Are You Missing Honesty and Decisiveness?
In the fall of 1987 I was called into my boss’s office and terminated. The meeting was short and professional. The company no longer had need of my services.
For the first time since I started working when I was fourteen I was out of work for a reason not of my own choosing.
The company that had hired me in October, 1986 had been in financial difficulties for almost a year. Right after the New Years 1987, the first layoff took place.
A second layoff was in March, the third took place in late June.
One of the people in the third layoff had just relocated her family from the Northeast and had only been on the job for five days before she was called in and told her position was eliminated.
It was a long, hot summer.
During the layoff announcements, optimistic statements were made by company leadership which implied that there was a turnaround plan and that it was being executed.
This led everyone who remained after each layoff thinking that the situation was improving.
As time went by hope for a stable future dropped, then disappeared altogether. Everyone who remained knew it was only a matter of time until they become unemployed. Some left before the axe fell.
In hindsight, it was clear that the leadership of the company failed all stakeholders: employees, customers, vendors, and business partners. There was no plan except for survival and even that was in doubt as the months went by.
Just after I walked out the door for the final time, the company filed for bankruptcy protection.
I have written before about the need for companies to be more transparent with employees when things are tough.
It does not matter “how things are not working out” is defined; it could be the financial health of the company, that the position is no longer needed, or the person does not have the skills, abilities or capabilities to handle the requirements of the job currently or in the future.
I am not saying share the numbers, either. Keeping financial information confidential is something that just about every owner I know is absolutely paranoid about.
What I am saying is that if things are not working out, and a turnaround is not going to take place, for whatever reason, the employees that will be impacted should be told so that they can make other plans.
If I had been told in January 1987 hat things were not looking so good at my new employer, I would have respected the fact that they had the honesty to sit me down and explain the situation so that we could work out a mutually developed decision.
Letting people go is easily the hardest decision someone in a position of leadership makes. Because of this, many drag out this decision-making far too long.
General George C. Marshall had a very simple philosophy for his direct subordinates to follow: “Don’t fight the problem. Decide it.”
When I walked out of that company for the last time that November morning I was not angry; I was relieved. I was disappointed because the career opportunity I had relocated for did not work long term.
But my larger disappointment was that the leadership was not honest or transparent with me or the hundreds of other employees and their families impacted by their mismanagement.
The failure to let people know the facts about the condition of the business and candid discussions could have saved a lot of fear, uncertainty and heartache so that people could have moved along with the next chapter of their lives without undue pain and suffering.