Kawasaki: The Art of Laying People Off

  • Kawasaki: The Art of Laying People OffThe Find: Ballet it's not, but famed venture capitalist and blogger, Guy Kawasaki, insists that there is an art to laying people off and offers a host of tips to those facing the onerous task.
  • The Source: The American Express Open Forum blog.
The Takeaway: Few things in business are as unpleasant as laying off or firing staff, but as Kawasaki notes it's an inevitable part of a career in management. He also insists there is a right way to go about it, and offers a dozen in-depth tips - too many to summarize them all here. Among the best are the following:
  1. Cut deep and cut once. Management usually believes that things will get better soon, so it cuts the smallest number of people in anticipation of a miracle. Most of the time, the miracle doesn't materialize, and the company ends up making multiple cuts. Given the choice, you should cut too deeply and risk the high-quality problem of having to rehire. Multiple cuts are terrible for the morale of the employees who have not been laid off. (The Corner Office's Steve Tobak agrees.)
  2. Move fast. One hour after your management team discusses the need to lay off employees, the entire company will know that something is happening. Once people "know" a layoff is coming, productivity drops like a rock. You're either laying people off or you're not--you should avoid the state of "considering" a layoff.
  3. Whack Teddy. Most executives have hired a friend, a friend of a friend, or a relative as a favor. When a layoff happens, employees will be looking to see what happens to Teddy. "Did he survive the cut or did he go? Is it cronyism or competence that counts at the company?" Make sure that Ted is dead.
  4. Don't ask for pity. Sometimes managers go to great lengths to show the person they're laying off (or firing) how hard it is on them. This reminds me of the old definition of chutzpah: A boy murders his parents and then asks the court for leniency because he's an orphan. The person who suffers is the one being terminated, not the manager.
  5. Provide support. Usually, the people getting laid off aren't at fault. More likely, it was the fault of top management--the same top management with golden parachutes. Hence, you have a moral obligation to provide services like job counseling, résumé-writing assistance, and job-search help. There are firms that specialize in helping employees during "transitions," so use them.
For the other seven bits of wisdom, check out the complete post. If you've already let people go and are wondering how to keep morale up after job cuts, BNET has resources for you.

The Question: Both sides of this equation - the manager and the about to be ex-employee - are unpleasant; if you've been on either side of the table, what do you wish you could have told the person opposite you about the lay-offs?

(Image of bad news letter by timsamoff, CC 2.0)