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Mass Tech Layoffs? Just Another Day in the Corporate Blender.

Silicon Valley, home of so many technological and workplace innovations, is rolling out another one: the unnecessary layoff.

After shedding over 260,000 jobs last year, the greatest carnage since the dot-com meltdown more than two decades ago, the major tech companies show little sign of letting up in 2024 despite being mostly profitable, in some cases handsomely so. In their words, the tech companies are letting people go to further the continuing process of aligning their structure to their key priorities, or “transformation” or becoming “future ready.” Behind these generalities, however, some tech companies are using what has hitherto been an extreme measure in order to engineer a short-term bump in market sentiment.

Investors are indeed thrilled. Meta’s shares are up over 170 percent amid its downsizing talk. And where stock prices go, chief executives will generally follow, which means it is not likely to be long before the unnecessary layoff makes its appearance at another publicly traded company near you.

These layoffs are part of a tide of disruption that is continually churning the work days in corporations everywhere. If you’ve spent any amount of time working at a company of pretty much any size, you’ll be familiar with what I call the resulting “life in the blender”: the unrelenting uncertainty and the upheaval that have become constant features of business life today. A new leader comes in, promptly begins a reorganization and upends the reporting relationships you’re familiar with. Or a consultant suggests a new strategy, which takes up everyone’s time and attention for months until it’s back to business as usual, only with a new mission statement and slideware. Or, everyone’s favorite: A merger is announced and leads to all of these and more.

Now, no business prospers by standing still, and there is no improvement without change. Course corrections, re-orgs and strategic pivots are all necessary from time to time. Technological changes continue to demand the restructuring of major industries. But over the last quarter-century or so, the idea of disruption has also metastasized into a sort of cult, the credo of which holds that everything is to be disrupted, all the time, and that if you’re not changing everything, you’re losing.

You can take courses in disruption at the business schools of Stanford, Cornell, Columbia and Harvard. You can read, on the cover of a leading business magazine, about how to “Build a Leadership Team for Transformation: Your Organization’s Future Depends on It.” And if it is the catechism of chaos you’re after, you can buy the inspirational posters and chant the slogans: Fail fast; disrupt or be disrupted; move fast and break things. Part of this, of course, is a product of the hubris of the Silicon Valley technologists. But part, too, is the belief that the fundamental task of a leader is to instigate change. It is hard to remember a time when there was any other idea about how to manage a company.

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