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Navigating Major Turnover In Your Company

It's common to be worried about layoffs, but what if you’re actually one of the few people that remain? Whether it’s due to downsizing or a change in leadership or just a natural cycle of turnover, being one of the few remaining team members can be scary! Just like a horror movie, as each person leaves your anxiety and fear of the unknown grows. But fear not! Learn from Benjamin’s experience surviving a major period of turnover. He’ll share lessons and strategies that you can use anytime your team loses members quickly.

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Transcript

Thank you, everybody out there. Bear with me. This is first talk in a little while. Yes, topic of the talk, navigating major turnover in your company and how to handle it as a be early career junior type of folk. So, first, who is Benjamin? I'm Benjamin. I moved to Tel Aviv a while ago. Originally from the US. Began working at Vonage in 2020 with Kevin, my first big boy job in a corporate. Never thought I would do that. Had its own set of pressures, and anxieties. Finally this year I moved from a community manager to a Developer Advocate. It had happen! Career development a real thing. Like the worst dating profiles, I music, food, travel, movies, beach sunsets and helping folks enter the tech world. If something I say is interesting or you want to connect, I'm always up for it. Please reach out on any social media.

Vonage, cool slide. What is Vonage in we are a cloud communications platform. We allow developers, but also allow companies, basically to use voice, video, and messaging to better facilitate communication within their company, or with their users. Basically, I work -- I work in the API department, so, so we help developers, you want an app, you want to let your users send a text or talk to people over WhatsApp, embed video conferencing, we make that possible, so it is a couple of developers instead of a whole department. Happy to talk about that more after. We got acquired in July by Ericsson. Just mentioning that, because the nature of this talk, nightmare, but with a happy ending.

In literature, movies, what have you, there always needs to be a conflict for a good story. Some popular Hallowe'en examples here: Frankenstein, the classic rags to riches, they're poor, Cinderella, get better, get worse, get better. My favourite Hallowe'en movie, Nightmare Before Christmas. So why do I say that? Because this is my conflict and the story arc of my experience with this nightmare situation.

In my first year, there was a lot of stress, a lot of downs, ups, and finally I got to the end. The first year had a lot of imposter syndrome but finally feeling okay, cool, they didn't fire me after a year, I had my end-of-year review with my manager, and we got a plan and things are going to be great. And then people started leaving. So this is what you might experience during a period of major turnover. You're never sure when the end is.

But the main thing is to figure out how you can end up on an up ward trajectory. And so while for Hallowe'en we might think of clowns and scary goblins, my conflict and story looked like this. All around me, it seemed like the Titanic, people were jumping ship, and I was in one of these windows unsure: should I jump, should I stay? And so hopefully you can learn from my experience. Yes. Here come the monsters.

At the beginning, when all of this happened, there was the initial shock, and the monsters came out, and there was kind of like that scary noise when you're home alone at night, and you hear a creak, and you're not sure if somebody is there or not. When you're a little kid, you think it's a Gremlin under your bed. But, often, by the end of this talk, what I want to communicate is that these among terse are in your head, it's your imagination running wild.

When you're a junior, maybe you're not privy to information. You don't have the perspective that would calm you down and make you realise these are not real monsters. So it is that fear, it is that doubt, it is also rumours, speculation, so the truth is, while at the time being a junior I thought that, you know, people are leaving, they've been here for a long time, they must be leaving because things are really bad.

That is not always true. There are changes in leadership and companies. This happened at Vonage. One of the biggest lessons was when there are changes in leadership, people don't like change. They have gotten comfortable in the processes, and people they know in the way things work, and when there is new leadership at the top, often that discomfort is worse than the actual ramifications. When we got new leadership, there was some ... sorry, there were some cost-saving measures that were implemented, but in our department, there was only one person who was lost. We had a big department. Most everybody could have kept their job, but the rumours about the lay-offs were worse than they ended up being.

New leadership is scary. Organisational success, sometimes, the companies are doing too good. What used to be a small department where people are used to touching all of the different projects, all the different initiatives, now they're getting super specialised. The more people you have, the more specialised the roles become, and people don't like this. They like sometimes working in very flexible small tales. Also, not only is the team being successful, but that means individuals are successful.

