HR Decisions When Scaling Back

Strategic Decisions During a Crisis: Blog Series

As La Piana Consulting’s spring surveys revealed, many organizations have had to lay off staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. An urgent need to reduce staff, however, is no reason to throw strategic decision-making out the window. In fact, it is ripe timing to be more strategic than ever.

When forced to scale back, it’s best to identify and follow criteria that reflect your values, short-term survival needs, and long-term goals. These might include:

Protecting your primary organizational strategy and competitive advantages. For example, if you’re focused on expanding services into a neighboring county, you may need to pause that effort. However, consider retaining a key staff member who has established relationships in that expanded geography, even if that person has to shift responsibilities for a period of time. If you lose that expertise now, you’ll have to start up your strategy from scratch in a year or two, which will add to the long-term cost and will make success harder.

Investing in your future. Not only is it important to protect your strategic priorities, it’s also vital to think about who will build your future. Think about your ability to retain staff with less experience but great leadership potential or those who possess a particular expertise that will make you more relevant and fundable over time.

Elevating equity and diversity. Organizations that make layoff decisions based on seniority alone are more likely to lose ground during a downturn on goals to build a diverse, equitable workplace. This is true for many reasons, including the fact that people of color are a larger percentage of younger workers. Although it’s important to be fair to all staff in making difficult layoff decisions, fairness includes using an equity lens when making tough decisions.

Doubling down on your mission first. The commitment to treating staff humanely and with compassion during a retrenchment is essential. But, at core, nonprofits exist to carry out a mission to provide a social good, not to provide employment. Nonprofits are granted preferential legal and financial treatment in order to provide public benefit, and that trust is honored by retaining staff that are proven to deliver the highest quality mission delivery (of course, if your mission is employment, as is the case for some job training and organizing groups, you may approach this concept differently).

La Piana is well versed in helping organizations to quickly sharpen their strategic priorities, assess organizational effectiveness, and engage in financial or program scenario planning. This type of self-reflection is vital when thinking about human resources.

Here are some additional resources that may help you navigate difficult staffing decisions:


National Council on Nonprofit’s Employment Resource Page

Independent Sector’s COVID-19 Human Resource Page


It’s Different This Time: Handling Nonprofit Staff Cuts under COVID-19


Managing COVID-19: Talent Management Questions & Answers

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