As apposed to firing someone for performance reasons, layoffs are typically for financial reasons. They are part of a natural cycle of growth and restructuring.

If you are given the opportunity to have the actual termination conversation with the people on your team, I suggest you take it. It will be difficult - but this is fundamentally not about you. It’s about those people who are losing their jobs, and the rest of the team that has to move forward.

Initial Shock

Most people in the company will not know about the layoff until it’s happening. As a manager, you might know the day before. You probably will not have any input into who is being laid off.

Don’t freak out. Seek out other managers. Go talk to them. It’s is a good time to capitalize on the relationships you’re building all the time to try to bring some stability to what’s happening.

Quickly figure out the important details. Who is being let go? Do they get severance? What about health care? Can they exercise options? What is the company message about why this is happening?

Come Up With a Plan

Part of your job in a layoff is to tell the same story as the company. Own the message. Do not say that this was not your decision. Practice the story that you will be telling over and over again in the coming days.

Start by writing it down. HR likely has an official version. Translate it into your own language and decide what you want to emphasize.

  • This is affecting a lot of people.
  • It’s about financials, not performance.
  • Thank them for their work.
  • There will be some logistics.
  • Bring it back to the company vision and mission.

You may not have a lot of time to prepare. Role-play the conversation with someone else, maybe another experienced manager. Have them ask hard questions. Don’t worry about how employees will take it. It’s not going to be as bad as you think.

Layoff Day

Don’t put anything on the calendar. Schedule a room as early as possible in the day. Rumors will start circulating about what is happening. Get all your people squared away before that happens.

Let the rest of the team know they are safe. Nothing is worse than sitting around wondering if someone is going to tap you on the shoulder. For the team that remains, how you handle today will be the most impactful thing you do all year.

The Termination Conversation

Look the person in the eye. Tell them right up front that the company is having layoffs today and that unfortunately, they are in the affected group. Tell them that as of this moment, that they are no longer employed here. Tell them you’re sorry. Then don’t say anything for 10 seconds.

Your basic job is to empathize, provide clarity about some logistics, and represent the company. When they leave the room, you want them to feel they were afforded some respect in a truly crappy situation.

Give them a chance to process. They will have questions. Absolutely do not say this was not your decision, and that if it were up to you, they would still be employed. It was your job as a manager to make them more successful. It doesn’t cost you anything to own that.

Repeat what they need to do. They need to clean out their desk and go to HR to sign some papers. Say it a few times; it’s hard for anyone to process information in this situation.

Hard Questions

The conversation will probably be far short of your imagined worst case scenario. If things do go fully sideways, just try to optimize for empathy and clarity.

More likely, you will get questions similar to these.

Why me, specifically?

Tell them it’s about company financials, not their performance.

Why didn’t you give me feedback earlier?

The layoffs were a decision that was made in a very short timeframe. We thought we would have more time to work on these issues.

I thought this team was a priority for the company?

The team is still a priority, but cuts had to be made across the board.

But, didn’t we just hire more people?

Those hires are for different roles.

Afterwards

The really hard part comes afterward. You have to bring together a bunch of people who are emotionally hurting. Help them pick up and pieces. This looks more like what you do all the time. It will be tough, but it’s not outside your wheelhouse.

Have one on ones with absolutely everyone. More often that usual. Pay special attention to people who lost their manager, or people who are working on different projects now, or with different people.

Make sure in all these conversations to bring it back to the company vision and mission. Good luck.

References

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