Cloudflare & the Brittany Peach

Lola Oguntokun
8 min readJan 16, 2024

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Last week, Brittany Pietsch, uploaded a video to TikTok of her being laid off from her role as a Mid-Market Account Executive at Cloudflare.

As the video begins, Brittany sets the scene letting us know she and her co-workers had received 15-minute calendar invites all day and her “work bff” attended their meeting and got laid off. So Brittany knew what was coming and decided she’d stand up for herself since she had nothing to lose.

The call was attended by a member of the HR team, Rosie, and a “director man”, as Brittany describes him. We come to learn his name is Dom. Brittany has never met either of these people before, which is pretty sh*tty considering what happens next.

“director man” Dom jumps straight into it and lets Brittany know she is underperforming and will be let go. Brittany cuts him off and defends herself. “director man” Dom is clearly taken aback and struggling to manage the conversation. Here comes HR Rosie, trying her best to make Brittany feel heard. Ultimately, it’s clear a decision has been made higher up and Rosie and Dom have a job to do.

I don’t agree with confidential meetings being recorded and shared publicly. It’s a breach of contract. I feel it is unprofessional and I’m not sure it necessarily made Brittany look as much the victim as she’d hoped. Not in my eyes, anyway. There was a sense of entitlement and privilege in her communication that was difficult for me to ignore, and the fact is, though she told Rosie and Dom they are ruining people’s lives, I have a feeling Brittany will be just fine.

Although I don’t agree with the video, Cloudflare will take away some big lessons from the approach they took.

Managers should own Hiring & Firing

The manager should have been on this call and leading the conversation. Even if you don’t agree with the decision the business has made, you brought this person in, you should be there on their way out. It’s not fun but it’s part of the job of being a manager. You don’t get to only do the fun bits. Sorry!

Brittany mentions her manager and director don’t know what’s going on. The reality is, even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to tell her without prior permission or agreement with whoever has signed off this action.

We don’t really know why the manager wasn’t on the call, so let’s explore some other possible reasons:

  • They genuinely were not aware of what was going on, and if this was the case, they were likely laid off too.
  • The manager is embarrassed about the decision because they don’t agree with it and have asked “director man” and HR to lead and own the call.
  • The calls were split across management and HR due to the number of people being laid off.
  • The manager didn’t feel equipped to handle the conversation.
  • The manager found the team member to be difficult, knew something like this would happen and decided to step back.

The most likely scenario is that it was decided at an executive level that HR and “director man” individuals would own these layoff conversations.

Dear managers, do not hire people if you can’t fire them, especially at the times you don’t agree with the firing. In this situation, the team member is looking to you for support of any kind. You should be there to provide it. Whether it’s apologies, the promise of a good reference, or giving the individual an opportunity to vent… whatever it is, it is your duty as the manager to be there and face it.

This is a really uncomfortable and scary moment for the person being fired, sit in it with them. It’s the least you can do. If you can’t do this, don’t be a manager. If your company doesn’t empower you to be able to do this, leave.

Managers should lead and own these kinds of calls, and HR should be there to witness and manage the admin side of the offboarding.

Tell the truth and have the data

Another reason why this video is a hard watch is because of the reason cited for firing. The out-of-touch CEO of Cloudflare has since claimed these cutting exercises are normal, if this was the case why was Brittany so shocked? People should be informed about decision-making cycles as part of the interview process.

So “director man” Dom states underperformance as the reason, yet is unable to give any specific detail on the call. Unbelievable. Who advised this business? Businesses do not let people go like this without seeking advice. It’s possible a member of HR asked, “But what if they ask for details?”… and a lawyer said, “It doesn’t matter, we don’t have to be more detailed than that.” And it’s true. Brittany mentions she’s been in the organisation only 4 months. It’s unlikely she has any real legal rights as an employee. In the UK, you’d need to be an employee for a minimum of 2 years to be able to fight something like this.

Considering the amount of time invested in interviewing and convincing that person to join, shouldn’t at least 10% of that time go into giving details when it is time to let the person go? Especially if they ask for it. And this is where Brittany’s conclusion becomes valid.

Brittany believes this is a cost-cutting exercise, and not really about performance. Both scenarios are likely true, with cost-cutting being the primary driver. When costs need to be cut, reducing the workforce is the quickest way to do it. It is possible Cloudflare decided to use performance metrics to decide who to keep. Cloudflare also probably don’t want to be seen as another company making people redundant, so the performance excuse works well in this regard.

Now, I also had to ask myself, “But is Brittany a good performer?” There’s no way to know without seeing more info about KPIs and the number of deals she was expected to close in her time at Cloudflare. However, I found it interesting that she was more focused on activity and felt this was enough reason for her role to not be in jeopardy.

source: Geckoboard

Now we all know… in Sales, the deals closed and revenue generated determine your performance. Activity is an indicator of effort only, and even then, high activity does not necessarily mean quality activity. So it is possible that Brittany was not doing as well as expected for someone at her experience level and on the salary she was on. Yet she hoped her activity would buy her time to get contracts signed. Who knows! I’m playing devil’s advocate. I’m just pointing out we currently only have one side of the story, and that’s Brittany’s. We won’t get the other.

Hire more empathetic people

Thank goodness HR Rosie was on that call. Left to “director man” Dom, that call would have been an even bigger disaster. This conversation shows a greater need and emphasis on empathy when it comes to hiring people and putting people in leadership positions.

I feel there is more of an emphasis on HR having to constantly coo at people, and everyone else can be cold and savage. As we hear from “director man” Dom’s communication style, being a leader is more about your ability to speak corporate than actually relate to people.

HR Rosie had to do her job and “director man” Dom’s. Promote HR Rosie, dammit!

I did feel for both of them though. They were completely caught off guard and were clearly just there trying to close off a task they didn’t particularly want to do.

Find better ways to elect managers

I want to go back to Brittany’s manager. Brittany claims all her meetings with her manager were positive, and he never once complained about her performance. She only received positive feedback and compliments about her work. Obviously, due to her manager not being present on the call, it’s difficult to know whether this is true.

But let’s take Brittany’s word for it. Is it possible that her manager isn’t good at giving constructive feedback? A lot of managers don’t zoom out regularly enough to look at the whole picture to see whether the right kind of progress is being made. Then all of a sudden, 6 months later, they realise the team member hasn’t been productive.

Many managers don’t see or face issues until it’s too late. The problem with this though is that it gives the team member a false sense of success.

There needs to be a better way of assessing someone’s ability to be a manager than how it often happens now, which is:

  • The person is a great individual performer;
  • The person talks a good game and is charming;
  • A combination of the two above.

The most common feedback I get from team members is that they don’t get enough regular feedback, and that they have to ask for it. Too many managers are too caught up in today’s tasks getting ticked off than helping their team members develop, grow and elevate what they do.

When businesses are focused on their people, their people are happier and perform better.

Conclusion

Layoffs are inevitable. Even a company with the best intentions will lay people off. Most people will get laid off once or more in their careers. Though it feels personal, it’s not. It’s business. Any and every job you take is taken at the risk of it not working out.

Nevertheless, this TikTok video should be a lesson to all:

  • Managers: Be more proactive in the development of your team, and create more meaningful and purposeful environments.
  • HR: Challenge the business more. Not only when it comes to firing, but hiring too. Growth in employee numbers is not an indicator of success. If revenue is not outpacing the growth, you should be concerned and voicing your concerns.
  • Leadership: If you don’t care about people, don’t lead them, don’t hire them. Leave them alone.

What are your thoughts on this? Who came out worse? Brittany or Cloudflare?

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Lola Oguntokun

I help build, shape and champion innovative companies and culture.