ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2000

Issue Highlight - The Hunt For Next November

April in the state of Missouri is turkey-hunting season...For some reason the experience, despite its discomforts, is spiritually renewing and leaves you a little more optimistic about life.

In This Issue...
Angels With Rotary Wings
Reality Mirrors Movie
Stop The Merry-Go-Round
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Diary of a Shutdown


Sorry We're Closed : Diary of 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 similar situations.

December 9
To celebrate Dan’s leaving, Marilyn brought in a huge chocolate cake. We sat around for a while, ate, drank coffee and signed Dan’s card. He is so happy he can barely wait to leave, so I joke, “It’s not too late, Dan, you can still change your mind.”

ssTo my surprise, he chokes up, “Elizabeth, this is the hardest. I feel like I’m leaving my home.”

ssLate that night, I interviewed with the vice president of operations from a high-tech, start-up company in Phoenix over the phone. During the conversation I learn a new phrase when I marvel at the fiber-optic filters that they have invented and he responds, “No, we’re well past leading edge, we’re bleeding edge.”

December 10
I hate Fridays. I hate Fridays because everybody leaves.

ssA colleague writes me: “The best comes on Fridays, when the office is empty. That’s how teachers feel when students go off after graduation to a new life and the teachers are left behind with the old life.”

December 13
The recruiter for the Phoenix tech firm calls me back to discuss a start date.

ss“I’m afraid that this may be a deal breaker, Elizabeth, and I’d hate to see you miss out on this.” He continues, “But the CEO is telling me that they need to quadruple production rates by May. How about considering working a little at both jobs, part time and just flying back and forth?”

ssHe doesn’t consider that I have a son in school, a house to sell and move, much less a life to enjoy at some point.

ssHe keeps on, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Elizabeth.”

December 14
The place in Phoenix offered me a job! Twenty percent over what I make right now, full relocation and 8,000 shares of pre-IPO stock. Cool!

ssI won’t take it because they want me to move next month and that’s too soon. I want to get my son through school, have some vacation time with him and myself and then start work. But it was great to get an offer this soon. I take it as a good sign of things to come.

December 15
I called the recruiter and turned down the Phoenix offer, again.

ssHe called me back to make sure, “Elizabeth, you’re breaking my heart!”

December 17
Frank Page has accepted a job transfer with the company. This company has continuously low-balled these guys and I guess the strategy is working because they are all accepting the offers.

ssIt makes me mad to see the company, and the managers, deliberately taking advantage of his fear, but at this point it is just a drop in the bucket of blood.

December 22
The day starts with a staff meeting. Paul is doggedly enthusiastic with an air of desperation.

ssPaul urges us, “Don’t go out like, ‘Thank God that’s over!’ No way! Let’s finish strong!
ssWe all want good memories of this place, so one day we can look back and remember how things were.”

ssHe continues. “OK, so a few announcements: Security has been enhanced with small cameras and sensing devices to prevent increased pilferage. I’m sure this is not from anyone who works here, but a lot of things are missing.”

ssI wonder, Paul, who else would it be?

ss“And remember, just about everything is for sale, anyway. You can get a computer for $40.”

ssAt this seemingly innocent comment, Allison next to me gets irritated and whispers,

ss“Forty bucks? Hey, no fair, mine cost $75!”

ssWarren Aiken, product manager from SC23, starts his report beaming and nervously jingling pocket change, “Well, first of all, I want to send out a big thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to keep me from looking like an idiot. Really. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

ssAt this point I have to decide if I’m going to heckle or not. I keep quiet, a credit to my upbringing.

December 29
I show up for my interview at the sister site and I am surprised that it is a panel interview and that they already ate lunch. Dick Truman starts with his speech describing the position, which sounds like he has said it about 20 times already. He drones, “So, as you can see, we placed this position at this high level because we want real leadership, not pleadership.” This new lingo catches my imagination, so I interrupt, “And hopefully not bleedership!”

They start into their list of questions, most of which have six parts. “Tell us about a time where you worked with a team to improve productivity, who was on the team, how long did it take, what were the obstacles and what were the results?”

ss“OK, that’s a really long question!”

ss“Yes, it’s also a memory test.”

ssI laugh and start talking. They look a little dazed at the end of the story, so I explain,

ss“Hey, I figure I have to make the answer at least as long as the question.”

ssI have an hour break and then I am on the factory tour when Roland St. John and Dick Truman ask if they can talk to me. We sit down in a conference room and Dick explains, “Well, you can probably guess what we are going to say.

ss“We are unanimous in our decision that you are the one, Elizabeth. It wasn’t even close. You could take us to the next level and now I’m going into my hard-sell mode because I want you on board.”

ssI explain that I appreciate their decisiveness, but that I am off-guard because I’ve never received a job offer the same day of the interview.

ss“The important thing is that we keep you with the company, that is our priority. This company needs you.”

ssI jump at this, “Well, funny that you would put it like this. I have seen the worst side of this company this year since the shutdown was announced and it’s hard for me to believe that the company wants or needs me.”

ssThey seem taken aback, so I continue, “Look, I like you guys, so it’s not about that. But from a corporate perspective, let’s take a look. I’m doing two guys’ jobs that got offers with the company and moved with no notice. I have broken their production records, and yet, I was never promoted and I am still titled ‘acting manager.’ It comes down to simple things, too. I was assured that I could continue my professional development throughout this year and that was one of the reasons that I agreed to stay. But last month, they refused to pay $700 for a two-day seminar, and that was after I already paid $150 for books.”

ssWhile I’m talking I realize that I don’t know the pay level, relocation, benefits for the position, but my interview training taught me to never bring up the subject first. So, I tell them that I’ll think about it and I go home, with my head spinning slightly.

January 3
The relocation office calls me twice to arrange my move details.

ssWe get the notification of our 4.5 percent salary increase which is effective plant-wide.

January 6
Frank, Jill and I have a heart-to-heart-to-heart talk at the end of the day. We have to own up to the reality that we won’t finish production by the shutdown date as we had originally planned. We look at everything but there is really no hope. We have material shortages, high-failure rates, test equipment breaking down and people leaving. Basically, we’re short everything. This is hard for me to look at but if we’re not going to make it, I have to make the call.

January 10
The staff meeting is weirdly funny today—everything seems to strike us as funny. Karl announces:
ss- The lab still has a bunch of hazardous material that has not been cleaned up yet; they are delinquent on their plan;
ss- The library give-away went well; almost 60 percent of the material was taken out. If anybody wants anything else, just go and get it. There are plenty of videos with Drew & Mark (CEO and COO) left over,
ss- Three companies have submitted offers for the site. The offers are $6 million, $18.5 million and $21 million. The transition model estimated that the price would be $23 million.

January 13
I walked into the meeting room and they must have heard my topic ahead of time because it was standing room only.

ssIn a nutshell, we won’t complete by the end. Admitting failure is bad enough, but then to answer the idiotic questions that ensue is more than I was up for this morning. When Ray asked, “So, now that the rate has slowed down, are people sitting back and twiddling their thumbs?” I answered, “That is a really stupid question. I can’t even believe that you asked it. Heck yea, we sit back all day long and do nothing but twiddle our thumbs. It’s what we live for. Now, any more questions?”


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