So, maybe people who might be manager, or might be director level, because they've been in the same company, they don't have the room to grow because those managers and those directors are staying in the company, and that also happened with us, and, actually, we had something like ten people leave our department and then become director of Dev at other companies. At the time, I saw people running away, but in hindsight, we just had amazing people.

Timing: this is one that was a big one for us. So, at the start of 2021, we had been in pandemic world for a whole year, and with the pandemic, it brought a lot more opportunities with remote jobs, it brought a lot more opportunities with dev role jobs and tunes people didn't have available to them in the past. They had opportunities they could leave for.

Lastly, a new challenge: when people are in a company for three, four, five, six years, maybe they want a new product or industry, something new to learn. The great thing about working in tech is people are creative, and they always wanting to kind of keep learning, so sometimes people leaving just because they're kind of tired of the same old technology. And actually, at Vonage, we had all of these. What I thought on the surface was a lot of -- it could only be bad things that caused people to leave.

Really, there were a few things that were happening, and there was a lot of conversations that I as an early-career employee, I wasn't in -- I didn't know everything, and so that is why I picked this picture here of Jodie Foster in the Panic Room, I was kind of isolated, and I was getting my information through a filter through the cameras in the panic room, rather than knowing what was the reality outside. So you have to be very wary of this as an early career person.

So how did I get around this? There was a colleague of mine named Filippos. I said I'm worried that people are leaving. And he stopped me, and he joined the company six months after I did, so he was only six months in, he wasn't planning on leaving, he said, "Ben, you know, people are leaving, but just a little bit ago, at the beginning of the year, you were starting to feel comfortable here, and you liked it here, you said you had room to grow. It is not the end of the company. This company is going to survive." "They're just going to replace people. Maybe you should wait to see who is going to come and fill their shoes when they do get replaced. Maybe it could be for the better." This was awesome.

I called this the partnering conversation, the partner in crime, the PIC. Find somebody who you can have these really, really frank open conversations with, say your frustrations, say you're scared, and then maybe work over why you would stay or why you might leave. These are the pros and cons of leaving. Pros are uncertainty, pros is the opportunity. Having gone through the experience, I understood day-to-day what that meant.

First of all, when you lose a lot of people, you're going to lose mentorship. If you're early in your career, and you really value that you're working with people who are in the industry a long time, and this can be very valuable to see how they work, to see how they are efficient, to see the things that they care about and put their focus on instead of trying to do everything at once, you're not going to have those opportunities. You might have to spend two times, three times long to figure out what is important to you.

All those people have been in the company for a while, and you could go to with have a conversation for five or ten minutes and say why did we choose, for instance, this software instead of that to use? Why did we make a certain project decision when we launched this initiative. They could tell you right away because they were there. That will give you the information in five or ten minutes. Once they leave, you're going to have to spend a lot of time researching whether that is in Confluence, or whatever, Notion, whatever you use in your company. And maybe it's not there. Maybe people didn't write it up super well. You will have to find old work docs and slides, and be like Sherlock Holmes and putting information together. After spending all those hours to do the research, you could still end up without the full solution about why things are the way they are.

The flip side is when that you people come in, there can be a whole new work culture. I joined a company that had a history of being based out of London in the UK.. I loved the people that I worked with, I appreciated them and learned a lot from them. Coming directly from having just integrated into an Israeli work culture, moving to a company in Britain in the UK was really hard for me. And so with the new people came in, we became quite varied in background, people from all over the world joined the team, and this has been a good positive for me.

Also, obviously, less people in the team, the more your voice is heard. So you can have a bigger impact. And then, lastly, about the abandoning existing projects, it can feel like you're tearing like a piece of you out when you have to say okay, I've been working for the last three months, six months, a month, even, on a project that is going, it's great. But you might not have the resources. You might not have the team to continue that any more, and so you might have to very quickly, and the quicker you do, the better it is, say, okay, we are not going to continue that any more, we need to focus on our priorities. The cool thing is, as you have a bigger impact, you can also have a bigger say on what the new goals with the strategies and processes are. Because things have been done the way that they were for a long time, maybe we don't need to do them that way any more. Managing team morale.

