ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

August 1999

Articles

Ford Takes Road Less Traveled

Vancouver, Washington: Making Room for Double

Weathering The Storm



Columns

Conference Calling
by Peter Block


Features

Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change

Pageturners



Columns

Conference Calling
by Peter Block


 

Diary of a Shutdown

April 2
Dan Whalen has an interview with a local company that is privately held. He asks me an hour's worth of questions about how to approach this, what types of questions and how to judge company openness. He wonders about benefits and I remind him that that is the last thing to ask about, if at all. Get them in the net, in the boat, before you ask about benefits.

It doesn't seem weird anymore to be coaching my boss on how to get a new job.

The cafeteria is barely worth it these days. Today's offering featured one line, with burgers and fish squares and some leftover pie.

We are struck by yet another computer virus. This one takes out our entire e-mail system.

April 5
The Quality Manager is trying to pull his schedule ahead because he anticipates people leaving.
His department is leaving because they know he is going to pull the schedule ahead and try to dump more work on them.

Well, they did it. There is now a restriction on the size of e-mails that I can send out. Now have tear apart e-mali huge report into tiny pieces and send them, where the receiver meticulously pieces them back together again.

Thanks for improving my efficiency again!

April 8
Well, I celebrated the 100 days by not being at the plant.

I couldn't face the empty cafeteria this morning so I got coffee at the Stop-n-Go. It was nice to have good coffee and lots of choices. I picked a jelly doughnut instead of my usual bagel and fruit and I liked it.

I am cheered up. Is this is a sign that there are new things that I will find after all this that I'll actually like? No, it's just a jelly doughnut. But maybe that's enough.

The SMC123 program is starting to have supplier problems because they know we're closing, so they're not worrying about the schedule. The sad part is that one of the key suppliers is a sister plant and we're already dead as far as they're concerned. Maybe they're right, we've lost our key engineers and our lead buyers are gone, too. But we still have a contract to deliver.

I get e-mail lifting the size restrictions on e-mail. They should have sent an apology.

A notice comes out asking about a 'missing' scanner from the engineering department. We've really cracked down on people trying to take staplers, but I guess it's open season on the good stuff!

An accepted part of everyone's job is now finding a job. The constant details are tiresome for at times, but I really enjoy the discussions about future hopes and dreams and wishes.

April 13
Our conversations have shifted in content and tone. Meetings are more volatile now, breaking into hilarity or threats at a moment's notice. Individual conversations are much more personal. My questions to Adam, the engineer, about technical failures led to deep disclosure on his part about growing up in Chicago and his feelings about moving to the Midwest.

Tony Jordan gets so upset at the production meeting that his face turns red and he jumps up and leaves the room. I wonder for a moment if he is having a heart attack and I'm just about to go after him when he returns.

I have decided that rage is not a phase to get through or a step to be taken, but an attribute to be cultivated. I went to every conference room and threw away all of the vision statements that we used to start each meeting by reciting, in unison, like a prayer before each worship service for the almighty.

April 15
We had the quarterly all-staff meeting today. They had set up additional chairs, which weren't needed because attendance was sparse, even with the latecomers, there was only about 100 people in the room.
Edwin Brennan is very subdued and formal, and attempts to warm up the audience by relating some lame story.
No one laughs or even nods and it seems like the whole room is holding breath.

He notices this response and moves right to his charts showing that everything is 'Right on track and on schedule.' Then he follows with the downsizing chart, a series of bars like steps down into a grave and says that he is pleased that "We are ahead of schedule on this one, because it means that you people are finding good jobs and that's great."

But I know that it is not great. Many people are taking lousy jobs in desperation, retiring, and just plain quitting.

Then, in what I think was an effort to reassure the group about the stability and health of our division, he shows a chart that he summarizes with; "So, as you can see, we're in great shape because we're looking at accomplishing about a 30 percent increase in sales with an overall 32 percent reduction in headcount and 45 percent reduction in facilities."

Once again I hate listening to how well the company is going to do without us.

The entire room sucks in a breath and David Krikorian from the back o f the room leans back in his chair and booms out confidently; "With all due respect, nobody here gives a flip about the company and how well you're doing." Suddenly the room is whispering then buzzing.

Edwin's temper says back; "That's fine with me because I don't really care what you think, either. I don't have to come down here and waste my time with you but I do think that there are people who do want to hear about the company. Show of hands - who wants to hear more about this?"

No one moves a muscle.

He continues; "Okay, fine. Anyone who doesn't want be here can just leave and get out right now," but he self-corrects in midstream and ends up with; "Well, what do you want to talk about?"

David again; "We want to some answers about the transition and what's going to happen with us."

Impatiently again; "I thought there was a communication plan in place. I thought you had that information." Looking around pointedly; "Was that wrong? Nick? What's going on here?"

Nick (plant manager) steps into the fray, all smooth and placating; "Yes, we are communicating, yes, we do have a plan. I had two 'Chat With Nick' sessions this week and out of 75 invitations, less than half of them showed up. Hard to communicate under those conditions. You want to talk about the transition? Let's talk about it. What are your questions?" He is all warmth and concern, playing the good sport in front of his boss, showing Edwin how reasonable he is with all of us.

Jennifer says; "The people that got laid off first got the best deal because they got the full severance package and they didn't yet yanked around on their dates. We're frustrated because we're trying to pick up all this work that we're not trained to do and we're doing it in addition to our other jobs, too."

Edwin has had enough at this point; "I keep trying to tell you that business conditions forced us to make this decision. It had nothing to do with your competence. But we could have come in here in and closed the place in a month. We could just go ahead and do that now, for that matter. That's one way to end all this frustration, just come in and shut you down next month."

On that note the meeting ends.

I tell a colleague about how an entire meeting changed with one comment, right before my eyes. She reminds me, "We have more power than we know."

April 19
The going away party Friday was subdued and quiet. Katie left after about 30 minutes without drinking anything. No one talked about their next job or even reminisced, just small talk. Somehow this seemed sadder than the parties where everybody gets real drunk and upset.

I still don't know if I'm getting that promotion or not. I joke about being the understudy, showing up at all of the meetings, learning all the lines, getting ready to step in at a moments' notice, but having no voice because the production diva is still in place.

April 20
This starts like every other Tuesday, with 3 hours of SMC123 meetings.
When I arrive, I'm in a pretty good mood, so I say hello and Joe starts; "What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at me?"
"No, just good morning, that's all."

I talk with Nick about bringing in an expert to help us stop self-destructing. Touchy conversation because he doesn't really think anything is wrong. I keep the request minimal and he agrees, as long as I coordinate with the rest of his staff, specifically the functional departments.

April 22
Dan flags me down and shows me the latest news. Nick Alt is being sent to the transfer plant and Paul Neff is taking his place as plant manager in addition to running the SMC123 program. Wow. Nick comes here, fails to get us more business, fails to defend us against the vultures, fails miserably at executing the shut down and he gets sent back home with a big promotion. So failure is success.

April 23
Well, it's official. Chris Janning is leaving. When I return from vacation I'll have that job. Production Manager of SMC123.

Another promotion.

August '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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