ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

December 1999


Back To The Future In 2000

Purpose, Planning and Preparing

Get In Touch With Your Emotions

No Gimmicks. No Frills. Just The Facts

Ritz-Carlton Again


What A Difference A Day Makes
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Diary of a Shutdown

August 1
The stress level keeps increasing, so I made a pitch today for stress management, explaining to Dan and Mike that my original model for us achieving some plateau of stress and then staying there was inaccurate. The stress has been steadily increasing and will continue to do so, that is the new model.

August 3
Today I took a big risk. It didn’t seem like any big deal until I saw how nervous my boss was. I presented a series of observations about stress and grief across the plant and a proposal. I told Paul Neff, the plant manager, the following: “Our assumptions that we would hit some sort of ‘stress plateau’ and then we could just lock on target and manage from there were incorrect. The stress continues to increase, linearly if not exponentially.”
I made the case that this is a healthy response. We are dealing with grief over losing our past and uncertainty about the future. The workload keeps increasing and the work content keeps changing.

“This shutdown is going to go on for a while yet. We need to realize that and generate activities and change some structures to accommodate, even support this increased stress level.

“We should offer the option to work flexible hours. It could help employees that are trying to take care of interviews, resumes and retirement decisions. It could help on checkups and all of those medical details that people have been putting off.

“We should offer some short courses on how to deal with all of the stress and confusion.

“We should look at bringing in an office masseuse once a week.

“We should think in terms of easy things to offer, like free coffee on Fridays and donuts on Mondays.”

I finish my presentation on time and ask for comments. Paul is excited, “This looks great. You can manage this. I like it. What else do you have?”

I am happy with this response, “That’s all today Paul, except of course we should continue the whole pizza lunch thing.”

“You got it. Go for it. And next time, I want you to think bigger.”

August 10
We are informed that For Sale signs will be going up soon and that we have 30 interested buyers.

So why are we putting up signs?

Large areas of the parking lot have been roped off because they are drilling through the asphalt to test the soil for development.

What if they strike oil?

I think this whole thing could be a great sitcom for a couple of years. People come and go, eventually everybody leaves, the last person turning out the lights, handing over the key or whatever.

Dan brings a caution to me from the executive staff meeting, “They heard about your proposal to Paul. They think that your ideas about stress and all that stuff are good, but they don’t want the expenses to get out of control on this. So, be careful.”

August 13
Paul canceled the pizza party for tomorrow, claiming that the cost was too high. He vaguely dismisses the rest of the proposal with, “We’re going to have to watch our spending real close from now on.”

I am so pissed off by this that I can’t talk about it, except to laugh when my friends start digging, “Hey Elizabeth, make mine with extra cheese, hey Elizabeth, let’s go to lunch,” and so on.
I cannot get to sleep tonight. I keep tossing around, imagining conversations with Paul. I am so mad about that pizza decision that scenes of revenge, declarations, threats and fantasies of walkouts dance in my head.

‘Twas the night before shutdown
And all through the plant
The computers were silent
The people were scant.

August 14
Wow 200 days today!! I made it! I deserve something special. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll find it!

As I get clearer about my next job, I know that I have got to stop looking internally, even though that is my reflex, because there is nothing here. To keep looking (although loyal) will only be disappointing. I have to stop trying to save this company that does not want to be saved.

August 16
At my next off-site training session, I want to talk with Lisa Feil our CFO. I call Lisa and Susan answers the phone; “Financial Services, may I help you?”

I explain that I am from the plant that is closing and that I am going to be in her neighborhood and I would love to meet Lisa and get her perspective on the company’s direction and if possible, a little career advice.

Susan seems taken aback; “Well, what an idea! For you to just pick up the phone and call like that, it doesn’t seem right for me to say no right away. So what do you do?”

“I am an engineer and the production manager for the SC 23. I have had the job for several months and we have broken production records each month.”

“Well, this is just the sort of thing that she might want to see. Are you coming here to train us on how to do that?”

She makes me laugh and I am somehow gracious, “No, but I am applying the concepts that I learned at your site a year ago. I am available at any hour, breakfast, lunch or dinner or just a hallway flyby.”

She takes my name and number and I dare to hope that I could talk to Lisa. What advice would she give?

August 20
Lisa Feil, our CFO, dissed me via her secretary, “We just think that this is the cutest idea, Elizabeth.”

“Cute is not what I was going for Susan, but thanks for trying. Could you recommend any other people that I could contact?”

She gives me three names and I start to pout. Someday Lisa Feil will want my autograph at my book signing and I’ll tell her, “Sorry, I can’t fit you in.” Someday, I’ll be lecturing to thunderous applause and she’ll line up to meet me but to no avail. I’ll show her.

I resolve not to even call the other three contacts. I’ll spend my extra time at headquarters talking to headhunters and that will be time well spent.

By 6:30, I am calmed down enough, so I call the other three contacts. Not only do they all agree to talk with me, but I also get invited to Joe Moran’s program review Friday morning.

August 24
Jill is stunned and tickled when I tell her about visiting Joe Moran. She does the little happy dance and gives me high-fives. “I know you, Elizabeth, I know how this is going to go.”
I am on my way to training at headquarters.

August 25
My trainers at headquarters are intensely curious about the shutdown and all that it touches. As I try to explain the widening circle (employees, families, suppliers, customers, receiving sites, outsourcing), Anna sighs, “Wow, you should write a book. I remember when we shut down our line for just one day and then set it up in the building across the street. There was huge trauma and grief. I just can’t imagine what this must be like for you and everybody.”

Forget kindness, I love the sympathy of strangers. It seems more real, somehow.

August 26
The welcome is warm at the program review. A group of people surrounds me with introductions, asking me if I need a sponsor. Someone from the crowd says, “We fight over guests here, we get extra credit for that.” My sponsor, Maria, had saved me a seat, so I sit right inside, not along the walls like many other visitors. She is the center of a lot of attention, urgent conversations and people grabbing her elbow. She is firm and direct and I like her right away. She tells me the meeting protocol and runs out to get me a cup of coffee.
The meeting room is full of round tables, where the regulars sit, with the highest-ranking being closest to the center of the room. Even though there are about 60 people present, this meeting feels and sounds just like my weekly meetings. Only now this time it’s Joe Moran who is part cheerleader, part master of ceremonies and part interrogator.
He is engaging and seemingly sincere. I feel more than a little pang of guilt when he responds to the latest round of leaks to the press with personal hurt, “Why do people talk about us like that? I just don’t get it. Can’t they see we’re doing the best we can? Here we are, sharing all this information openly and we can’t do it without being violated.”
But then I think; “YOU feel violated? Poor baby.

December '99 News for a Change | E-mail Editor
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