ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1999


Boeing Flies High

Fostering Creativity: An Early Start

Are We There Yet?

If It Ain't Pretty - I'm Outta Here

Flying Above Mediocrity

Teams At The Top


Large Ideas Expressed In Small Amounts
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Diary of a Shutdown

June 16
I am trying to take it easy this week because last week I was so exhausted that I ended up crying uncontrollably into the phone twice with good friends.

So, I went to the dentist on company time.

June 17
And today I am getting my hair done on company time. I am struck by this phrase, “company time.” How can the company own time? I was truthful about the dentist, but I didn’t have the nerve to be upfront about the hair.

Dental work just seems more deserving than beauty work.

June 18
I realize with a jolt that I don’t try to make people happy anymore.

I announce to the department that I have scheduled “down time” in my office everyday through July from 3-4 p.m. when anyone can come by anytime to talk, vent or visit. We’ll see if this is helpful for a month and then decide to continue or try something different next month.

I just think, I actually know that this is the time to do things radically different from the routine. I know that if we keep doing the same things, we’ll dig ourselves into a hole.
I think about this all the way back to my desk and when I look at the paperwork waiting for me, I decide that when I run things, no “approval signatures” will be required. The effort is wasted and insulting.

June 21
Well, we tested units all weekend and only three passed. I waited for Frank Page to come down and brief me because I didn’t want to hover around the production area like a nervous mom.

Frank says, “Missing bonus again is gonna hurt. This is really going to break their spirit, Elizabeth.”

I think their hearts are already broken, but missing this bonus is an allowable way to talk about the rage and hurt.

Of course, HR is behind us all the way. Today my boss, Dan, worried, “Everybody get ready to review all of your absenteeism reports and deal with the offenders accordingly. Paul found out that there are over 70 people at this site that have over 40 hours absent. As far as he’s concerned, that’s just stealing from the company.”

What makes this even more surreal is that the rest of the company is allowed 80 hours absent, but that policy change did not extend to us because we’re shutting down.

June 25
We did it! We made our production schedule again! This time 35 units, another production record.

I get called to a meeting about SC 23 property. I have been given a 15-page (font size 2) legal paper list of equipment that I am supposed to locate, and decide if it goes to the transfer site or stays where it is. Maggie is trying to be helpful, but there is no location recorded for any of the equipment and no record of whom used it last. I think of a real quick way to do this task—mark off everything as going to the transfer site, and let them find it. I’m mulling this over when she tells me that this report was due last week. I respond, “Sorry, I was busy building 35 units.” She knows this is my second record-breaking month. So there.

June 28
The first thing I see today is the Absence Hours Report. Twelve of the people that report into this department have over 40 hours of absence charged. I have never seen this data before, and now I am supposed to go counsel these employees.

I’m going to counsel them. Now that my teeth are fixed and my hair is done.

July 1
Our celebratory pizza lunch was delayed today because even though the order was approved through all levels of management (including the plant manager) someone in Finance “held it up.” Whatever that means. As a result I had 100 people waiting in line and no pizza for 25 minutes. What the hell is that? I know that this little stuff is what makes us flare up and quit. The hell with the severance pay, we’re tired of insults on top of the fact that you’re shutting us down.

We end the day with another sour meeting, griping, complaining and backbiting. This is two days in a row and I hate the thought that we could all end this way, disintegrated into petty battles, sour grapes, old grudges and feuds.

I want us to “go bravely.” I want us to hold hands high in a sign of defiance and drive off the cliff full speed in an old convertible with the radio blaring.

July 2
I think about the meetings that ended the last two days and I realize that this is the down side of truth. There are some things that we haven’t said that we don’t have the energy to cover up any more, even though it’s destructive, or at least hurtful.

The finance department has gone over the edge. Either that, or they should take the next round of drug tests. Today they hosted their own pizza party, with company funds.
I have much greater access to the financial data than ever before. This used to be so closely guarded but they just don’t have enough people around to protect all the data and to make up answers to our questions.

So, I’ve decided to learn as much about the money flow as possible. I am really enjoying the terminology. Today I learned about “negative earnings” and “economic profit.” I almost giggled and said, “That would be losses, right?” but I didn’t. I wondered—what other kind of profit is there, but not out loud. When learning a new language, on the field of battle, never make fun of it.

July 8
I call a friend because she is in the final throes of divorce, just to check on her. I listen to her thoughts on death, despair and loss. As I hear the strength in her voice and realize that there are so many others struggling, relief washes over me. She pauses at one point and says jokingly, “So, I’ll bet you’re glad you called me, right?” I responded, “Absolutely! These are the only things worth talking about. This is what’s real. These are the only conversations for me right now and I think possibly from now on.”

July 13
I’m running late when I hit the airport and I wonder, why is service always the slowest at the coffee places?

For the first time, coming into the home office report on our site statistics, I don’t feel guilty or ashamed for being from a site that is being shutdown. Why should I? I didn’t do anything wrong.

The meeting starts with a warning from Webster Long who is the statistics team leader, “Our Annual Operating Plan was declared DOA in headquarters. We’re not anywhere close to the savings, efficiencies, productivity improvements that we promised we would get with the mergers and acquisition and consolidations.”

I notice that no one here ever says “shutdown.”

He threatens, “Now we’re going to have to get real aggressive in our financial goals, or else.”

This seems like we amputated a leg and now we’re complaining about the bleeding, so we’re going to amputate the other leg.

Andrew from Newark says, “We shouldn’t be expected to forecast improvements next year because our workforce is getting older and they’re stuck in their ways and getting more and more stubborn. Old dogs, new tricks, you know.”

I find this comment so ridiculous that I comment, “Let’s talk to Andrew in a couple of years and see if he still holds to that theory.” General laughter, Andrew flushes.

Who appointed you? How can you still be in business?

By the time we review the safety report, I have had too much. The general consensus comes from Webster Long, “Why should we even report this? We can’t control any of this. I know this is required by OSHA but what does it really mean... Why are you looking at me like that, Elizabeth?”

“Because I can’t imagine telling the steering committee or anyone else that we are going to track quality, delivery and financial results, but when it comes to safety, which is a basic human right, we aren’t even going to report it.”

The smug management attitudes that get aired out at that point are appalling to me.

“What do I care if some guy hurts himself playing touch football and blames it on the company?”

“Hey, guys, check this out, this month we announced layoffs and we had the most injuries ever.”

Have they never been laid off? Have they never cared about someone who has been? And why are they still in business?

I am lost behind enemy lines. Do I plan my escape, do some damage, or organize a revolt?

November '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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