So, you might ask yourself: I'm an early-year person. I'm not a manager. Why do I need to worry about the team morale? Why do I need to help my team? Other than being a good person, one thing is that you're going to find is this bad morale can spread like wildfire.

So, if people are constantly down, it's going to affect your mood, going to affect your work, and the new monster that is going to arrive you're always going to be thinking maybe I'm next, maybe I should leave, everybody around me is leaving. Instead, you need to become Stranger Things. I picked Stranger Things for a particular reason, because, one it's scary, and I don't consider it necessarily a horror movie, and in the end, they vanquish the among terse, kill the demons, come up on top, but there's not really one superhero. It's a whole team of people. Other than one girl who has superpowers, everybody else is regular. They just rise above themselves and find a way to get through these hard times all together and play their part. Admitting business is not usual.

In the Stranger Things series, if I was a kid, these kids who are pre-teens and teenagers, they're very emotional and also nerds. They talk about their insecurities a lot, their feelings. This is a really good thing. When things are going bad around you, you need to tell people who you're scared, frustrated, tired, anxious, what things you're worried about, and then having that team come together and reassure each other.

Also, that transparency helps each other, because there are a lot of times when you're looking around, and you're doing your work, and people are leaving, you're wondering, am I the only one who is feeling so burnt out? Am I the only one who is so scared? No. It is probably not true, and the more you come together, the more you can all lift each other up and become the Stranger Things team.

Secondly, manager by committee. When you come together, you will fulfil that role. When you're open, you can figure out what are the different pieces. You have that open dialogue so you can ask the questions and keep repeating, what can be let go? What do we need a focus on? There is no way we are going to achieve right now. More importantly, we are going to decide the future of this department team, whatever. And having that open dialogue and that transparency allows you to make that step forward. Lastly, office hours therapy.

So, finally, creating like the actual structure to have those manager-by-committee decisions, we were often setting up specific one-on-ones, we were derailing team calls, and that's all very okay. When you're talking about projects, maybe all of a sudden someone says I'm really not feeling well, and you go off on a 20-minute tangent, and people are stressed out, that's -- you should embrace that. There is a period of really, really tough mental health, especially for early career people.

So what we did actually was we had recurring, you know, with our one-on-ones, and not manager one-on-ones, people who are on the same level, we would schedule one-on-ones, and get together to tell us to talk about how we were feeling. Because we were open and felt really comfortable with each other, it is that I was going through a period of a lot of drama in my love life at the time and this became a focus, and was kind of funny for some of my colleagues to keep their mind off all of the doom and gloom and the monsters and you would think in a time we need to be efficient and focused and find time every week to get the updates in my love life? What was the new drama and what kind of monsters were happening there? It was kind of a tradition for a while, and you can find these moments when you have those conversations and you make space for that.

So managing individual responsibilities. Again, similar to the team dynamic, the first thing is day-to-day, there's going to be like that graph showed, there's going to be all kinds of ups and downs all of a sudden. Things that, in a normal time, would be a very small hiccup because you don't have the team to handle it or because you've been spending so much time on bureaucracy trying to figure out where something is. Understand why the decision was made. Things kind of fall apart, and they can fall apart fast.

So day-to-day, with yourself, take a step back, have a breath, say it's going to be okay. Like, Max from Stranger Things, with the headphones, have that ritual with yourself, and day-to-day, week to week, come back to your task and make sure that you're focusing and spending your time in the most efficient way. And so, that is followed up by be a hero, don't be THE hero.

Even if you can handle a million things and you're the first one to say, yes, I will take on that extra responsibility if someone else can't do it, be very careful with this, because you're already doing the work of probably multiple people that have already left. So be really mindful. So you don't need to be THE hero, but also remember there are not that many people left.

This note is kind of important: be careful. That, when we have these periods of big turnover, communication can break down very easily. You want to make sure that people know what you're doing, because there is going to be a lot less output. Metrics aren't going to be met. And so, even if people don't see the results, they need to see where have you been spending your time. The worst thing is if somebody thinks you're watching TV at work.

