3 min read

Leading Through Layoff Change: Strategies for Protecting Your Team

Yeah, this triggered me.

For those of you who don’t know, I had to do a massive layoff beginning of March and I was also affected by that layoff.

Layoffs are terrible. Probably the worst part of being a manager. Firing people is always hard, but laying people off is specially hard, because you are letting go of so many talented people who put in a lot of effort.

You, like me, won’t like it. But, sometimes, difficult decisions need to be made.

The part that triggered me was the association of not pushing back with the lack of integrity. It's more nuanced than that. I like to believe that every manager will try to do what is best for their team and their company. But simply objecting to the reduction without suggesting alternatives will probably result in a worst scenario for your team and for your company.

The reduction will happen. The targets may seem unfair, but there's probably not much you can do. You need to think strategically and play chess not checkers.

  • Seek to understand: You don’t have to just accept the layoff plan. You should try to understand the rationale behind it. Ask questions about the targets and what should the company prioritize for the new chapter. Ask the questions as a way to better understand, not to push back! As an example:
    • What is the overall target? Are we optimizing for the headcount or is there a monetary target?
    • Is there a shift in the product development strategy?
    • Will we be going on KTLO (Keep the lights on) mode only or will we still be doing some key initiatives?
    • Is there a plan to externalize parts of the org?
    • What other cost-cutting initiatives have been explored? (hint: This may be important to understand if there is an open to explore other alternatives. If there isn’t, don’t push!)
  • Collaborate with your peers: We love our team. But how do they fit in the future chapter? Work together with your peers to define what the future company will look like based on the priorities from the previous section. After defining that, work collaboratively to understand who are the right people to ensure the company will thrive - hint: you may not be part of that group.
  • Present the tradeoffs and possible alternatives: More often than not, exec are not exactly aware of the risks when they define a target. Outline the risks to exec and possible alternatives to mitigate those risks, while showing willingness to work within the constraints.
  • Commit: I know it's really tough, but you know what is tougher? Being laid off. I’m not saying to ignore your feelings, but there will be a time and place for that. There are two situations you need to ensure in this step. The best outcome for the people that leave the company and ensure the people that stay regain the motivation to turn the situation around. Commit and be positive about the future.

People first, people second, people third

It goes without saying, but don’t forget you are defining people’s lives. The post is focused on the push back and its consequences. If you just push back you will lose control to minimize the impact on people. It will be worst for the people that will be leaving the company and the people that will stay in the company. People first, ensure the best outcome for those that must leave the company and those that stay in the company.

You can help people that must leave the company by ensuring a good severance package but also by using your contacts in the industry to help them find a new job faster.

Layoff sucks, let’s try our best to avoid future layoffs.