ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

April 1999


A Sunny Forecast
Grassroots Teams Help Sun Micorsystems Raise Customer Satisfaction

Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational Effectiveness

Oil Change
Externalization, Change Management Key to Realignment

Project Management:
Just Do It!

A Step by Step Overview ofa 1950's Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's Rebirth


Hope Is Where You Find It
by Peter Block

Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a Shutdown


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Sites Unseen
Reader's Favorite Websites

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Book Review

Letters to the Editor

Calendar of Events


Sorry We're 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 similar situations.


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 “Why bother?”
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 “Death Row.”

December 23
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 unexpectedly.”

December 28
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 files.”

December 29
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 area.
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.

January 5
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.

January 6
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.

January 7
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 retroactive.

January 8
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 brave.”
I’m walking in the hallway, and Louis asks me “What do you know today, Elizabeth?”
“Absolutely nothing”
“Well, then you’re in charge!”
January 11
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.

January 12
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?”

January 13
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.

January 14
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 to.”

April News for a Change | Email Editor
  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News