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Helping Others and Yourself

There’s a reason “it’s lonely at the top” is a common refrain among CEOs. That’s because leading can be challenging at times. It can be exhausting, it can undermine your self-confidence, and it can make you question your conviction. During hard times, it can be even worse.

It’s a discovery Sandy Murphy made two years after launching Cxstomer, a Dublin, Ohio-based contact center outsourcing organization specializing in customer service and sales support.

In July 2022, one of her clients announced hard staffing cuts representing more than 50% of her workforce. Cxstomer hires individuals to manage customer support services for its clients. When a client downsizes, Cxstomer tries to shift these workers into roles for other clients. When that’s not possible, Murphy has to lay them off.

As an industry veteran, Murphy knew it was common for staffing numbers to shift up and down. But this was her first time dealing with it as the CEO of a company she built. She developed close relationships with staff and her core mission is improving the treatment of customer care professionals. Now she had to handle a worst-case scenario.

The massive layoff left her distraught.

“It was hard being in that position,” Murphy recalls. “I didn’t know how to feel, and I was spiraling negatively. I had detached from family and friends.”

Cxstomer CEO Sandy Murphy

Just four months into her membership, Murphy leaned on her Vistage group for guidance. Group members offered tremendous advice for navigating the situation with compassion while also ensuring Cxstomer was not exposed to liabilities. Sandy’s Chair, Perry Maughmer, also suggested posting in a Vistage Network.

Support poured in from other CEOs. A fellow member, the CEO of a staffing agency in Atlanta, Georgia, proposed helping the impacted employees find new jobs. Another member passed Murphy’s story to an outside executive, one who needed staff and coincidentally knew Murphy from a previous role. The two worked together and got several of Murphy’s former contractors hired at the company.

“The Network community creates a safe space to share your biggest struggles while at the same time allowing you to share your own experiences and best practices with others,” Murphy says. “It’s nice to be able to ask questions in a less ‘public’ format than other apps like LinkedIn, where you may not want to share something that could be sensitive or private.”

All the while, Murphy worked with Maughmer to handle the situation through one-to-one meetings. “He is incredible at helping me to see the bigger picture and focus on the positives that are occurring instead of sulking in the negatives,” she says. “Talking tough things through with Perry reminds me that my Vistage membership is invaluable.”

Beyond finding insights for living her mission — treating customer care representatives with respect — Murphy discovered an equally powerful lesson: It’s not selfish for leaders to acknowledge the anguish of making difficult decisions.

Mass layoffs are very painful. They are not something you ever learn about or realize the impact on your heart and soul until you go through it.

In a fortunate turn of events, the same client who requested the layoff now needs more help, which allowed Cxstomer to bring back about 25% of the people it had to let go. “The tenacity of the remaining team members that kept their heads up and worked hard despite the tough times we had last year has given us a huge win,” Murphy says. “I believe this is due to the foundation of our organization centering on leading with heart and kindness. I have seen incredible things resulting from this simple philosophy and can’t wait to see where we take it in 2023.

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