactive and a place where maybe you can even start some of the work you need to do. We recognized one of the barriers with job searching is that you continue to put things off, so we’ve been building in calendar reminders and time to just practice.
Booker: Is there something you would have done different?
Elijio: We should have started with a proactive approach to begin with. We thought that if we build it, then the people will come. But people won’t always come because of the awkwardness and wanting to avoid thinking about doing a job search. We should have started earlier with one-on-one check-ins to get clear about where people are in their process.
Ayala Vaca: Initially our approach was, “Reach out to us if you need advice or support.” But that puts a huge weight on individuals who are still navigating the idea that they will be leaving. Reaching out to them, initiating one-on-one chats, having regular check-ins are opportunities to find out what their true feelings are, because they may not be able to communicate that as openly when you tell them, “Just reach out to me.”
Booker: What advice do you have for other organizations facing similar challenges?
Elijio: Be proactive. Keep emotions in mind. Try to individualize. Involve people across your organization. Another important thing in this moment is thinking about how to support people after they’ve left your organization. Can they continue to be in their A-teams? Can they continue to talk to their former colleagues as career advisors? Can you continue to give them access to a job board or keep their name in the resume book if they haven’t landed a job yet? Think further than their end date with you. Your investment in them extends beyond what they can do for you. If you are creative, it won’t require huge budgets. It’s about distributing the weight across people in your organization who care about each other and want to help. Whether it’s a job search or anything else people are facing during a challenging time—that’s the kind of culture we’ve built and definitely something you can do as well.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. Chaka Booker is a leadership development expert and author of Mastering the Hire: 12 Strategies to Improve Your Odds of Finding the Best Hire.