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Layoffs: Tiger Version

Until Tigers Learn to Write, History Would Only Remember the Hunter’s Story!

Layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic are not new. It happens. There one such recent announcement by a big consulting firm, where they publicly announce laying off bottom performers and it’s not about defending low performers, it’s about how they’re managed and more importantly understand, how a good player (when hired), becomes a bad player, when fired? Yes, if there are ethical, or integrity issues, the course of action is different. But this is not about that.

These type of public announcements, risk setting a precedent in the ecosystem that those who are laid off ,are usually incompetent performers. Which is not always the case. This is in poor taste, insensitive and judgemental. Agreed , its a number, not names, but to think of it practically, it sets a wrong tone to a business decision.

Then there is the humane angle to this. What happens to those people when they go for interviews? They could be up against an insurmountable unspoken prejudice from another hiring organization, is it not? What about those who were laid off for financial reasons? How do they explain their competency, if they don’t even get an interview?

Imagine the reaction of a typical recruiter when their search yields the name of this candidate from the same organization. Prima facie, looks to be a good fit, but soon he/she realizes that this could be a person who was laid off from the organization which publicly announced laying off its bottom performers. Will the candidate still be shortlisted?

Will the recruiter be able to look beyond what they see and hear? Will they be neutral and reevaluate? Do they have the bandwidth and time? Is it even practically possible? They simply discard and move on to the next, because supply far exceeds demand.

Were these not the same people they hired with all pomp and glory in the recent past? Are these not the same people they thought were the best in class? So let’s dive in a bit deeper and understand who are these people and how did they even get hired into the system?

These are the same people which were:

1) head-hunted by multiple recruiters chasing them with compelling offers.

2) shortlisted from 50 screenings or more after skimming 500 resumes.

3) evaluated by at least 5 qualified people in the organization.

4) were hired as better replacements than the erstwhile employee.

5) found to be competent from at least 2 reference checks.

6) found to be qualified from extensive background checks.

7) hired with joining bonuses in some cases.

8) hired by buying off notice periods.

9) hired from competition as top talent.

10) hired as best culture fits for the organization.

And so, it seems that despite such stringent whetting processes, some organizations still manage to hire low calibre talent? If they were all “tigers” when hired, how do they become “herd of sheep” and asked to leave publicly?

What did the organization do, to take away the tiger quotient from their repertoire?

Has the Forest Failed them, or did They Fail the Forest?

It baffles me.

How does a once favored employee become a low performing low impact talent? Which in many cases, were the same people who had been appraised well, promoted, given a raise or MVP awards, during their tenure? Was is all a fake then? Is anyone questioning those who hired them? Or the hiring process which apparently was so airtight and yet let in so many bottom performers?

Nobody is denying the reality of layoffs. Finance plays an important role to keep organizations afloat and while it being unfortunate, it needs to be done. But the manner in which it is done, can certainly be dignified. It does not warrant a public announcement in the given manner.

Or could there be a sinister angle to this? One does hear hushed tones to force-fit people into a bell-curve bracket, to justify a percentage number given to maintain balance in the system. Could the people deliberately be put into the bottom of the table and let go on performance issues, so that a company does not have to pay a hefty severance package?

We may never know.

Mental Health experts can better weigh in on this but, imagine the plight of these people who are currently in the system and read the news in the media. They must be devastated, leading to depression or even a total breakdown.

Performances are determined by data. But data alone does not paint the full picture.

A Data Set can be Analyzed Either Ways – you Could be a Conqueror or a Traitor , Victim or the Victor – Depends on How Data Set is Being Interpreted!

For example think of a sales rep missing her forecast in a tough patch – say the final attainment is a 99% – is that good or bad? How do you look at it? That at least she tried or the fact she failed ? The absolute naked truth that you missed 100% target or the fact you at least got to 99% attainment? And so, does it make her a bottom performer?

Or, what if a sales rep got his number from a cash-cow account and crossed 110% attainment? An account which was anyway milking money since ages. All the person did was maintain the relationship and get the order. Does that make him a top performer?

