Guy Kawasaki On 'The Art Of Laying People Off' - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
12/2/2008
10:15 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Guy Kawasaki On 'The Art Of Laying People Off'

In which the outspoken venture capitalist and author, as always, speaks bluntly: "Take responsibility. ... Cut deep and cut once. ... Don't ask for pity." Here's Kawasaki on sharing the pain: "Take a smaller office. Turn in the company car. ... Give your 30-inch flat-panel display to a programmer who could use it to debug faster." His 12 tips don't make for much happy talk but for business leaders in these troubled

In which the outspoken venture capitalist and author, as always, speaks bluntly: "Take responsibility. ... Cut deep and cut once. ... Don't ask for pity." Here's Kawasaki on sharing the pain: "Take a smaller office. Turn in the company car. ... Give your 30-inch flat-panel display to a programmer who could use it to debug faster." His 12 tips don't make for much happy talk but for business leaders in these troubled times they do, unfortunately, make sense.A few excerpts:

"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 re-hire. Multiple cuts are terrible for the morale of the employees who have not been laid off."

"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 competency that counts at the company? Make sure that Ted is dead."

"Move forward. Immediately after a layoff, you might want to retreat to your office, turn off the phones, stop answering e-mails, and avoid everyone. These are the worst actions to take. This is the time for you to motivate by walking around. ... They don't want to think their leader is cowering in some foxhole."

One area where Kawasaki is inconsistent is in his suggestions for the obligations a company has to its laid-off employees. On the one hand, he strongly urges executives in Tip #7 to "provide minimal severance packages" and to "deal with your guilt in other ways. If nothing else, it's a consistent story."

But it's not so consistent when, in Tip #9, he then says, "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, resume-writing assistance, and job-search help. There are firms that specialize in helping people during 'transitions,' so use them."

Guy's sudden outbreak of moral obligation doesn't really wash with some of his other tips, particularly when he goes so far as to urge managers to find ways other than severance to soothe their guilty feelings. In this case, those job-placement services aren't free and I'd bet most laid-off employees would like to have the choice of $2,000 worth of professional services versus $2,000 (or even $1,000) in cash. But, other than this quibble, Kawasaki's list is something many CIOs might want to keep close at hand over the next several months.

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