October 26, 2023

Reducing Stress in a Layoff Happy Economy

Layoffs. Five years ago a blog about layoffs would be focused on what to do if you found yourself in the unfortunate position of being part of a RIF.  The “if” in that sentence was the key driver to the topic - it was relatively rare to be part of a layoff, perhaps a once-in-a-career occurrence.  Times are changing though, with previously low-risk companies like Meta, Google and Amazon joining the ranks of fledgling startups in exercising layoffs as a means of restructuring.  In today’s economy that “if” is transforming into “when” for many, especially in the product management field.  Does this mean we are living in a new life of constant stress and worry?  Do you have to be concerned ahead of every all-hands that your job is at risk?  Not necessarily.

There are some simple shifts you can make in the way you do your job, and some changes you can make outside of business hours, to tip odds in your favor.  In this blog post we’ll walk you through three suggestions to put your mind at ease in this layoff-happy world.

Elevator Strategy

The first recommendation may sound obvious: know your company’s vision and strategy inside and out.  Most product managers will answer “yes!” without hesitation when asked if they know their company’s vision and strategy, and yet not all can explain in an elevator ride what that vision is and how their product is directly connected. Product managers are often in a position to pitch new ideas for products and features, but typically the pitch includes ROI absent a connection to the company’s larger vision.  I have seen large companies leave billion-dollar product pitches on the table because they were not aligned with the company strategy.  At the end of the day, a dollar of capital is a dollar of capital.  If it is not invested directly toward the strategy then it is a dollar taken away from the strategy.  In order to make sure you are always working on products that are high impact, know the strategy and financial levers associated with it.  Don’t rely on management to make that assessment for you.  If you are consistently pitching, promoting and launching products with a direct line into that strategy, your value to the company will be difficult to overlook.

Product Visibility

The second recommendation is connected to the first, in that it has to do with the visibility of your value to the company.  Product managers deal in metrics and KPIs, self assured that if the metrics are good, their job is secure.  If a company needs to pivot or restructure, however, metrics can be a very small piece of the puzzle. In the past companies have used a simple last-in, first-out methodology for layoffs, but that is typically a numbers play for companies in financial trouble who need to cut warm bodies.  We live in a time where companies are constantly trimming and adjusting.  To increase the probability of being in the retained pool of any layoff, the key is very high visibility - share, share, and share some more.  Take any opportunity to share outside of your organization, whether it is product performance, roadmaps, new ideas, or even just improved processes.  The more involved you are, the easier it will be for leaders to visualize you as a permanent part of the team, regardless of cuts.  Sure it takes time and energy, but the more you do it, the more it will become habitual just like any new process step.

Interviewing = Networking

If the first two recommendations were plan A and B, this last recommendation is a solid plan C - always be interviewing.  It may seem defeatist to encourage you to interview for new jobs even when you have a job you love.  However, there are many benefits of this practice that go beyond safeguarding against a layoff.  I was told once by a career coach that specializes in post-layoff job searching, that the best way to find a new job is through networking.  But typically it takes time to network organically, sometimes years.  Talking to individuals via interviews grows your network in a quicker way, and if you are doing interviews in regular intervals your network is constantly getting refreshed.  Interviewing regularly also helps you to understand the going rate for your job and the health of the market, both of which can aid you in asking for a raise or promotion.  Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, interviewing gives you confidence.  Regularly testing your skills, even if the job isn’t right for you, gives you the confidence that there are lots of jobs out there and you could find a new one quickly and easily.  And that is the number one key to not living in a world of constant layoff fear.  

Times are changing, but it doesn’t have to be scary.  There are simple things you can start doing today that will increase the likelihood of avoiding a layoff, and overall reduce your stress even if your company is going through one.  So what are you waiting for?  Schedule a meeting with the Director of Strategy to ask some questions about the company’s financial levers.  Set up a lunch and learn for your new product idea.  And set your recruiting flag on LinkedIn to “open to work” for recruiter eyes only.