Posted tagged ‘layoffs’

A beacon

October 14, 2010

As shocking as this may seem, every once in a while I run out of something sarcastic or smarmy to say.  Fortunately, when that happens, there are a few “shining” examples of Leadership Done Right to fill in the gaping void…

So if any of you have not heard of Tony Maglica or Mag Instruments, you are missing out.  Mag Instruments is the maker of Maglite flashlights, based in Ontario CA.,  and Tony is their founder and CEO.  He founded the company in 1955, after saving up $125 to buy a lathe.  That’s amazing enough, but add to that he is STILL running the company and they employ 850 employees!


But here’s the best part:  Tony and his company are the ONLY manufacturer of flashlights who make their product in the United States and employ U.S. workers.  He is passionate about his team of workers and is willing to sacrifice some profit to keep them employed instead of sending their jobs elsewhere.  I believe part of that last sentence deserves a rewind:  He is willing to sacrifice some profit… 

Let’s be clear also – during the economic downturn, Tony had to let some folks go.   Tony’s not a saint; he’s just a leader that cares about his employees and sees them as an inextricable component of what his company makes.

Next time I need a flashlight, I know what I am getting.  How about you?

Here’s Tony’s story… 


The ramp and the cliff

September 2, 2010

I will be finishing up a rather long assignment at one of my clients on September 30.  They managed to get funding, in these relatively tough budget times, for the first quarter of their fiscal year that started in July.  That’s part of how I know September 30 will be my last day.  The other part of how I know is because they had the decency and professionalism to tell me IN JULY!  How excellent!  I was able to reach out to some former clients and let some folks in my network know I would be winding up an assignment in a few months.  And guess what?  I have another project that will ramp up in September while I am winding down at my current client and then go full bore when October rolls around.  I am very grateful that I was given a heads up so I could make some plans for my future.

May I ask one simple question?


I will tell you.  I have this sneaking suspicion that if I were an employee and not a consultant, this same classy, professional client might have called me in an office on September 29 (or 30th for that matter) and said, “we’re sorry but today is your last day here.”   I am sure that, among other justifications for this, a “severance package” that would make sure I was paid for a month or two would be included in the rationale.  But of course, we all know that none of that mitigates the shock, shame, and inability to react quickly to find something new that typically ensues.


Since I was told in July, I have continued to:

  1. show up every day
  2. work as hard as I was working before I was told (please inject smarta$$ comments about my work ethic here…)
  3. collaborate with employees who will still be there on October 1 on transition plans
  4. adjust my workload so that I don’t take on any major initiatives or make promises I can’t personally keep

I lied.  I have another simple question:   As an employee, wouldn’t you do the same??  If you were told your job was being eliminated 2 1/2 months into the future, would you still show up every day?  Would you work hard?  Would you help with a transition plan?

Am I the only one who thinks the vast majority of employees would do exactly that, and also leave that last day with their heads held high and with no malice in their souls?

After incident after incident of disgruntled former employees wreaking havoc after surreptitiously being let go, doesn’t anyone want to consider why that might be?  I know I have said this repeatedly, but people are remarkably perceptive.  When you treat them as if you expect them to behave in the worst possible way, why should you be surprised when they do?

Without any statistics at my fingertips to back this up, I have to believe that literally millions of jobs have been lost in the past ten years alone.  Isn’t it about time someone tried to re-introduce dignity and professionalism back into that already painful process???

Hello darkness my old friend

August 26, 2010

Everyone says that when a company has to reduce their payroll, usually through the standard progression of voluntary separations, early retirements and finally layoffs, they create a culture of fear.  One of my clients has had to let a few folks go recently, and as I watch the process unfold yet again, I don’t agree that’s what gets created.

I think a culture of fear comes from people like Josef Stalin or the Khmer Rouge.  If I wasn’t sure whether:

  1. my neighbor was a paid informant who might rat me out to the secret police
  2. I could be dragged out of my home in the middle of the night and end up in a Gulag or a Killing Field

THAT would induce genuine fear, at least in me!

Rather, I think that layoffs and the threat of more layoffs induce a culture of silence.


What is the one thing that almost all layoffs have in common these days?  It’s that the reason why one person stayed and the other was let go is never explained.  And, as you all know by now, that’s a directive from legal and HR.  If you don’t tell someone who is an “at will” employee any reasons why they were terminated, it’s harder for them to contest the layoff.  So it’s never clear to them, or anyone else, just what exactly they did, or didn’t do, to become one of the “chosen ones.”  Were they paid too much compared to their teammates?  After all, this is about cost-cutting.  Were they less productive?  Less well-liked by their peers or manager?  Troublemakers?  Not the sole wage earner in the household??  Who knows??? 

This encourages the remaining employees not to be fearful, but rather to be cautious.  And how do they act out their caution?  Through silence.  In big staff meetings, no one does anything but agree with the executive running the meeting anymore.  No one asks any questions at all, no less a controversial one.  Everyone just clams up, assuming that the less they share about themselves, their personal situation, how they view their work environment, or what ideas they have for improvements, the safer they will be.

And who can blame them?


