ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

May 1999


Kid's Stuff

Quality On Trial: Achieving Success At A Law Firm

Baskin Robbins' Best Flavor

Kung Fu Theatre


Let's Go To The Oasis
by Peter Block


Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Site Unseen


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.

January 19
At the IT meeting, two departments, quality and engineering, step up to the truth and admit that they can’t meet the January 2000 consolidation deadline. This has been an open secret since the second week. The limitations are: supplier ability to deliver, receiving site readiness and local personnel shortage due to everybody leaving. Nick Alt refuses to accept their plans saying that, “They are completely unacceptable.”

January 20
The cafeteria, which opens at 11:30, runs out of food by 12:00.
Uh-oh! Today the guard started checking our bags and briefcases on the way out of work. I offer to let him frisk me and he blushes.
The cost to shut down this facility is projected at $86 million, but another open secret is that it will really take twice that.
I wonder—How long will they continue to stock the vending machines?

January 21
The cafeteria lady doesn’t have enough nickels for me, so she goes to the other register to break a roll. I tell her not to worry with it, but she insists, “Hey, times are tough, you need all your change.”

January 22
We are now generating job offer rumors based on observed moods. See someone in a good mood? “They must be getting an offer.” Bad mood? “Maybe they just got a rejection letter.”

January 25
The property tags are starting to show up on our stuff. My PC has a big red tag and my bookshelf has a bright orange “Surplus” sticker. I don’t know who put the tags on, but I leave them alone. Some of the employees have taken to laminating the “Surplus” stickers and attaching them to their badges and sticking them to the nameplates on our cubicles and doors. I think it’s like the tags they put on the toes of dead people.

My therapist says that she is seeing a big ripple effect through her business due to the plant closing.

January 26
Overall offer rejection rate of transfer offers is running about 50 percent. Most people are upset because after waiting for two months, the offer letters didn’t contain salary or position data. Fred, from HR, jokes, “That’s why it took so long to come up with the letters. It’s hard to fill up a page and say nothing!”

Fred has been assigned the thankless job of designing and implementing a pay-for-performance incentive program. He is gathering feedback about a proposal from Paul Neff, which is: If they make their production schedule, we give them $100 at the end of the month. Paul’s program, SMC-123, has not been able to meet their normal delivery schedule because of supplier problems and they are nowhere close to the “accelerated” schedule that Paul has set up. This incentive idea comes from a book that Paul read that suggested $67, but he decided to increase it to $100. I can’t help bursting out laughing and ask Fred to warn me when he goes to the production area to explain this because I don’t want to be anywhere near. I also suggest that maybe Paul needs to read a book on production program management.

The monthly quality meetings that were canceled were subsequently reinstated at the insistence of our customers. Unfortunately, at today’s meeting, less than half of the people scheduled showed up and those that did were not prepared. The customers were livid.
We are refinancing our house in order to lower our monthly payment, just in case the worst happens. When the mortgage company calls HR to verify my employment, they are told, “We don’t do verifications anymore.” Upon investigation, it turns out that I have to call a 1-800 number, give then my “Company Code” and my PIN number. If I do that successfully, I will then be assigned an “Authorization Number” that the mortgage company can use when they call a 1-900 number to confirm.

Here we go again. I make several calls to find out my “Company Code” and my PIN number. When I call the 1-800 automated verification center to get my “Authorization Code,” I am warned that this is good for one verification only.

January 27
People are much more comfortable now, almost proud, coming in all dressed up for interviews. We routinely discuss where to get what suit, shoes, what’s on sale, what color is good, etc.
I don’t want to take care of anybody anymore.

Our departmental secretaries go out to lunch and come back three hours later. No one says a word.

The monthly brown bag meetings are canceled.
Mike stops by with a copy of a game that is featured on some website. The game is to identify the pre-established buzzwords as they are mentioned in the meeting and mark them off on your card. When you get a line completed in any direction, you yell out, “Bingo” and the meeting has to end.

We also have to address the fact that the very few defects that were incurred last month were inaccurately blamed on transfers due to the layoffs. In other words, seasoned veterans made the errors, but the production manager blamed the employees that had just transferred from another department. No one contradicted him in the meeting because he made the statement in front of the customers.

There is still a substantial backlash against the annual leadership awards and so no one turned in any nominations. As a result, HR extended the deadline.

January 28
I give money to the homeless guy on the corner, which I guess means I still want to take care of things.

January 29
Driving in, I decide that each day from now on will have equal amounts of tragedy and comedy and that I should just accept that. Is this “the best of times and the worst of times?”
It is difficult to get even the most routine data now. The finance and HR reports are three months delinquent. We used to say, “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.” Each department used to post their monthly metrics that they used to track performance to various cost, quality or schedule goals. The charts are still up, but none of them have been updated since December 1998. I guess it doesn’t make sense to keep them current, but we just can’t bear to take them down. I think they look like skeletons.

February 4
The deadline is approaching for people to accept the transfer offers. A reminder comes via email: “All employees who have received offers for a transfer are reminded that the acceptance/decline letter is due to the organization by close of business tomorrow. Employees getting extensions to this deadline should also notify the organization as to how long an extension they were granted. Extensions to this deadline must be approved by senior management and are only made due to extenuating circumstances.

Failure to respond to the acceptance letter will be documented as a decline of the offer.” Signed,
Jim Prunty
Internal Communication
Nice invitation, Jim.

February 5
A big sign posted in the cafeteria today says “It’s Friday—Let’s take the rest of the day off!”

I can hear people singing outside of my office a version of an old folk song with new words: “Where have all the people gone...”
We are out of toilet paper. I don’t mind bringing in my own lunch, but this is going too far.

February 8
The Security Department, the biggest collection per capita of obsessive-compulsives, is publishing (for display) a new full-color, deluxe graphic package organization chart complete with photos every time someone leaves from their area.

As I finish my paperwork I notice I have logged 52 hours this week. That’s the highest it has been since December, but it used to be my minimum.

Walking out, I’m surprised to run into an engineer this late. He says “I don’t believe we’re still here.” And I say, “Neither do I.”

Because it’s so late, there are only six cars in the parking lot and suddenly I flash forward to a year from now when that will be all the cars, period.

I don’t think that I’ll ever have this length of experience with another group. I grew up here, we all did. Most of us came here pre-marriage, pre-babies, pre-work.

I’m still up on the tightwire but I don’t have a safety net anymore. I like my independence but I don’t always like feeling alone.
So, I can learn to walk without a net, make another net or get off the wire.

May '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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