ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1999


Not So Common Sense

A Fresh Squeeze On Labor Relations

Toughening Up Today's Change Efforts

People Before Strategy: Four Types of Employees that Help or Hinder a Changing Corporate Culture

The Missing Link
Failed Mergers Linked to Poor Management of Workforce Issues

A Few Kind Words: The Importance of Positive Reinforcement

Tool Time
Assessing Management Tools


Turnabout Is Fair Play
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Diary of a Shutdown

May 12
I got in the office early to pack up. All my belongings are moving to a bigger office because of the promotion. No one is in yet. I take down the pictures from the wall, my books from the case, my coffee cup collection and it hits me hard. Soon I'll be taking these things away from here for good and the place won't exist anymore. I really don't want to leave. I have put too much of myself into this. Would I have done it if I knew? Will I ever risk this level of commitment again?

It's not even 7:00 yet and I have cried twice already. I don't know what my next job will be, but this will be a hard act to follow.

May 17
In so many meetings, I can hear the underlying conversation of every conversation. The uneasy dance goes like this:
Manager: "Will you do this task please?
Employee: "Yeah, sure, whatever."
Manager: "I hope you're not mad at me about this or anything else because I really need this done."
Employee: "I'll say yes right now because I don't have the energy to argue."
Manager; "Yes, I know, but I really need this done so please don't lie to me. What leverage do I have?"
Employee: "Well, I might need your recommendation, if I think you're going anywhere that I might want to go."
Manager: "You got it, but this is irritating to me because I used to just tell you what to do and not care."
Employee: "I don't want to burn this bridge, but for all I know you'll be gone tomorrow, and even if I don't have this task done, what can you do except to ask me again?"
Manager: "Yes, I know all this. And I also know that since I never took the time to connect with you on a personal level I don't have a leg to stand on. I'm a little pissed by this, too, because if I had known I would have been nicer to you."
Employee: "I don't care about this company anymore and I never did care about you."
Manager:" But I'm not going to waste any time on that now because for all I know you'll be gone tomorrow."
Employee: "Fine, now we're back where we started."
Manager: "Except for one thing. I can play fast and loose with the policy and give you notice right now if I want to."
Employee: "I know, and we're ready. Too much of that fast and loose stuff and we'll all walk out of here."
Both: "Let's not talk about it anymore. Let's pretend like we're getting work done."

May 18
The company that I'm interviewing with called me back! I know they're not the only fish, but I'm real glad they called.

May 20
Jeremy from facilities has the unenviable job of 'Furniture Broker'. He takes the incoming 'orders' from the raiding sites and fills them with the leftovers as people are leaving. Unfortunately, the raiding sites are getting impatient with this process and are now requiring furniture before people actually leave. So Jeremy ends up swapping old broken furniture with the good stuff that is currently in use. He tries to mitigate the fallout by telling us ahead of time. "Elizabeth, I'm just letting you know. Another site needs these chairs so I'm sending them out next week. But don't worry, I'm replacing them. Of course the others aren't very nice and they won't match, but at least you'll have the same amount."

I feel sorry for Jeremy because he has apparently had this conversation too many times already. I don't even ask how the other site could need the chairs, because they just announced reductions. I guess I should feel lucky or maybe grateful that I'm even getting replacement chairs for our conference room. I suddenly flash forward to the closing and wonder if I'll be doing business out of an empty office, sitting on the floor, answering calls from the pay phone outside?

May 21
I am dreading talking to the HR rep from the company I am interviewing with, Sandra, but the conversation is fun because as I talk about all the places I've worked and projects I've been involved with, I see how great it's been here.

She asks me after an hour; "So, you sound so happy and excited. Why would you want to leave?"

"My employer announced that we're shutting this place down and transferring the work to other sites."
"Oh, nooo!" sympathetically.

May 28
Adam Jones is irritated when I tell him that we need to call in Dan, who 'retired', to replace Clint Rogers, our only painter, who is leaving Friday. "I just don't like this, these guys think they can hold us hostage and they ask for all kinds of money. I don't like this. He better not…" and he trails off, shaking his head. This seems like wasted worry to me until Adam calls me back, almost triumphantly "See? I told you. He's trying to put the screws to us. He wants 30$/hr and 27.50$ is my rock bottom." Adam seems weirdly happy in a vengeful sort of way but I don't have time to think about it now because Clint leaves in four days.

I am sitting in my office, looking at my pictures that I haven't hung up yet and thinking. Ned Taylor pokes his head in, something he's done only one other time, and that was twelve years ago on my birthday. "Got a minute?"

Thinking - Oh no, what's wrong now; "Sure, for you, take all the time you want."
Leaning forward, lowering his voice conspiratorially, "Hey, you need a painter?"
"You know I do-" I start to tell him the story, but he nods to show that he has already heard all about it.

"I know a guy, Elizabeth, he's good as can be and right as rain, too. Won't nothin go wrong with Ray running the show back there. I told him about you and he'll do the job for 20. I got his number if you want it."
"I'll take it."
And I do, and I call, and two days later I have a new painter. Wow. What is going on here?

And to top it all off, he is faster than the last two guys who had 10-plus years of experience.

Bonjourno, the local Italian restaurant, has become a favorite for the farewell events, if we can be allowed a favorite. The food is typically served decorated with little red paper flags on wooden toothpicks. The engineering department has been saving these from each lunch and sticking them into the partition along the border hallway to the department. It looks like a little battlefield or a miniature graveyard, all those bloody flags frozen in a waving pattern.

June 2
I answer questions on the phone for an interview, with the firm I might be interested in. I had all my material prepared but I refuse to practice for interviews anymore. I have a list of '50 Most Often Asked Questions' but when I look at them I can't stay focused because I'm reading the answers that I wrote the last time and it all looks like it was written by another person.

I ask about the environment and they use phrases like 'self-starters' and 'sink or swim', which I know are code words for 'dog eat dog'. I'm tired of being on the menu.


June 4
There are so few of us on site that the toilet lids are still up and the water is still blue at 1:00 in the afternoon. Someone will figure this out soon and cancel the janitorial service and then we'll be at the other extreme.

June 9
I arrive on schedule for my interview at 12:30 and wait until 2:00 for the first interview. Things go downhill from there. The consultants are detached, clinical, burnt out and clearly have not read my resume or even given thought to any generic interview questions. No one asks about my family, my interests, my wants, dreams, desires. Not even my calling. I am disappointed and I resolve never to hire them much less work for them.

One of the consultants described 'Hotelling' to me. They no longer have any assigned office space. When they know that they will be in, they call a central number and make a reservation. Then, when they arrive on the designated day, they look in a general area of cubicles until they find the one with their nameplate on it. Through the reservation system, their file cabinet has been rolled over to the cube and there is also a phone waiting. I realize that 'Hotelling' is more than office space, it is also the way that they run these interviews and the way they work with the clients. Call ahead. Fly in. Shut down a plant. Fly out. No attachments. It seems safe to me but it also seems cold.

June 14
Jill calls and I can't believe it - our new painter failed his drug test. I ask about the possibility of a retake and HR gets huffy: "We don't do that for our own people, why should we do it for him?"

Gee, I don't know, maybe because WE LAID-OFF EVERYONE ELSE, YOU MORON!

October '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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