Grassroots Teams Help Sun Micorsystems
Raise Customer Satisfaction
Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational
Externalization, Change Management Key
Just Do It!
A Step by Step Overview ofa 1950's
Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's
Hope Is Where You Find It
by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a
Views for a Change
The Quality Tool I Never Use
Letters to the Editor
Calendar of Events
Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown
Elizabeth Hill, some might say, had it
all. Glowing performance reviews, respect from her peers
and superiors—in short, she was a golden girl. But
on December 2 of last year, her world and that of
hundreds of her coworkers came crashing down. The
facility was closing. Stunned, wounded and desperately
trying to make sense of the decision, Hill began a diary
which is excerpted here.
Elizabeth Hill is not her real name and the names of the
characters you meet here have also been changed. But her
story is real—in its authenticity and its
expression of what happens when an organization amputates
itself. Elizabeth Hill is allowing News for a Change to
follow her, via her journal, for the next months through
to the completed shutdown. A journey many of our readers
have taken and many may have to take in the new economy.
Our hope is that through Elizabeth’s eyes the
journey might somehow make sense or at least assuage the
turmoil, helplessness and anxiety one is bound to face in
December 22, 1998
I was out for the last two days (Friday and Monday).
Coming back in feels real bad. My energy is so low I feel
sleepy. I wonder again if I can make it through the year.
Sometimes, especially when I’m away from the plant,
I think in terms of “How can I prepare for this
great adventure?” but this morning the question is
Kristen Dreyer stops by, she is two months away from
retirement and it looks like she’ll make it because
her layoff notice was canceled (on her last day). She is
going to stay but she says that she really regrets
staying here so long and that she knew from the beginning
(1982) that it was a mistake.
When she finds out that I came in on Saturday to make up
for lost time during the week, Julie says that she wants
to take me to dinner because I am on my
autopilot-loyalty. She tries to remind me that the rules
have changed but this is really hard to hear.
Today is Maureen’s last day, sort of. She has back
surgery tomorrow and then goes on medical leave until
February 22th and then returns on the 23th and is
officially laid off.
There are so many layoffs scheduled within the next month
in this area of the office that it has been nicknamed
My boss has called several times looking for my resume,
so I work on it today. It just seems strange to be at my
desk, working on my resume, at the request of my boss.
Surreal, almost. I realize that I have no nice paper so I
go out and buy the most expensive kind that I can find. I
even buy expensive folders at $4.00 each and matching
envelopes and thank-you notes.
Called Rob Belvedere to ask for perspective because I
remember him talking about shutting down a plant. He
says, “It sucks but it doesn’t in a weird
sort of way. Odd mixture of fatalism and hope. The work
environment improves because we let go of all the petty
stuff. But we also hope for a reprieve right up to the
last moment, like death row. You don’t get to just
sit back, you’re actually doing four jobs because
every one else is quitting
The “Reserved For” signs have been removed
from the customers’ parking spaces.
HR sends out an announcement about references and
recommendations. Unfortunately, the attachment carries a
virus that none of us have the software for so we spend
all morning installing and de-bugging. When I open the
cleaned document, the first rule is “Tell The
Truth.” I’m thinking the first rule should
have been “Don’t send infected
We are having a Managers’ Meeting, where HR will
explain the different categories of people and the texts
for explaining to each person their category.
Basically, we have all been divided into different
categories: Stay, Go, Toss and Et al. The managers have
identified each of their employees according to category
and how long they need to keep them, and if they are
being (or should be) relocated within the company. To
start the complications, the managers were handed a
matrix that indicated the category for each person.
However, after review, they started noticing that there
had been changes and they were told that some were in
error and some were just changed.
To continue the complications, the plan shows that the
employees must make a decision about accepting a
relocation offer BEFORE they are allowed a visit to the
The scripts that are prepared for each option are
redundant and confusing and after much haggling, some
changes are made.
By my calculation, the managers have to fill out at least
six forms for each employee just to document the
notification conversation. One of the forms just
documents the conversation, basically “I understand
what category I’m in.” The paperwork seems
excessive, but when they question the wisdom, managers
are told heatedly by HR that “We can’t keep
talking about this—we have got to get it going!
These are the rules, now just go do it!” I think
that this is a little early in the process to be pissing
off all of the managers. The managers are initially
instructed not to let the employees have copies but that
changes during the meeting.
I notice the copy machine is still down after three
days—previously unheard of.