In Sickness and in Health

March 18, 2009

An interesting thought occurred to me this week.  I mentioned in a previous post that, pretty much no matter what you do, your employees will never tell you directly that they are thinking of leaving.  And in boom times, this may be the number one thought keeping you up at night as a manager of really talented people who are in great demand.  But wait, you think to yourself!  These are not boom times.  Ha Ha!  I have the upper hand.  They are “lucky to have a job!”  And so you relax, thinking that this is your vacation from a retention strategy.  And how wrong you would be…

This is, instead, an opportunity.  Because you have all hated it when times are really good, like in 1998 when average-skilled java developers would saunter into my office, tell me they had a job offer for 100k to write java code (no lie!) and you would be powerless to match that (or crazy, either way…)  So your opportunity is to break the cycle of leverage.  Face it.  It’s easy to pay attention to the needs of your beautiful blushing bride or your young studly husband.  But the first time they get sick and are laying in YOUR bed and infecting it with who knows what, you really want them to go away.  And typically, the only thing that makes you tough it out is the hope that, if you get sick, they will treat you with care rather than a mixture of disdain and quarantine.

So rather than remind your employees, through your words, actions or inactions that they are “lucky to have a job” why not coddle them just a bit the way you would if you were really desperate for them to stay around.  Maybe, just maybe, when the next boom comes, the line outside your door will be very short indeed…

Retention Bandaids

December 22, 2008

How many companies or organizations do you know of that proudly state, “Our people are our most important asset” every chance they get? Quite a few, I bet. How many of them genuinely behave that way? If you’ve traveled some of the same roads I have, you may find the answer to be “not many…”

Why is that? Do you think that company executives don’t believe that statement at all? Do you think they have another asset hidden away somewhere that they don’t talk about that really is more important? I don’t. I think most executives really believe their people are their most important asset. They just don’t know how to put that belief into practice.

This is a perfect example of Peter Senge’s fifth discipline, Systems Thinking, not being put into action. To effectively treat your employees in a way that convinces them how valued they are (because remember, it’s THEIR perception, not YOURS, that matters…) you have to delve into root cause and effect relationships. Many executives are afraid to do that, because:

a.  They will hear things they would rather not hear.
b.  They believe all root causes will come down to compensation and they are certain they can’t afford or justify that level of investment, so what’s the point?

The reality is not actually that scary once you set your ego aside. My experience, along with many conversations I’ve had with extremely valuable employees, tells me that you can go a long way toward creating that belief system by doing the following:

  • At reasonable intervals, invest in something that clearly ONLY benefits employees.
    and not the business as a whole or the management team. That could be an investment in equipment or facilities targeted toward a common gripe that employees have (uncomfortable office furniture, an important missing benefit, or better internet bandwidth perhaps) or free pizza on Fridays. If you are worried you can’t afford a big investment, just about anybody can afford 10 or 15 pizzas and a few liters of coke.
  • Make sure there are no implied or subtle strings attached to the gesture.
    I hate to tell you, but when you buy pizza for people who work late, they don’t think you’re being caring, they think you’re trying to placate them to avoid paying them overtime.
  • Offer employees the opportunity to work in small teams on improvement or morale projects.
    Don’t force them to do it. Don’t make them do it on their own time. And for God’s sake, when they come to you with a few suggestions, make sure you implement at least one, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Be intensely and acutely aware of hypocrisy.
    Your employees already are. It’s understood and accepted that some ‘perks’ come with being a leader in an organization; a bigger office, maybe mileage reimbursements, and perhaps more latitude with expense accounts, etc. But there’s a fine line between that and inadvertently creating a ‘caste system’ that will unintentionally create a gulf between you and your staff. When you’re about to do something that benefits just management, just you, or just the business, ask yourself (or a trusted employee!) how it will be perceived by others.
  • OK – here’s the big one.
    If you read carefully, you’ll notice I DIDN’T say that this ISN’T about compensation. I don’t care what all the industrial engineers and HR consultants in the world say about employee motivation, most people I know work to support themselves and their families. An extra ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year DOES matter. They won’t compromise their ethics, their spare time, or work in an unbearable environment for a few extra bucks, but they sure as heck will go work at one of your competitors if they think that everything else is more or less equal.

So here’s what happens. Your best folks are constantly being solicited by competitors or other organizations. You can pretend (see bullet a above) that isn’t happening, or you can acknowledge it and deal with it.

Here’s how ineffective leaders deal with it – they wait til one of their best people gets an offer from a competitor. In a panic they decide whether to make a “counter offer.” For a while, due to inertia and instant gratification, that might work (nice bandaid!) but what you’ve really said to the employee is, “I was underpaying you for as long as I could and hoping you wouldn’t try to find out what you’re really worth on the open market. Now that you know, I’ll pay you a competitive wage… won’t you please stay with us? We love you.”

So what is the alternative to the last bullet?

At a minimum, have quarterly market-based compensation discussions in groups with your employees. Ask them what they are hearing “on the street” about what certain roles in your geography are being paid. Be certain that similarly experienced and capable employees are roughly in the same compensation range. Be ready to make adjustments if you find a glaring inequity. Do it over time if you have to.

You’d be surprised at how patient employees can be if they think you are genuinely trying to right an injustice. Your reward for this will be that you won’t have to tell anyone that your employees are your most valuable asset ever again. Your employees will tell them…