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Moving to Substack, thinking about lay-offs, and swearing about the design industry
If you’re trying to sell a Now/Next/Later roadmap, make sure you get the narrative right!
Things might look a little different around here
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Twitter has been acquired and half its people have been laid off. I’m going to come back to lay-offs soon but, practically speaking, this is apparently going to impact Revue. I’ve been running this newsletter on Revue from the start, but I’m now going to join all the cool kids on Substack!
I’ve migrated everything over so that you can see the One Knight in Product archives, and you’ve all been migrated over too. If you aren’t happy about this, you can use the appropriate buttons at the bottom of the email, but I hope you’ll stick with me!
A word from the sponsor - Product People
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New podcast episode: Trying to save the design industry one curse word at a time
In my latest One Knight in Product podcast episode, I spoke to Mackenzie Daisley, the founder of Brieft. Mackenzie says that the design industry is totally f**ked and she wants to help un-f**k it. We talked about the problems in the industry, how she might solve them, and her journey into entrepreneurship. Check it out on your favourite podcast app, or right here.
You need persistence in the face of adversity
Mackenzie went to a pitch event without knowing it was a pitch event, fluffed her first pitch, and got blanked by the judge. She regrouped, came back, and won the event. Don't give up!
Layoffs are hard, but you don’t have to be
I’ve had to lay people off twice in my career and I found it tremendously hard both times, notwithstanding the fact that it’s 10x as hard for the people that get laid off. From my perspective, it’s always important to handle it the right way. It’s fair to say that Elon Musk does not agree with my perspective.
I’m not going to go into deep detail about whether the workforce reduction was the right thing or not. It’s clear that Twitter has substantial challenges ahead, and it’ll be interesting to see if Musk’s plans bear fruit (I’m not 100% hopeful, but open-minded). But there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.
So here are some of the principles I like to live by when it comes to lay-offs:
It’s not you, it’s me
If you go to some corners of the internet you’d get the impression that Twitter employees just sat around in hammocks all day, sipping margaritas and occasionally checking emails if they felt like it. Some commentators are almost gleeful that these allegedly feckless employees have finally gotten what’s coming to them.
I don’t buy that at all. Lay-offs are fundamentally a failure of the company, not the people. It may be a failure imposed on the company by market conditions, or it may be a failure caused by an incoherent plan or an overoptimistic moon shot. But, individual employees rarely cause this situation. It’s a leadership issue; they should take ownership of it and be humble.
Communication, communication, communication
Luckily, in the UK and Europe, there are pretty robust laws and a process that needs to be followed by law. But, even if not bound by laws and processes, the leadership team need to do the work and continuously communicate with their teams. No last-minute email surprises. In fact, no surprises at all! From the first time you’re able to do this publicly through to the point where people walk out of the door, you’re not doing your job if you’re not keeping both the affected and unaffected people completely up-to-date with what’s going on and the justification behind it.
Select people as if it’s all being done in public
The process should be unimpeachable. You can’t play favourites or fight purely ideological battles. If you’re stack-ranking people you can’t just do it by arbitrary, meaningless factors. Whilst it’s likely that individuals won’t get shown everyone’s ranking scores, you need to score people as if this is all public record. Shady backroom deals aren’t going to cut it. You have to be fair.
People are going to feel worthless and it’s your job to reassure them
If you’re stack-ranking employees and laying off a certain number, then there will always be losers. These people are going to feel, at least to start with, like the worst people in the world. They’re going to doubt they are ever going to get another job again. Your job is to reassure them that this is not the case.
I like to use a diagram like this:
Again, any stack-ranking exercise has losers, but being the objectively lowest person in a really excellent team doesn’t make them terrible. They’re still excellent.
Look after them on the way out
It’s not just about giving people their contractual severance. You can’t just kick people out of the door. Once you’ve gone through the process you need to help prepare people for their next move. There are employee assistance programmes that you can enrol people in to give them support in their next move. Consider enhanced payouts if you can sustain them, to help soften the blow. Recommend them! Use your network to try to soften the landing.
These are people, stupid
The most important thing throughout all of this is to see your soon-to-be-ex employees as what they are. People. Not numbers on a dashboard or names in a spreadsheet. These are people, with lives, emotions, needs and desires. If there aren’t enough chairs left when the corporate music stops, that’s a shame, but you don’t have to be a douchebag to look after your business.
Lay-offs are hard, but you can do them right.
Thanks for reading!
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