All of the advice so far has been pretty general. I'm not a psychologist, or I'm not an HR expert. They can probably give you a lot better advice for those kinds of things. I can give you these few points of advice as a junior going through these periods, and they are the following points: noise versus signal.

So even though your company may feel like it's crumbling, are there any external indicators that everyone's missed -- that everything is missing, and especially yourself? One thing at a time I was watching our stock price versus our competitor's, and I thought the competitor's are going up, up, up, and we're going up by not by so much. I thought that was a really bad sign. What more seasoned colleagues of mine were looking at was that we were profitable.

Some other companies, maybe that wasn't the metric they were trying to highlight to everybody, and so we were actually profitable, we were actually sustainable, and in the long term, you never know what monsters might be around the corner, so a year ago, you know, people were talking about a bubble, people were talking about economic downturn, but it seemed like a fantasy world, and now, we are very stable. We haven't had any layoffs, and the company is only talking about that we are okay, we had the big acquisition a couple of months ago by Ericsson, and seems we are well positioned for an economic downturn. When people start jumping, it is easy to see that as a signal that things are bad.

Really, sometimes, the grass isn't greener. Like I said, there are a lot of companies having layoffs right now, and I've sadly seen some former colleagues who have had to jump around a bit, and they join other companies, maybe there are other problems and other companies that they weren't aware of and that was a big lesson for me was that I was feeling the real pressure to jump through a big booming start-up where I would be able to jump the hierarchy a couple of ladders and title, and honestly, in retrospect, I'm happy I've found a more stable slow-growth place. So that is about noise versus signal.

If you take nothing else away from the whole talk, number two: hand over docs are everything! Handover docs are everything. All information should be universally accessible. As people are leaving, when they put their notice in, there is a tendency that there is a bit of a slow period, you want to be nice with them, you don't want to give them new assignments, you don't want to give them new assignments definitely. They probably want to finish out all of the projects that they've been assigned, also, that should not be the priority.

The priority number one by far should be making sure that they write up everything they've done in the company, every key decision they've been a part of, where that research was done, and making sure that is an accessible knowledge bank. We use Confluence. Make sure it is there. Chasing Word Docs and Google Slide, hearsay, trying to find archive channels in Slack, it is the biggest nightmare, and the worst thing ever.

The number-one rule there should be for handover docs is after your job after you should use the docs as a training guide. That for me is like the gold standard. Please, please, remember that. Even if you're not in one of these situations, I think every company needs to have a standardised handover process, and this would just save so many headaches. Lastly, prepare to train your manager. You might have to train your manager. I kind of had to. A lot of people in my team had to train their manager when they came on. They didn't know the product. They came in, one situation they came in for a position, they arrived to the first day at work and ended up taking the position above them.

So think about the questions: what are the resource s they need to do to do their job effectively? What are the training materials they need to know? The selfish part you get by doing the background work is you can push them in wherever you want to see the department, or the team, or the company go.

And, if you do your homework, you can become really influential, and remember first impressions are really big, so, if you come in prepared with all that information, all those resources I've set up, make it easy for them to join the company. They're going to remember, and they're going to continue to lean on you. And so here was if you train, and you're doing the things ahead time that you can take care of, you will be even stronger in the future once the team is replenished with employees. In conclusion, like Scooby-Doo, you've got this. You pup the mask off, it's just a bunch of annoying task you've got to get on with. Be the meddling kid. Monsters are in your head. What is the reality of your situation.

If you decide to stay, do not get stuck going in circles commiserating, and you know, feeling de pressed all the time. Don't waste time, but this is a big one. It's really easy that every time there is another bad news, there is another person leaving, that everybody gets together, and they just wallow in their misery. Do not do that. Unify, like a Transformer, all of the pieces together to become one super hero and be that manager by committee that you need. Use this time to make it a big opportunity. You really can push Europe career.

In our company, we had a few people who changed positions, got promotions, and honestly, we got acquired. I'm happy, I got a new position. Things can be really good. And your story arc can go squiggle, squiggle, squiggle, and up to the right like we all want. Thank you, everybody. If you want anything, I'm here.