If Not Now, Then Never?

As an industry, I think we’ve gotten too lazy and wasteful. Even teams with great leaders and talented engineers seem to have become dull and content with churning out average work. That’s partly why the current economic conditions are causing so many companies to quickly shed significant chunks of their workforce. It’s a wake-up call. But there is a bright side:
we were given an opportunity to change things up, and I see some leaders already acting. So should you.

The Numbness

I love giving examples of well-known companies that, about a decade ago, did with a handful of engineers what we struggle to accomplish today, with dozens of engineers who are getting paid twice as much. On top of that, those companies of yore (I believe ten years qualify as “yore” for tech) didn’t have access to things like the vast array of cloud services we now have. WhatsApp and Instagram had hundreds of millions of users, apps on several platforms, and with fewer engineers than you’d now see at a B2B company serving a handful of clients.

That is why companies like Snap can heavily cut their team’s size and still expect things to be fine. They have so much dead weight. Poor hires wouldn’t get any feedback for over a quarter until they have already gone past their window of malleability and got used to doing things a certain way. People would be put on PIPs as a last resort that no one believes in, meaning at least six months too late. Our expectations of the workforce are reduced to an execrable standard.

Executives and even founders learned to live with average or low-performing teams and knew that they could get by. After all, money was abundant and too often viewed profligate spending and growing head counts as a positive. This is unsustainable and, in fact, the exact opposite of the types of organizations I wrote about in my book.

The Inflection Point

But, every party comes to an end, and the market is now telling the tech industry to get itself together. A few months ago, I started seeing more and more executives becoming aware of the performance of their employees. What was once “we have to retain people,” or “every person leaving is a failure,” turned into “we can live with that.” However, that’s still not active enough. They know people are not good and are waiting for the other side to take action.

I’ve spoken with several companies that have recently decided to perform some layoffs. These are startups that are taking steps to lengthen their runways proactively. No one treats this with alacrity, obviously. Nevertheless, virtually all these CEOs tell me they expect the team’s output to remain the same. The CTOs have a different view. They expect an increase in productivity. It is too bad they had waited until the market forced their hand to take action, though. It costs everyone time, money, and sweat. Everyone would have been better off if things had been addressed months ago.

However, this is your chance. If you’ve gotten used to bad standards, you can repent. Those who were reticent to provide feedback, move people, or even lay some off have no more excuses. Now is the time to get going. Lead a team that’s worth leading. Your legacy is being created now, and life is short. Stop settling for an average team with average results.

No, I don’t expect you to experience frisson or excitement about the prospect of cutting some people or changing your organization. You should, however, embrace the opportunity you were given to grow—both personally as a leader and for your entire organization. If not you, then who?