I think this is like preparing for a dive into an
underwater cave. Something that I have never done,
terrifying, fascinating and fraught with peril. I am
preparing my gear and my maps. What can I take? What do I
need? What will I see in all that darkness? Who will I be
when I come out the other side?
My friend Julie says that there is no situation that
cannot be improved by buying new underwear. I agree and
buy some with Winnie the Pooh.
So there, all of the announcements are out. Everyone is
asking, “What did you get?”
Mike is furious because he was asked to stay to the end
and he wasn’t offered any incentive. We were told
in the managers meeting that the incentive plan has not
been approved and that we are not allowed to discuss that
there is even such a thing and the penalty for discussion
will be removal of your incentive.
I go to a meeting on capital relocation—what a
nightmare. The efforts to do inventory are the definition
of redundancy because no one trusts anybody else’s
count. So, each production program and each department is
conducting inventories. For example, IS is counting all
of the PCs, office managers are also counting them and
each department is also counting them. When we asked
about using one count, we were told “Their forms
aren’t right” and “We need an
independent number.” So does this mean that our
records will show three times as much inventory? The real
funny thing is that all of this property was just counted
a month ago as part of year-end close-out.
We are running out of paper at the copy machines.
We are issued yet another virus protection software, the
second in two months.
The automatic message on people’s phones who have
left says, “You have reached the automated message
center. However, the mailbox that you have contacted is
no longer a subscriber.” What a great euphemism! We
use this all day long, as in “When does your
subscription run out?”
The raises will be late this year, but supposedly
We have a meeting with Edwin Brennan today. He is
placating, warm and sympathetic. His charts have a lot of
color clip-art cartoons showing the new product plan. He
tells us, “The future is positive because we have
so many contracts. We are in a growth mode and we need a
lot of good smart people to make this
happen—that’s you. We are going to be
awesome. The people that we’re asking to move have
exciting, long-term employment.”
I want to believe what he’s saying and he
doesn’t even seem like the evil bureaucratic
monster any more, but I keep hearing that Eagles song
“I’m Already Gone” in my head.
(“I’m already gone, and I’m feeling
strong, I will sing my victory song, because I’m
already gone”) I wonder if Ally McBeal were here
what song she would pick?
Later David Krikorian says, “The more he talked,
the less I felt like moving.”
The salt and pepper shakers in the cafeteria have been
replaced with paper packets.
Mark Hannon and Drew Stone made a big deal last week
about not taking their executive bonuses. The email that
followed referenced ‘this significant
sacrifice.’ Andy Irvin at the lunch table said
“Yes, poor Mark and Drew will have to scrimp to get
by on their measly $900K this year. How
I’m walking in the hallway, and Louis asks me
“What do you know today, Elizabeth?”
“Well, then you’re in charge!”
The bulletin boards are almost empty, except for three
farewell lunch announcements. These farewells have a
different tone than the ones we used to see for
retirements, which featured clip art of fishing boats,
palm trees and champagne bottles. They have taken down
the “Career Opportunities” and
“What’s New” sections.
Scott says that he’s taking one thing home every
day from now until March.
I think if they gave us another month, there would be a
lot less stuff to inventory.
No one walks fast around here anymore.
Sean is out sick again today, two days in a row, which
has never happened since I have known him.
Nick Alt is out again this week.
I get a letter promoting a seminar, “The Primary
Seminar on Managing Money,” that starts with
“Dear Mr. Hill: It has come to my attention that
you are about to make some of the most important
financial decisions of your life. We have chosen to close
your facility, and for many this action has created some
serious challenges. In making your decisions, are you
equipped with information?”
I feel that we need to somehow talk about what is
happening to all of us but I don’t know how to
start. I am struggling to find a way to do a great job
but I just can’t get my footing. I have been in
tough spots before, but this one is baffling. It’s
like I’m in one of those 3-axis astronaut training
devices that spin you around until you get control.
I had enough energy to complete my weekly report today, a
first since the announcement.
Janet tells me not to bring doughnuts for her anymore.
“I’m trying to lose weight. You know I
can’t interview all fat like this.”
The five key engineers from our department were offered
transfers and they all turned them down. This is when we
discovered that in all the paperwork, there were no
options for “Not Interested.”
HR says that it is a good idea that there is no salary
information in the offer letters because, “Some
people around here are spoiled and they just might have
to take lower salaries than what they’re used