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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