The company had been experiencing difficulties. After years of changes in it’s sales engine it was not getting traction in the market and as a result was not growing. Well there were some good explanations: the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Euro debt crisis, industry cycles etc. However things started to go astray long before that. People familiar with the company will tell you the company reached its peak shortly following the management buy out. Which of course one could say was good for the management behind the buy out and potentially bad for the banks and investors, at the time. Of course that is easy to say now, with hindsight we know there were changes in leadership and management. We also know we lost talent along the way and all too often theses talented people in turn set up their own competitive business or strengthen the racks of the competitors.
What is interesting is the dynamics of the decline. A classic tale of austerity! As the company fails to meet expectations year after year, the investors get more and more worried so they get more and more involved, over time filling key positions with trusted people, who don’t necessarily have experience in the business. These people then take decisions without the full understanding of what makes the company successful. So we start with the classic track: Expenses need to be reduced.
As the one big-ticket item, management first delays the annual regional meeting and celebration (European Company Meeting). The event is a celebration for all the hard work and success stories we individually, or at least as project team, experience on projects. It is also often the only opportunity many people will have to meet there colleagues from other offices and build their networks. Above all it is an opportunity to share and bond together, thereby releasing and incredible amount of energy that always lasts until the early hours of the morning. At first it is just a 6 months delay, then slowly but surely it becomes an, “every two year event” and finally becoming and exception. Unfortunately it is people that make up the assets of the company and thinning out the so-called “ECM” may seem like a wise thing to do, unfortunately it undermines the very fabric of the company.
Of course the annual party is not the only expense that is cut back. Since operations make up 90% (or at least it should) of the workforce it was decided that “Non billable expenses” are to be eliminated in operations. The logic being that operations people work on projects where clients pay the operational expenses. This policy was effective in two ways: it reduced expenses and thwarted all other operational activities that one couldn’t morally expense their clients. Training some became the next victim of eliminating non-billable expenses. During it’s peak the company invested a lot in training, in fact I was personally involved in upgrading our training initiative, taking the ownership for the “Operational Fundamentals” course in 2005 and delivering the course 9 times to roughly 200 new starters until 2009, when training was sacrificed altogether.
But in the end these cuts are not enough, now the company has started cutting personnel. The company is downsizing and to be sure it has the biggest impact on its payroll, it is the people with the highest salaries who are targeted first, never mind that they have the most experience and knowledge. That’s how I got my notice the other day, yep after years of dedication I had finally become a number on a piece of paper, someone who was perceived as “non value add”. At first I was shocked, but then, thinking all this through, I realized that my time had come.
If the management did not see the need to keep me around then why would I want to stick around? It is kind of paradoxical that the company that preached “linking the top floor with the shop floor” has itself become so disconnected. Quite frankly I’m happy I got laid off, because it’s no fun to work where you don’t feel appreciated. So “adios” old job! And hello new opportunities!
To stay true to my motto of “ helping people”, I have decided to share my experiences, ways and methods, to look at, and deal with change, both personally and organizationally. You see I have learned that change does not have to be painful and it does not have to be hard. After all, the essence of our being, the cells that make up our bodies, are constantly changing. And just as a year is made up of changing seasons, our lifetimes on earth are made up of different chapters. Evolution is change! Yes learning something new does require more mental effort, but it can also be rewarding so whenever you are faced with a life changing event don’t be afraid. Just because it “looks like” you have been dealt a lousy hand, does not mean you are out of the game. Who knows if “what looks like a lousy hand” turns out to be the best hand at the table? You have to make the best out of what you have, and as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have wonderfully captured in their book “first Break all the rules”, stop focusing on trying to repair yourself and start focusing on what you are good at (what you enjoy doing) because that is what you will excel at. Getting laid off is kind of like coming to a “ T ” intersection in life. You can turn right or left, you just can’t go straight! It provides an opportunity to truly assess ones life and take a different turn. Many people are not given that opportunity and continue doing a less than satisfying job until the day they retire. Why? Because they themselves are afraid of changing, they are reasonably comfortable with what they have.
So just like Greece, the company is stuck in a negative dynamic current, brought on by austerity. The mismanagement of the past has to be paid by the citizens / employees of today. Unfortunately focusing on reducing expenses and costs does not help generate more revenue. The glass is always half full or half empty depending, which way you look at it. Picking your way to look at it will decide, like the intersection in the road, where you end up.
Zabok, HR – 28th May 2012