How to make layoffs less awful

Andy Walker
14 min readJan 26

Principles for being involved in disruptive and difficult change

Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash

One of the questions I got after writing my opinion on the cultural and leadership failure that is the layoff process at Google was to ask me what I would have done differently. I’m going to reiterate this now before I start because it’s important — there is no good way to do this process. For someone in a leadership position all you can do is try and chart a path to make it as not terrible as possible. There are, however, really bad ways to approach this and while it is impossible to make it good or even fair you can strive for humane. A good life rule to follow might be that anytime your thought process resembles some version of “What would Elon Musk do?” then you might want to have a word with yourself.

I can also state up front that I have not been involved, even peripherally, in what HR professionals call a “Reduction in Force” in the US. I do have experience in driving and being involved with disruptive change. The set of principles don’t change. If you want to know more about how this works in the US then it’s worth reading some best practices. Outside of the US there are a very different set of legal requirements — I expect that those affected in those regions to have better long term outcomes.

Google got a lot wrong in the way they’ve gone about this. The exec team driving this appears to have been under the impression that offering a severance package and support a bit above and beyond what is required by law is sufficient to offset any harm their actions have done. The reasons for doing it remain unclear. The reasons those affected being chosen have not been clearly articulated. And, worst of all, the method of delivery of news was so lacking in humanity and compassion that trust in the leadership team has been burned before a word has been spoken in town halls or other discussions. So let’s get into some detail about how Google have done this badly…

  1. The is no clear sense of purpose or “why” articulated. The outcome that was being sought has not been communicated. The way to validate the success of the initiative either does not exist or has not been communicated. I said at the start there’s no good way to do it so you have better be sure you need to before you do it. Let’s look at the reasoning for the layoffs given in…
Andy Walker

Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.