Doing is NOT believing.

A company that I do some consulting for started a large reorganization today…which of course really just means they started axing people left and right.

For the most part, given the current economy and what (little) I know about their industry and business models, this didn’t really surprise me.

OK, actually it surprised me in the timing, who they chose to chop, and the rapid announcement/enforcement. But the overall action of it didn’t surprise me.

It’s a tough time and companies are streamlining wherever and however they can.

What I really didn’t get though - and what has been somewhat of a reoccurring theme in almost all the medium to large scale businesses I’ve been a part of - is how the company can do such and action and yet continue to try and give lip service to how much it cares about it’s employees, how valuable they were, and how much they will be missed (etc. etc. etc.).

They also always try to spin it to the people that are staying as a positive thing…an action that will help the company move in the ‘right’ direction and get 'better’ over time. But they never really share specifics, and they never really share a detailed vision or plan.

Trouble is, all the employees know the specifics of the bad side of the coin…they know so-and-so worked for the company for 20+ years. They know how many late hours the person put in, how hard they worked, how much they cared…and they now know the company had no trouble kicking them to the curb at the first sign of trouble.

So what kind of conclusion do you think people jump to from knowing these sorts of facts? What sort of loyalty have you just instilled in your remaining staff? How many are still going to be willing to go to battle, to bleed, sweat, and shed tears for the company’s success?

What’s worse in these mid-to-large sized companies is that, in almost all cases, the ones delivering the news really don’t have any specific information they can share…it’s decisions, cuts, and a company line that for the most part has been handed down. They can either pretend to buy in themselves and pass it along…or they can get to getting. Guess what most people choose to do?

I guess what I find most perplexing about it all is, it really shouldn’t be all that hard to share the facts. Believe it or not, most employees of a given company WANT the company to succeed. And yes, they want to buy into the company line. After all their lives sort of depend on it – and really they spend the bulk of their lives in and around it.

So selling a new vision - giving a new story - shouldn’t be that hard. Just make sure you give some facts, some real insight.

When you cut a specific person, take the time and energy to explain how the company came to the decision. Everyone knows there’s a reason you picked X instead of Y…might as well make it clear.

Think about it this way…if you and Bob are both working for a company that is going through cut backs…Bob has been there 4 years longer than you…and they decide to cut Bob.

How do you feel when they say, “we really appreciate the work that Bob did and he’ll be sorely missed. Still we think it’s time to move on and wish him the best of luck in the future - we know he’s going to go on to do great things!”?

If you’re a normal person, you probably feel a little relieved that it wasn’t you (after all, you were sure you were going to be cut as the least tenured team member)…but you’re also a little bitter, because damn Bob was a nice guy and he did do a lot of work for a lot of years for the company. Are they going to just chuck you on the street too?

Now, what if the company chose to present the real story:

“We’ve had to cut $50,000 from our developer budget - and that meant trimming our staff down by at least one developer. After much deliberation, project planning, and number crunching, we’ve decided the best way to get back into budget was to let Bob go.

But I want to be clear to everyone that it was a tough decision - we have valued all the work that each of you has done over the years, including Bob.

And because you’ve all worked so hard and given us so much throughout the years, we feel that we also owe you some insight into how we came about making this tough decision.

What we did was review our current projects needs as well as the expected needs moving forward, and balance them against our staff salaries. With this in mind, we worked through scenarios for each employee, what gaps would be created and what business would be put on hold (or plain lost). In the end we felt the business would suffer the least in the long term, and be in the best position to avoid going through this process again, from this decision.”

Even better - if the managers who are remaining, and who are taking over team members, really want to win over their new team members…they could augment this email with specific positives about each employee that stayed and why it helped them to make the 'keep’ list. (ie. because of your deep understanding and involvement in Project X as well as your great peer review reports, we felt you were someone we just had to keep).

Sure it takes a lot more time…but I think it builds (or rather mends) a big part of the relationship…and if nothing else, the employees that stay will know you aren’t just B.S.'ing them…they’ll have specific things about their performance they know you value (and most will actually start to focus even more on improving those at least for the sort term to become even more valuable)…

I don’t know…it just seems like a no-brainer to me…and yet it never seems to happen (I actually do think it happens in small companies a lot more and it’s another reason small companies can survive these things so much better – oh and it’s also just another reason why I’m a 'small company’ type of employee.)

Oh and in case you are wondering…so far I do still have a contracting gig with the company (go figure)…of course I may not now that I’ve gone and posted this mess of a ramble! Ah well, you live and you learn :-)

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

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