I know there are complexities on both these examples which don’t meet the eye, but at a simple level, this is the crux of the matter isn’t it? Net of it – leaders will look back on appraisals basis these outcomes and decide the fate of these employees.

We’ve often hear that people are hired for the organization and not always for a particular role. So why not fit them into other roles in the organization ? Or are they assuming these people are good for nothing else? If they did not succeed in one role, does it automatically mean they are unfit for others? If they’ve been not good in one organization, will they suddenly become bad resources? Will they lose their skill sets basis which they were hired in the first place?

Imagine the Fate of People like Elon Musk, Jack Ma or Larry Ellison if They Were on Such a List? How Would They Emerge?

Their careers have had many failures, mistakes and wrong decisions , but they succeeded against all odds. Maybe because they were part of an ecosystem which allowed them to flourish in other avenues and ventures.

There is a reason why these gentlemen are considered greats – because not only did they have talent, but they had strong beliefs about their idea, vision or mission, which won over the support of people who looked beyond their immediate failures or lack of skill sets at the time.

Yes, one can argue, these are but rare occurrences or exceptions to the rule, but would you not rather err on the side of positivity, than ignorance or indifference? Who knows one pat on the back could encourage someone to go above and beyond their imagination. Are you being an enabler ? Are you providing that platform of time and patience?

Being a foodie, I can safely share the the best cooks, take time to prepare their dishes. Which is why  there are only 2 fast food restaurants as of last year, to get a Michelin star – rest all 3 star Michelin restaurants, are fine dining. Painstakingly perfect.

Chicken and Rice Mix is Quicker to Make, But it is Not Biriyani.

Closer home -one cannot expect to cook a proper Biriyani in 30 mins? It takes hours of preparation, time and patience with the right heat and pressure before the final outcome takes your breath away. So, will you quit making Biriyani because it took time?

Similarly there are employees who need time to blossom while some flourish quicker. If you are a people manager, yes it is hard work to develop that talent. It is time consuming. You need more bandwidth. It drains you to be invested in somebody’s success. Nobody said it was a walk in the park. But ask those who have shaped futures, they’ll tell you, it’s worth every bit of it.

If you are impatient, should you be a people manager? Are you being ultra attention deficient and buying what is ready made, instead of investing time to nurture latent talent? Quick to hire and quick to fire seldom does wonders to the teams confidence and productivity and the organizational growth.

When Everyone is Nervous about their Longevity, they do not Row in Synch. What Happens then? The Oars Collide. What Happens to the Boat then? It Stalls.

There are many ways a resource can be redeployed. If they are not good at rowing, why not explore what they are good at and redirect them towards it? Does it not save money? Does it not increase productivity? Does it not make sense? Yes, it does. This is hard work no doubt. But at the end of it, you make a career which shines above all while making a big business impact.

While it is true, that despite redeployment efforts, some may still find themselves out of a job. But there is dignity in exiting an organization with the backing of your management, the confidence from your mates, that you will fare well ,elsewhere. Is that too much to ask?

And so when these organizations hire again, they acquire a set of people who are well aware of the situation and mostly coil up without exploring their true potential. They only do as much required or asked, to stay afloat just above the median. What this does to the business is, create a culture of mediocrity. And they begin to believe it to be the standard of excellence. So when they manage to hire someone truly excellent, they are often misread as rebels or fall in to the ” not a culture fit bracket”.

Isn’t it Ironic then that Organizations Hammer People to Fit into their Culture Box and When they do, they go Searching Externally to Hire Someone to Think Outside the Box!

It’s no wonder then, we see an increased indifference between both the parties. And so mediocrity robs the organization of a double digit growth. It costs the company money. But because these organizations are “too big to fail” these situations continue to prevail. This transactional nature of business, leaves no space for bonding, sense of belonging and collective growth. Like they say, capitalism and fairness are like chalk and cheese. They are just a bad combination. The idea is not to denounce capitalism but the ask is to do it in a dignified way.

I guess Howard Roark was right afterall. Form is temporary, class is permanent.

If Tigers learned to write, history would remember hunters differently, don’t you think?


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