ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

March 1999

Facing The Music In The Global Marketplace

Military Intelligence - Not An Oxymoron

Starting A Revolution Where Everyone Wins

The New Leadership Class

Let's Give Them Something To Talk About

by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
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Views for a Change

Sites Unseen

The Quality Tool I Never Use

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Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown

December 2, 1998
I am not on-site, so I asked Sean to share the news with Fred and Ned. I didn’t want to put him on the spot, but I felt that they deserved to know and I was going to tell them if he didn’t. They were shocked and subdued and asked all the right ‘data’ questions.

Edwin Brennan ran the meeting while our plant manager, Nick Alt looked on. His manner was energetic, smooth, confident and smug. He was escorted by security guards and there were state troopers in the parking lot. He got right to the point, stating that, “The most important thing is that we maintain our dignity,” and that he expected us to conduct “Business As Usual”. He said proudly that he had selected this option of the four (the other three involved keeping the plant open). Packages of information were distributed to the managers. We will be shut down by January 2000.

During the Question and Answer period after the announcement, one of the employees asks if this will affect her annual salary increase.

December 3
Now I’m back on-site at the funeral.

Dan Whalen (my boss) is firmly in denial or putting up a good front, which he doesn’t have to do with me but I play along. He talks about the opportunities that he has elsewhere and I realize that he will leave as soon as he can.

I take home a book that is property of the plant.

December 4
I have lost 4 pounds in four days

Paul Neff (pgm manager) proposes that we accelerate the shut-down by working people around the clock, two shifts of 12 for five on, five off. He refers to this as the 10-day week.

Brian Ward (QE) proposes solidarity in the form of a walk out.
I decide to make a mistake each day. I don’t feel like being perfect any more.

I remember all those management training seminars that told us to be tactful in times like these because “certain people will feel betrayed” and I realize now that I am one of those people and that I have been betrayed.

I wonder who will be the first to go and who will be the last to go.

I wonder how long the cafeteria will still operate.

I realize I know each piece of equipment in the plant.

As it turns out, there was an employee who was relocated and started on Wednesday. His first meeting was the shut-down announcement.

December 7
Shopping this Saturday seeing the ‘Going Out Of Business’ sign at a shop makes me wonder if we’ll mark down our inventory too?

Dan comes in and tells me that I have been assigned full-time to Changeover Team, along with Mike Settembrini. I am relieved because I think that it means that I will be here for the duration (if I want to).
I brought my CDs in today to play and it helps.

Dan announces at the staff meeting that the changeover team will be meeting twice a week and will consist of key people that will receive incentives to remain on board to shut the place down. He announces that Mike and I are the Ops reps on the team. He is excited with a sense of urgency and consistently reminds us that, “The clock is ticking.” He says, “Hold your heads high and show them (the company) the great job that we can do.” (I’m thinking that since they haven’t noticed by now) Rob Grueling tells me that he’s not worried about retaining key people, he’s just worried about keeping people, period. “As of Wednesday this place turned into a placement agency”
Chris Miller, facilities manager, is getting ‘covered up’ in calls from realtors.

I decide to blow off my performance review again. I’m too tired.

I think there are two types of people - those who ask “How ARE You?” and those who ask “What are you going to DO?”

We have 343 days to go - I think I’ll make one of those tear-off signs to help with marginality.

I call the hotline for the Employee Assistance Program and she asks, “What specifically is causing the work-related stress?”
When I respond with “They’re shutting down my plant,” she says “WHOA!” in surprise.

I buy two books at the bookstore - one about careers and one about sex.

December 8
Feeling pretty good driving in today until I see the patrol car in the parking lot. I am worried that there may have been an incident and then I feel even worse when I realize that it is just a part of the ‘extra security measures’.

Continued discussion on how to keep people at the site. Funny how the staff is now panicking about losing the people that they had just decided were worthless.

Pat Dreyer charts the grief cycle and circulates it so we can all mark an ‘X’ to indicate where we are. Proving once again that engineers can explain anything with a graph.

The lump-sum medical payout that was available to the group of people were notified that they would be released on 2/19 is substantial - 20 months equivalent. However, some of those people are needed now to replace the ones that are leaving. The trick is, if they agree to stay they lose the lump-sum. The managers are instructed NOT to discuss this with the employees.

December 9
OK, enough stalling - I need to do my review, already.

December 10
I finish my performance review, take my coffee in hand and head to the changeover meeting.

