Layoffs done right?

Layoffs suck for everyone. Previously I reviewed Jeffrey Pfeffer’s guidance that layoffs rarely create an organizational benefit. They are a net loss all around. In January Google announced 12,000 layoffs. You can imagine the churn it caused. Employees had questions and the CEO stepped up to provide answers. This is worth analyzing. I’ve leveraged the CNBC article here.

Empathy First
CEO Sundar Pichai began by acknowledging the sense of loss. Good start. 

“For those of you outside the U.S., the delay in being able to make and communicate decisions about roles in your region is undoubtedly causing anxiety.” Right. Emotion trumps logic. Once triggered, feelings dominate our thinking.

Notably, he also acknowledged those mourning the then recent shooting in Southern California. This is rare. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s happening and miss the broader context that impacts employees. All of it contributes to our level of stress.

Bring Back a Sense of Order
“I understand you are worried about what comes next for your work,” said Pichai. Well, duh. 

2021 was one of Google’s most successful years. How could this happen now? Pichai acknowledged the question and explained that they had anticipated further growth. They expanded and hired to support a trajectory that did not come to fruition. Simply put, they were wrong. 

Employees wanted to know how the layoffs had been determined. There seemed to be no logic: Cuts included long-term employees and those who had been recently promoted. 

An inability to define a pattern makes the future unpredictable. It feels like chaos. When people can’t predict the way things will work, fear rises and performance falls while people try to figure out what’s happening.

Fiona Cicconi, Google’s chief people officer, said execs identified where the company had too many people as well as places where the work itself wasn’t essential. They reviewed “skill set, time in role where experience or relationships are relevant and matter, productivity indicators like sales quotas and performance history.”

Share the Pain
Executive perqs are a common source of cynicism. Pichai tackled that by explaining that execs would have cuts to their compensation and that senior vice presidents “will see a very significant reduction in their annual bonus.” After all, rewards should be based on performance, and the projections are not rosy. 

Communication Complication
It’s become more common that employees only find out who is gone through the grapevine. “We know this can be frustrating for people who are still here,” SVP Osterloh said. “We know this can be frustrating…But losing your job without any choice in it is very difficult and it’s very personal and many people don’t want their names to be on a list that’s distributed to everyone.”

Fair enough. Note that once again the emotion is addressed first.

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
No one said, “This is the end of the cuts. You are safe now.” Employer guarantees died eons ago. Instead, the VP of talent said, “We all know that no one is immune to change in our careers.”

Refocus on the Future
Pichai noted that AI is a significant opportunity for Google. But most importantly, referring to their position of trust with customers, he said, “We have to keep earning it.” None of us can take our leadership position or customers for granted. Staying motivated means sustaining the focus on how each every employee’s work contributes to the strategy – to the betterment of the customer.    

Layoffs are challenging and should be a last resort. Google’s approach provides useful best practices that I hope you never have to apply.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper