Discover more from The Humanly Substack
A Different Approach to Google’s Layoffs
I am fortunate to not have been one of the 12k Googler who were laid off. There have been many posts that the terminations could have been handled differently, and I agree. In light of yesterday's all-hands meeting being publicly reported on by CNBC, I feel I can indeed now weigh more publicly on what could have been done differently. I'm also going to post after that what all of us can do about the situation now.
One of the biggest areas of concern that many Googlers raised was that they were harshly and suddenly cut-off from corporate resources. The argument for doing this was that "we needed to take these security measures'', but in truth, that isn't the case. At Google, every compute device and user has an access privilege, from the lowest which is just email, to the highest, which is limited to corporate issued devices with corporate managed security credentials and that require Googlers who access those resources to take trainings and internal self certifications in order to be able to access and handle these resources. Additionally, all access to user data is highly monitored and supervised, so, it is HIGHLY unlikely that anyone could have tempered with truly sensitive data that easily. That means that all that needed to happen was to downgrade all of the impacted employees to the lowest tier, providing them with email, calendar, and chat access. This would have provided the right opportunity and way of saying goodbye, sending a message or two, or closing out any remaining items of business. Additionally, if Google is THAT concerned about our employees tampering with data that much, well.... maybe we should be examining more closely who we hire and how we train them, that might be the source of the real problem here.
It was mentioned on the call that they simply couldn't work or notify the 30k managers at Google and that doing so would have delayed the process by weeks (or even months). Now, I call BS. We've had plenty of instances when we needed to align the managers behind new policies, like the GRAD rollout (another less than ideally executed initiative), and that rollout was done quickly and efficiently - and yes, with all 30k managers involved. The other point is that the layoffs were not a surprise. The 6% number has been circulating internally AND externally now for many, many months. Something of this scope did not just happen overnight, it was carefully thought through. So, yes, involving all 30k managers was possible AND would have been the right thing to do. It should have looked like this:
notify the managers that layoffs are coming
setup training sessions on how the decisions will be made, how the managers will (or will not) participate in the process, and what actions they can take, or be ready to take so that they can appropriately support their teams and the impacted individuals. Focus should be on how to communicate to the teams and impacted individuals with compassion and care.
notify the managers 1 - 2 days AHEAD of time of the decision and prepare them. If you feel that you can’t trust your managers with the information, I point to item (1) above. We routinely trust managers not to share the outcomes of promotion or compensation details for weeks and sometimes months at a time. We seem to do a pretty good job of keeping those cards close to the chest. Also, keeping (1) available above would have helped with the communication process.
Employee selection - as it turns out, the decisions were not entirely transparent nor really made any sense. There were many high performing individuals who had great impact on the organization with long tenure who were let go. While at the same time, individuals with less than ideal track record who got to stay around. This smacks of favoritism. This is the point in time precisely when the organization needs to be focused on retaining and empowering its top performers to the best of its ability. It should not be a surprise that OpenAI is such a threat, of the ~500 employees at OpenAI listed on LinkedIn, about 100 are xooglers, that is a whopping 20%! 20%! Of a company currently posing one of the greatest challenges to Google came from… Google. That means that these are all individuals that chose to leave, and who knows how many more of the best and brightest that we have at Google are about to walk out the door and go to… OpenAI. Had Managers been properly involved in the decision making process in (2) above, then we could have really focused on retaining our top talent and identifying the folks who aren't quite hitting the bar as the potential candidates for the layoffs. Instead… it was mostly random, mostly without good thought, applying some heuristics here and there, but for the most part… random.
On this quick note I’d like to add, if you are a recruiter reading this, know one important fact. These were NOT low performers, the people let go were incredible, talented, capable individuals. You will be lucky to recruit and retain them for your organizations.
Finally, the big one, did these layoffs need to take place? I’m going to say that no, they did not. Here is why (and I’m not appealing to the cash pile in the bank). Google in general has ~10% turnover rate of its employees over the course of the year. That means that at Google with ~150k employees, over the course of the next 12 months for one reason or another ~15k employees will leave. In order for Google to grow year-on-year, it has to recruit MORE people than leave, so if Google needs to be at 160k employees this time next year, in practice it needs to recruit 25k individuals over the next 12 months. That leads to the very obvious solution:
Close out all open Head Count across the entire company, yes, all of it, every, single, open hire is no longer available.
Figure out the business units that you are planning on shutting down (or roles).
Notify the individuals in those roles / teams / projects that their role is being terminated, but they aren’t.
Have every recruiter that was assigned to (a) above, not focus on finding a fit for people in (c) above to those teams. This will likely take 30 - 90 days to really work its way out, but it will utilize and realign individuals who already know the Google way towards areas that need to be moved faster. An internal transfer is always less risky than an external hire.
If after reshuffling all of the individuals and assigning them to new teams, there is still more individuals looking for roles than there are available teams, then you can do the layoffs, but it will likely be much smaller and much more targeted
Even after this is done, don’t open hiring for the next 9 - 12 months. So, what about the recruiters? Easy. Recruiters are the public facing face of the company that is in touch the most with industry trends and direction. They are also uniquely positioned to understand the marketplace. Take each and every recruiter and assign them to an internal team to embed with them. To what end? This will get the recruiters to see how the different teams run, get them to get on calls with customers, and talk to potential customers. This may not fit for all recruiters, but I suspect many of them would enjoy the experience and learn a lot from it. When the day comes that you do open up hiring again, these recruiters will be much more effective advocates for Google and be able to relate to the new hires because their experience of the teams and the work won’t be anecdotal, it’ll be real and visceral. Oh, and by the way… remember that issue that Thomas Kurian raised that we needed to have more sales people attracting new business? Yeah… we could have some of our recruiters pitch in. At the end of the day, recruiting is a type of sales role - you are sourcing candidates, building a funnel, and trying to sell them on Google.
Yes, there were alternatives to how this could have been executed, and it would have resulted in Google differentiating itself from the rest of the pack and continuing to show that it is an innovative company truly focused on its people and not like all the rest.