Surviving closing a company people depend on
April 13, 2016 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Seeking advice from other people who led a program closure, especially one that affected clients badly. How do you live with the guilt, even when you logically know you worked as hard as possible and it wasn't you, the business just couldn't work?

We lost critical funding and staff suddenly, and I am the defacto head of the organisation, providing services that many clients depend on. I'm clear on the necessity to close now so I can pay staff and close programs well, instead of risking debt, because we have fundamental cash flow problems. But I have to lay off 40 plus people, stop services that clients can't replace and survive the weight of this huge ending. I have to close this up over the next few months, and I have no one besides my therapist to talk to about this (therapist is supportive of the decision), as there are confidentiality issues and also the insane work hours trying to keep things running has eroded my social network. No-one wanted to hear how bad things are for the boss, and I got an extra nine months sales from being super positive.

Practical and strategic advice to survive the hellish next three months please.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total)
You have to accept that it is what it is.

Write your employees glowing references and make yourself available as a reference for them. Let them know sooner, rather than later so that they can start making plans to get new employment. You may lose people quickly, and that's okay.

Contact your clients, refund whatever you owe them (from the nine months of sales) and do whatever you can to help them find the services you provide elsewhere. If that's not possible, it sucks, but there it is.

Perhaps find a career coach as another ally in this, someone who can guide you through the closure and help you place people as gently as possible.

Sometimes things fail, sometimes we leave people in the lurch. It wasn't our intention, but that's the reality of the situation.

People will be angry and you have to be okay with it.

Work on your stress levels. Do yoga, meditation, praying, etc. Eat lots of fruit and veggies. At the end of this, you're going to need employment as well, so remember to get your name out there.

This really is a situation where you have to be in tip-top shape yourself so that people can land as softly as possible.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:57 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have to lay off 40 plus people, stop services that clients can't replace and survive the weight of this huge ending.

You say you are the defacto head of the organisation. Is there an actual head who can take on some of this work? I'm guessing no, so is there anyone on staff or someone you can hire to help you with this? This is a huge, huge project as you know. Companies often maintain a skeleton staff in the last month because it's just too much work for one person.

Here's a basic checklist for closing down a nonprofit, but you may know all this stuff already. Closing Down the Right Way has an interesting suggestion: "If you can, find a way to celebrate the organization's successes and legacy. Staff and board might invite former staff, board, and volunteers to a closing dinner at someone's home. An open letter to the public might be sent to a local newspaper. A community has been created around the nonprofit, and it is appropriate and fitting for that community to draw together to mark its transition."

I once had to tell a staff of 20 that our publication was shutting down because my boss was out of the country when the corporate owner decided to pull the plug. That was no fun at all and that was just a tiny fraction of what you are facing. I hope people who have actually faced your situation will respond. As usual, Ruthless Bunny has excellent advice about caring for yourself. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I was responsible for closing a very successful (in terms of services) non-profit organization. Closure was the result of huge reductions (through no fault of the organization) in the funding necessary to meet expenses. The decision to close gracefully (by not running out of money, being able to meet our obligations, pay staff through the closure and provide whatever benefits we could as long as we could) was made on my recommendation and approved by the Board of Directors.

It was a tough choice, I had worked for the organization for nearly 30 years, we provided a critical service in a quality manner. But, I still believe we made the right decision.

My advice is to not catastrophize the event or the outcome. Things will, in some manner, work out for both your clients and your staff. My staff all eventually found new positions, many of them found jobs even better than the job they held at our organization, the closure was a kick in the rear for many of them to move their careers forward (it's easy to stay at the same place too long, we get comfortable). Clients eventually found other ways to receive the services we provided.

Let go of the guilt, you are not responsible for this outcome, and, by handling it well, you are lessening the impact on everyone involved. Be proud of that role in this process.
posted by HuronBob at 5:39 AM on April 14, 2016

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