The silver lining, A RIF story
Posted by Meg Bear on December 15, 2008
Another addition of my apparent series entitled “tales of Meg’s wacky career in tech“. This is the story of the first Reduction in Force (RIF) I got to see up close and personal. The whole process of this RIF really changed me.
For my first job I worked for a small start-up ERP software company that was growing rapidly on the initial client/server wave. This company was all the good things about a start-up, friendly people, shared vision, enthusiastic workforce, an excellent place to start a career. We were always having trouble hiring enough people to meet the demand of our sales, I had seen nothing but growth in the three years I had been there. And then one day things changed. We hit a technology wall that slowed sales. As an entry level employee, I had no idea that trouble was coming.
I found out about the RIF about a week before anyone else, as my [now] husband was responsible for helping to compile “the list”. This was beyond awkward for me, since I knew some names but not all and most were my friends. I also knew that the list was being made with very scarce information as to who knew what. I was outraged. I was horrified. I was terrified. I felt personally guilty wondering if I should just quit myself.
On the big day, as I found out the extent of the list, I considered the whole thing terribly unjust. Living in a relatively small town I knew this was going to have huge impacts as people would have to move away to find comparable work.
I am actually grateful to have had this RIF early in my career, as I learned so much as a result. It took away my innocence, but it also caused me to wake up and realize how things work. At the end of the day, I was employed to serve a function for the business, as long as the service I provided was seen as a value, I would continue to have a job. If business conditions were to change such that they had to re-evaluate my value, they would not think twice to do that. No one, no matter how great, is going to be worth sacrificing the company to keep.
I learned that it was my responsibility to understand the business. It is never enough to focus only on my own tasks, I needed to make sure that I was seen as someone adding value overall. I had to take seriously where I fit in the organization and how my company was impacted by the larger economic factors at play. Never again did I trust my entire career blindly on the business judgement of a senior leader. I learned to chose my participation (and length of service) in companies, based upon the results of the business.
In the end, I also found out something I would have never guessed at the time. Every person who was let go landed on their feet. They moved on, they got different jobs, the RIF became a story in their professional career but it did not define them.
Over the course of the next year, my professional network grew from a single company to hundreds of companies as all my former colleagues found new jobs. I am not suggesting that a RIF doesn’t suck, it does. But good things can result from them as well, especially if you use the experience as an opportunity for your own growth.