I do my calming-down exercises on the way to the changeover development meeting and I arrive calm and collected.
And it’s a good thing, because at the changeover development meeting, adrenaline is running high. Nick is more animated and excited than I have ever seen him - up in front of the room, waving his arms, talking fast. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had been that enthusiastic about keeping us open. Anyway, the tone is :
- run this like a program
- use performance measurements
- the key is to identify tasks

December 11
I notice different languages - some people call it shutdown, some call it changeover, some call it consolidation. You say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off!

The next meeting is with my boss, Dan Whalen and two other staff members, Mike and Chris. We are reviewing the Changeover Plan for completeness and assignments. We get through relatively well and then Dan says that we are still required to develop our indirect budget proposals for ‘99 and we all burst into laughter at the absurdity.

December 14
I wonder about my images today. Death? Murder? Moving? Panic? Project? Rebirth? Growth? What am I looking for?

I am still ‘doing something wrong’ every day and starting to look forward to it.

We were told that the entire staff (the entire plant) would be notified that we are “Announced Redundant” on Friday. This is a formal notification which, I think, means we could get a 60-day notice anytime. There are an increasing amount of rules about this and the Production Managers seem real frustrated. As they ask questions, Dan’s answers get short. The ground rules are supposed to be posted on Friday. However, it seems like the message was this:If people volunteer to take the layoff that are still needed, Dan’s answer is, “You tell them that we still have a job to do.”

We are still being requested to submit proposals for additional contracts - of course, now the work will go to the other sites.

December 15
We launch the 3-day event that involves people from the other plants. Their task: identify and assign the tasks to accomplish the transition by January 2000.

I am exhausted.

December 16
I am seeing a lot of new haircuts and new clothes.

I read the email notice which declares me ‘an oversupply skill’ and instructs me to read all the attachments carefully. Unfortunately, the attachments with the detailed instructions won’t open.

Oversupply? After everything it comes to that. This ‘Announcement’ means that from now on, they could come in at any time and give me my 60-day notice. Friday I was a gifted consultant and today I’m oversupply.

Meanwhile, up on the manufacturing floor, some of the associates that had been notified that they would be laid off have now been notified that the notices are rescinded. Their transfers to another plant were canceled because now they are needed here. The managers refer to this as ‘being saved’. The associates are joking about this with signs: Dear boss, please don’t save me!

December 17
The indirect budgets are in for 1999 and Engineering proposes a 31% increase.

Staff meeting canceled for today.

Our weekly Team Leader Development meetings are canceled.

Our monthly Quality meetings are canceled.

The notification yesterday explained the importance of volunteering for layoff and also stated that ‘key people’ will be needed for the duration of the layoff and these people will be offered a special incentive package.

Volunteering for the layoff is called “Self Appointment” and this activity is called the “Collaborative Layoff” program.At the end of the notice, “We thank you for your dedication and ask for your continued support to make the changeover of our business as successful a team effort as our past performance has demonstrated.” It seems we’re getting more kudos now that we’re being shut down than I ever remember seeing before.

December 18
I see Max from the dock and ask him ‘How’s it going?’ He shakes his head and says, “I’m hanging in there” When I ask, “What is your secret?” He smiles and says, “The Lord”. I say that that is a good secret.

When I walk past the nurse’s station to go to lunch, I see Wilma Dale who says ‘Come here and sit with me, Elizabeth.’ She is crying ‘Look at my hands.’ She has several sores and blisters, but the nurse is not in because her hours have been reduced to half-time. Wilma keeps saying ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I look at her hands and find the right sizes of bandages, and some alcohol wipes. While I fix her hands she tells me that she is hoping for a transfer and that everyone in her department is doing nothing all day except looking for work. She has been learning to create web pages on her own time and hopes to find work in that area. She says that ‘What I’ve always wanted to do is working on the PC, writing and publishing’. I realize that I have never heard her talk about what she really wants to do. I give her a collection of extra bandages to take along.

My friend Julie says that panic is a sign that people think that there is a way out. This is a reference to a study on rats that indicated that once they decided they had no options, there were no signs of panic.

December 21
I go to the printer at Megan’s desk and see Corey, a software engineer sitting by himself. I have never spoken to him before, and this is not his department so I wonder what’s up. I retrieve my papers and he asks, “Do things seem real strange to you right now?” “Yes, how about you ?” “Well, yes they seem very strange to me, but I think Edwin Brennan knows exactly what he is doing. This is all according to their plan.” I tell him that I’m not sure if I am comforted by that thought and we discuss which is worse, that we are all consumed with confusion and paranoia OR that there is a group that is carefully calculating and implementing this confusion. We mull it over and start to giggle.

March '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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