One of the most difficult decisions that a CEO has to take involves taking calls which impact the people who work in their company.
We recently evolved from our earlier business model of helping consumers in getting their complaints resolved (called Akosha) and focussed on building a personal assistant for millions of Indians (called Helpchat). As we evolved, there were 2-3 teams from the earlier model (call center, quality etc.) who we tried hard to scale up and help become relevant within the new reality of the company. We were able to do that for almost half of the people, but that still left some others who couldn’t make the cut.
Asking them to leave was a tough decision but the right one. They wouldn’t have had much work and yet the right way ahead for the company was to stop taking complaints and focus on building the personal assistant.
We decided to do the right thing – communicate clearly with the employees, figure out outplacement by talking to other companies/startups and give proper notice and an additional month’s pay. In addition, we extended all help in terms of introductions / recommendations etc.
In addition to those let go because of evolving our earlier business, we also downsized our innovative work-from-home program for chat experts. Despite several attempts at bringing accountability among WFH experts, we saw that it was extremely difficult to control their behaviour (attendance, training, response times etc.) and therefore control the experience they give to our customers. If it had scaled further, it would have led to a really great model for bringing work to WFH women, but despite a lot of perseverance, the time came to close that experiment. Everyone says that failure teaches you more than success but it’s never pleasant while you are in the middle of it.
All this meant that there were some disgruntled ex-employees going out and talking about this in social forums or to the press. There anguish is understandable.
The other side of the coin
While all this was happening, we were simultaneously hiring furiously for other teams. Sometimes the dissonance can be tough to deal with but once you know it is the right thing, you just focus and execute. For example, we have hired more than 30 engineers, product managers and data scientists in the last 3 months in our Bangalore office. Similarly, we acquired a 30 people, really awesome team at Niffler. We’ve grown by more than 30X in the last 6 months and the product roadmap has really exciting things up ahead which will radically evolve where we are today.
I think such times test the CEO’s ability to do the right thing and take a tough call. Such instances will come again and again and a lot of times it will be difficult to get a proper night’s sleep – it is never easy to let go of people who you have hired with so much effort in the first place.
However, this round of alignment is behind us and we will continue to build the company the right way.