Letting people go
How to do it, or how to have it done to you. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, one of the first things he did was to lay off of about 4,100 workers—roughly 31 percent of the company. A contemporary account called it part of "a last-ditch effort to save the troubled computer maker."
(Ironic isn’t it, that his last name was “Jobs;” he created a lot of jobs, but he also fired a heck of a lot of people.)
Jobs had sat for a lengthy video interview a little less than two years before this, in which (almost unprompted) he described in detail why he thought that letting employees go was a key part of his role:
I've always considered part of my job was to keep the "quality level" of people in the organizations I work with very high. ...
That's ... one of the few things I actually can contribute individually myself, versus the team that I work [with], is to really try to instill in the organization the goal of having only A-players.
It's painful. It's very painful, when you have some people that are not the best people in the world and you have to get rid of them, but I've found that my job has sometimes been exactly that.
Ouch. I guess this struck me because so many tech companies have been laying off workers lately.
But, it’s also worth noting that when Jobs gave this interview in 1995, he had just emerged from the personal turbulence that resulted from his having been fired from Apple himself. That was such an important milestone for him that he dedicated one-third of his famous speech at Stanford in 2005 to the experience.
(I know I’ve mentioned this speech a few times lately, so I’m not going to quote from it at length), but:
[G]etting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
(Key, important asterisk on this point: Jobs was worth about $100 million when he was fired from Apple. So it wasn’t like most of us, where losing a job might have a really significant impact on your lifestyle.)
Anyway, personal experiences. They’re limited, thankfully:
I’ve never been let go from a job that I can think of. I’m not sure that the Park Terrace Swim Club in Plainville, Mass. would have hired me back for a second summer in the 1980s if I’d tried, but since then at least, I don’t think I’ve left a job that I couldn’t have gone back if I’d wanted to.
I’ve only had to let other people go a few times, Usually, it was about economic conditions as opposed to personal performance. I hated doing it, and I don’t think I was especially good or bad at it.
Since we’ve had more than a few examples recently, with my expertise coming from the role of an observer rather than a practitioner (or practiconee), I suppose if you have to let people go, there are at least three key parts to doing it in a fair and ethical way:
First, make it quick and clean. (The same thing goes for breakups, come to think of it, although my experience there was even longer ago). I like the recent trend among good CEOs which is to announce layoffs to the company, and then promise to let employees whose roles are affected know via email within minutes. (Stripe did this; so did Meta.)
Second, be as generous as you can on the way out. Good severance packages and help to find new positions are key. Kudos again to Stripe, which created @alumni.stripe.com email addresses for departing employees so they’d always have a way to feel connected.
Finally, do it with respect and optimism. Nobody wants to hear a Pollyannish spech when they're losing their job. But, to the extent you can help people who are leaving to feel hopeful and valued, do it. This is also a smart self-serving practice, as it’s the kind of treatment that people hear about, and that can ultimately help you recruit down the road.
OK. Heady subject. I’m curious to know: Have you been let go from a job? Have you had to let other people go, either once in a while or en masse? What made it better or worse? Or is there simply no good way to do it? Let us know in the comments.
7 other things worth knowing today
How a suburb near Scottsdale, Ariz. is coping after the bigger nearby city decided it could no longer afford to sell it water. ("Skipped showers, paper plates.") (WashPost)
The richest 1 percent of people amassed almost 2/3 of new wealth created in the last two years, according to the global poverty charity, Oxfam: $26 trillion out of $42 trillion total. (CNBC)
Wyoming legislators introduced a bill to "phase out" (meaning, get rid of) electric vehicles by 2035. I have no idea if this will pass, but it's pretty wild. (WyoLeg.com)
A Chicago bookstore owner says a customer returned $800 worth of books after using them to stage a home for the holidays: 'That one sale was a third of our rent.' (Insider)
OK, all writing is autobiographical, which is why I'm sharing this 18-month old article today: "Amazon Echo: How to turn off Alexa's unwanted 'By the way' suggestions." (CNET)
Also: Families are smaller and people are waiting longer to have children than in years past, according to an NBC News analysis of data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. (NBC News)
The company that owns Madison Square Garden in New York has been using facial recognition tech to ban lawyers who represented clients who sued it from attending shows there. Now, some of the lawyers have found a legal way at least partway out, relying on disguises and a 90-year-old law intended to stop venues from banning newspaper critics. (NY Post)
Thanks for reading. Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash. I wrote about some of this before on Inc.com. See you in the comments!
I’m curious to know: Have you been let go from a job? Yes. Twice. Once fired, and deserved. Once due to financial constraints of the organization. For the latter, I was given a small severance but was also allowed to extend my time a little while doing my job search. It was humbling to ask for the extension, but it was granted and that felt very supportive.
Have you had to let other people go, either once in a while or en masse? Yes, both, for the same reasons as above.
What made it better or worse?
As far as letting people go for performance, I allowed less-than-stellar performers the option of resigning (vs firing).
For financial staff layoffs - we tried to spread the reductions across all functions; administrative, service, operations, etc.
Or is there simply no good way to do it? There ARE good ways to do it - you mentioned them. It is just that there is never an EASY way to do it.
I've been let go three times. The first hurt the most as it came out of the blue and I really felt betrayed. I had been there 11 years and got a new boss when we were reverse-acquired. I got moved out in a restructuring that saw my role combined with two others. It didn't work out.. They split the role back into three within a year. The second time was in the financial meltdown post Lehman Brothers. I was working in Europe and my firm sold off the European business. I came home unemployed. The third time was back just after having done an ex -pat stint for one arm of my company and uprooting my life for them, coming back to work for another business unit and getting packaged off from them within 8 months in another restructuring. That was a blessing- my boss was a nightmare and I hated it :)
I've managed people out more than I have fired, but have directly fired a couple for poor performance. They were both for cause so we were not generous- no package to speak of. It's no fun getting rid of someone no matter how crap they are though, particularly when you've been on the other side of the table. They're human beings with families and obligations and taking their pay check away weighs on you. Or at least it should!