LAUNCHPAD: Succeeding in spite of circumstances

May 24, 2019 // Written by Scottie Knollin

“What we are doing in a closing company is absolutely what should be done in growing companies or current companies.” This message from CoreLink Administrative Solution’s CEO Joni Wheeler is the tip of iceberg that is the journey of CoreLink and its people. In March 2019, Wheeler joined celebrated author/speaker Cy Wakeman on the No Ego podcast (listen below) to share what it was like to deliver the difficult news that CoreLink would be closing while championing a team of people to build hope and retain engagement.

At the time of the announcement in 2017, CoreLink employed around 300 employees in its Fargo and Omaha offices, along with several remote workers. Having to share the news that it would be shutting its doors in the near future, Wheeler recalled that the road ahead would be a difficult one, but one that she and her team of leaders was willing to navigate. It’s a hard challenge on its own to decide to close a company, dissolve its shares in the corporate marketplace, end employment for hundreds of people, transition products and projects to new owners, but to also hold tightly to dignity, morale, and loyalty while doing it is impossible, right?

“We’re actually still running hard,” Wheeler told Wakeman, remarking that the company has not only championed through the difficult task of bi-annual layoffs, but that current employees are still showing up each day passionate about their work. About the early days of the journey, Wheeler said, “We had to figure out ‘how do we retain people and still run that business for companies as they start to transition to their new platforms.’” The key was a continued focus on the people of CoreLink.

Layoffs at CoreLink are lovingly referred to as ‘launches.’ A launch encompasses more than just signing a few forms and delivering severance to employees; it also includes a devotion to investment in each team member’s personal and professional development. “We want to not just launch them out of CoreLink. We want to launch them into their next great thing,” Wheeler said about the career development initiatives. This strict focus on people has had a positive effect on the every day health of CoreLink in its current phase. Wheeler continued, “It has garnered people turning down jobs to stay (at CoreLink) because they feel so supported and so valued and invested in.”

The entire leadership team operates on the promise of transparency, even in the hiring process. At one point in the interview, Wakeman remarks how the company has even hired new employees in the months since first announcing it was closing. Wheeler acknowledged, “In Fargo, we have a reputation of a company that people want to be a part of.” She goes on to explain that the transparency, even in the hiring process, draws people in to wanting to be a part of the CoreLink journey and culture, even if just for a moment. “We’ve only had a few people, in the dozens of interviews we’ve had, who’ve said, ‘You know, that’s not for me.’”

Wakeman pointed out that CoreLink’s success could be pinned on the fact that Wheeler and her leadership team had uncovered one of the surmountable truths of success: “Create a relationship where people feel loved and supported.” When the conversation transitioned towards how that thought process isn’t relative to only closing companies, but to all companies, Wakeman highlighted the importance of shared accountability. “What if we made an emotional contract with the employee that we will invest in you and, while you’re here, we want you to give us great stuff. And, when it’s not the time for you to be here, for whatever reason, that we will support that transition fully.”

Agreeing with Wakeman, Wheeler highlighted how CoreLink mastered that ideal by putting the power of engagement, morale, and accountability into the hands of each team member at every level. The culture of CoreLink operates on the idea of ‘leading from where you are.’ As Wakeman then pointed out, “It’s less ‘what can I get out of this’ and more ‘what can I be a part of.’”

You can listen to the full interview below: