ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1999


Not So Common Sense

Establishing Teams: The Agony And Ecstasy

CEOs Have Little Control Over Bottom Line

Older Vs. Younger


A Conference For, By And At The People
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Diary of a Shutdown

April 6
The receiving dock is covered up with packing materials; especially huge rolls of clear bubble wrap. Maybe they could bubble wrap me up and ship me to a new site?

April 9
We don't repair anything anymore. Broken storage racks, torn wind flaps, dented partitions, all just get pushed to the side.

We also don't stock anything anymore. Anything that comes into the dock, whether we need it or not, goes right to the production floor.

The mailroom called me and warned me not to send over any big jobs until Wednesday because they will be short-handed until then. I actually thank them for the heads-up.

Joe Taft sends out inspiration via e-mail:
Dear Teammates:

Earnings for the second quarter were released this morning, and the results are very good. We've had another quarter of improved profitability and that's good news for all of us!

Every employee should be exceptionally proud of our financial performance. We are performing well and taking the necessary steps to ensure our future competitiveness. With a continued focus on business performance, there is no limit to the growth and opportunities we can create for all our stakeholders.

Congratulations on a great quarter!


I think that some training class that these guys went to told them the most important thing is communication. They should have told them the most important thing is HONEST communication.
We know we are not 'Performing Well'. We know that the loss of a major contract was compensated for by laying off 30 percent of the employees at that plant. Do they really think that we don't know about that?

April 12
Our supplier problems are escalating. We are going to open up competitive bids for some of the critical components. Diana explains; "They keep trying to slip the schedule and I keep trying to tell them that we have to accelerate because of the constant brain drain we're living with here. I hate this because this is my last big order and it looks like its going to fail and I hate going out like that." I continue to be amazed by this kind of loyalty.

April 13
Today is my debut as Production Manager of SC 23, running the meetings. I went to a tanning salon yesterday, which I have never done, so I look well rested. Things went well, the tone has changed dramatically without Tony Jordan and Chris Janning. Jill notices and smiles, "Well, we're having fun now?"

April 19
Coming back I am still riding the post-weekend euphoria.

The euphoria is heightened when I read my e-mail that we achieved the schedule for the month. I am so excited that I run upstairs and shake everybody's hand, individually, and congratulate them on this accomplishment. To my dismay, several people are surprised that I am doing this and say, "It's been along time since someone shook my hand around here." And "We're not used to something like this."

Thank heavens Mike warns me about what's going on with Chris. He is turning down the transfer offer. I can't believe it. Mike also says that Dan is still keeping me in my new job and moving Chris to another spot, over his strong objections. I am amazed by this turn of events but I am glad that I have time to put on my game face.

Dan explains to me that Chris wants his old job back, but Dan made it clear that wouldn't happen. Then, later that day, he got a call, Chris had checked himself into the emergency room with kidney problems.

Dan continues; "Meanwhile, I get a call from management, they're furious. Chris was supposed to call them back with his answer that they assumed was yes all along. When I told Greg it was a no go, he said that he would rescind the offer."

I wonder what good 'rescinding the offer' would do after he's already rejected it? Sounds like classic testosterone response to me.

April 20
7:20 I talk with Chris about announcing the changes to the department. I try to be casual; "So, I hear you're going to stick with us."
"So, when do you want to talk to the department about our plans?"
"I have to talk to Dan first."

Whatever that means.

9:30 I haven't heard anything, so I remind Dan that we need to communicate to the production area the change in leadership and he schedules a meeting with Chris at 11:30 to discuss options.

1:30 Still no word from Dan and Chris about notifying the work area of our upcoming changes.
4:00 I go to Dan's office, but he and Chris are talking. As I leave the outer office, Chris slams the door behind me.
4:12 Dan leaves me an urgent voicemail, "Come see me or call me right away."
4:20 Dan says; "Chris just informed me that he changed his mind again and that now he wants to take the job at the other plant, after all. Of course this was a big problem because they had already rescinded the offer."

I burst out laughing as Dan just rolls his eyes. "He will talk to the production area tomorrow."

And I wonder what he'll say. I wonder what I'll say.
Dan grins and sums it all up; "Stay tuned."

Jill tells me George Kane has been acting strangely for the last two months and shifted even more the last ten days. "He talks about suicide, homicide, and guns. I can't calm him down." We have a meeting with HR and Security. They seem so reluctant but I am clear.

Dan tells me, "Too bad about Chris. He would have stayed if I had let him keep his job. But one last thing on this. It's not your fault, Elizabeth. I would have moved him no matter what."

It feels good to have someone take the some of the blame away from me.

April 21
I have arrived early, to be on hand for Chris's big announcement, but at 8:00 he is still a no-show, so I return to my desk and call him. This is a little awkward because at this point I have lost track of what information I'm supposed to know and what I'm not. He tells me that he will make an announcement to the area at 9:30, and that I can be there.

At 9:30, Chris slides into the area and starts going to operators at their stations, leaning in and whispering something to them and shaking their hands. Not everyone gets this treatment and he walks past me twice without making eye contact. So, I decide that I'll go away. Everyone has their letting go rituals and this is his. Although right now it seems manipulative, maybe I can be philosophical about it later. Peter Koestembaum says that we only turn to philosophy when we are at a stuck point, so I think I am past due.

April 23
I think George Kane is about to go off. His personality has shifted dramatically, his behavior is erratic and full of references to violence and guns. I called another meeting with HR and Security and am unable to make them understand how serious this is, how clear these signs are. They talk about overreacting in times of stress. I know that they can't believe that a bad thing could happen because they've never seen it, but I have. They convince me to wait for the nurse's return on Tuesday but now, late on Friday, I am worried about Monday.

April 26
OK, George Kane didn't kill anybody on his way in.
So far, so good.

We have a meeting where we discuss the ever-shifting severance policy. After an hour and a half, we are only clear about one thing: If we screw up, it's completely our fault because HR has created so many loopholes that they can justify anything.

At the end of the day I realize the technicians are breaking all land speed records. So explain to me again how this plant got picked to be shutdown?

April 30
I am stunned. Edwin Brennan quit. Not the company, yet, but he is currently out of production and into the marketing department. This is the guy who claimed responsibility for shutting us down, who was so stung by his staff deserters. What does this mean? Max Petersen is taking his place.

May 3
When we run out of staples in the cafeteria now, we apparently don't reorder. The cooler used to be stocked with milk, juice, water, and now the amount dwindles every day. No more orange juice, and when I asked the answer is, "We're out of it."

May 4
Today Clyde, from HR, decided to help with the George Kane case. We discuss how to form and train a team of onsite experts to deal with cases that may come up between now and shut-down. I am strangely comforted by this, the fact that we are getting things in place to deal with violence, because it seems like a caring thing to do. Mike gives me an 800 number to call and get free counseling for managers on the options in cases like this, and when I call I get a solid list of options.

I realize now that it is impossible for a shut-down to be done correctly, by definition. Expecting a shut-down to go well is like expecting an illiterate to improve himself by reading a book on grammar.

May 6
My new boss, Paul, is amazed and intensely curious about the increased production levels in my area. He is confident and happy and says, "Wow. Do you know how much people would pay us to consult about this?"
My eyebrows go up, "Well, I know how much I've been offered."

I can feel the shift. I am ready to find a job. I have energy and strength coming up from inside me. I feel all my potential like spring water, or better yet, molten lava. I am going to stay true.

September '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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