It must be Friday – they are laying people off again

Forget the Ides of March – it’s the end of another quarter

What is discouraging to the loyal corporate employee is that too many companies are managing from quarter to quarter and the team that saved the company last year may be excess baggage this year.

Sure there is a natural tendency for companies to become bloated in good times and to shake out the fat as times get tight, but we are seeing some instances of companies shedding staff again and again in an effort to regain profitability. I have personally seen this pattern exhibited by many companies including  Sun Microsystems. It seems to be an expedient solution, but it never addresses the real problem.

Let me illustrate:

Sun is doing another RIF (Reduction In Force) as you read this. I don’t think this RIF will work any better than the last three RIFs, because the problem is a cultural problem, not an overstaff problem.

The energetic and highly motivated Sun culture that I first saw in 1995 had almost completely disappeared by 2001, except where it remained flourishing in various outlying groups.

A few vice presidents worked to keep the original Sun spirit alive, but these praiseworthy efforts were swamped by the efforts of newly hired management whose motivation was purely political. When politics drove out common sense, it affected marketing decisions and product planning.

This creeping decay of good sense is not corrected by laying off personnel. What is sorely needed is fumigation, and that is not going to happen.

A corporate culture is an organic, living thing. It requires constant care and feeding for it to survive the rude shocks of everyday business life. If it is attacked or neglected, it starts to die and is replaced with confusion and anarchy. Sometimes the original creative corporate culture is replaced entirely by a totalitarian mindset like that described in Orwell’s 1984, where every move is prescribed and initiative is stamped out.

In short, corporate culture is like a fine stew of harmonious ideas. Ideally, it contains the agreements on how things get done in the company and what we expect of each other. When it starts to go bad, there is no easy way to fix it.

What you can do is to look at your corporate culture and see what can be done to revitalize it or improve it. If you have no idea what I am talking about, just bring up the idea with your boss or in an open staff meeting. If they roll their eyes or suggest that you had better get back to your cubicle, your corporate culture has exceeded its sell-by date, and has gone bad.

You need to find a new corporate culture that aligns with your purposes. If you can’t find one, then you had better plan on creating your own company. More people are doing that every day, probably for the same reason.

Has anyone seen an instance where repeated layoffs have saved a company and put it back on track?

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0 Responses to It must be Friday – they are laying people off again

  1. Crimsonhands says:

    I love your site, found you through technorati. I have seen some cases where layoffs coupled with almost complete corporate management turnover have completely galvanized companies. So much changes, it is disconcerting and invigorating at the same time. But it is hard watching your friends go.

  2. Yours says:

    Quote:”My father, a thirty year veteran of Westinghouse, had this advice when I first began my career. “You can’t rely on their promises. They will suck you dry and then spit you out.”

  3. Perspective says:

    Corporations can easily weather the ups and downs of the stock market. What provokes these RIFs in lieu of cultivating the unique culture that made the company…is the incentive structure. When executive pay is no longer linked to stock performance or ROI there is hope. I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

  4. David:

    I often thought how unnatural the cycles are within companies, especially high tech companies, which live and die by quarterly sales.

    I was with another software company not too long ago and the CEO’s vision was to be “A Billion Dollar software company”. It became a mantra. Once, in a meeting, I asked: “What happens on the day when we become. $1,000,000,001 in revenue?”

    You would have thought I shot someone’s mother by the looks I got to that relatively innocent question.

    My point here is that people, careers, relationships and all of the other things which really matter in life are often overlooked for these so called “mission statements, or corporate goals”. I am sure that more than a few things are compromised along the way in order to achieve those goals.

    Prologue: So what happened to the company which I mentioned above? Well, they got close to a $Billion in revenue, but then, something happened. The CEO, CFO and General Counsel got slapped with SEC fraud (misrepresenting stock options) and the company is currently “de-listed” from NASDAQ.

    Fear and Greed two sides of the same coin…and powerful influencers and motivators in corporate America.

    P.S. Back up and posting on “Soul in the Sky”


  5. And here I was thinking that it was just me causing all of the sinking ships that I have managed to become attached to over the past twenty years.
    I have lost track of the RIF’s that I have been through and the ones that took my job. So far none of the RIF’s have saved any of the companies that I worked for.

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