by The Inmate
The new leadership will give us Network consistency–no more regional ‘I’ll do it my way’ thinking at the detriment of other regions.
—A Senior Executive commenting on our new Executive Chairman
I have worked for the same company for nearly fifteen years and during those fifteen years I have often heard the typical corporate jargon that goes something like this: “We’ve had a great year, we are a great company, you are the best employees who have ever walked the face of the earth, but, nonetheless, there are big challenges out there, this is no time to relax and we need the supreme dedication of each and every one of you to insure our continued success and your job security.” The order is also typical: the good news, then the bad news. What does this mean? It’s simple: this year will be much like last year. End of story.
Last week, however, I heard something I have never heard before. We are going through “restructuring” as our company splits into three different entities and the entity I belong to is being acquired, for all practical purposes, by our foreign counterpart. This is, of course, not making our competitors happy and lawyers are getting involved, etc., etc., etc. Anyway, our station manager came out and started with the bad news: things are not going as smoothly as everyone had hoped, we lost a lot of money last year . . . you know the drill. But then he said something I have never heard from one of our managers: “I don’t want you to worry.” That was the good news. I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want you to worry? What? Whenever management tells you not to worry–start worrying.
So, a few days ago we received our quarterly newsletter and in it “a message” from our CEO. He began by saying,
The entire Cheetah Express global network is undergoing significant change. The change is primarily in the form of restructuring, which has created a number of considerable challenges.
Ah yes, “considerable challenges,” another frequently used corporate cliché(F.U.C.C). Anything bad, even if it could have been avoided, even if it is the direct result of management’s own bad decisions is a “challenge.” What is a challenge? Maybe it’s an opportunity? Read on.
We have brought in a new chief operating officer . . . while senior vice presidents[three of them] . . . are pursuing other opportunities outside of Cheetah Express. Although it is difficult to say good-bye to long-standing members of our management team, we are very fortunate . . .[blah, blah, blah, blah]
Difficult to say good-bye not nearly, I guess, so difficult to fire someone. The great thing about corporatespeak is it can mean so many different things. For example, “pursuing other opportunities” could mean these guys got fired or it could mean they were forced to resign or it could mean they wanted to leave and did or it could mean they’re coaching little league and have to leave the office early. Since we(employees) are the corporation’s “most important assets” there’s really no need for us to know these things and our CEO agrees:
I would like to say we are in a position to share a detailed plan that would allow you to see the vast opportunities that lie ahead, but we cannot do so at this time. What we can do is offer you encouragement and tell you that our plans include you. . . . We believe that the future is going to be all that you have hoped and imagined it could be.
If you’d like to say it then why don’t you? I guess “vast opportunities” sounds so impressive that all our fears should be calmed. Anything that sounds impressive, most certainly is. It is a little disconcerting, however, to realize that “opportunities” for our three fired vice-presidents might be the same “opportunties” for us regardless of how “vast” they might be. Oh well, who cares if those plans may include standing in the unemployment line? What’s important and comforting is to know you were part of a plan. And for any of you that ever read Papillon by Henri Charriere you know what “plans” are and where they can go. I also love that offer of encouragement, well, what can I say, it’s just so damn encouraging which is why I must continue on with even more encouraging words from our CEO.
While we’re excited about the future, there are going to be some challenges.
There’s that word again: challenges. What exactly are challenges? Could we define them as problems? Difficulties? Obstacles? Predicaments? Is unemployment a challenge? Is forced early retirement a challenge? This is why, as has been chronicled so often in The Corporate Asylum, corporate clichés are such a poor way to communicate. That word, “challenge,” a perfectly good word in many other contexts, is void of meaning when spoken by senior management types, unless, of course, you are adept at translating corporatespeak. As expected our cliché spewing CEO had even more encouraging words:
I realize that change can lead to feelings of uncertainty. Given the changes that we are all going through, and the changes that lie ahead, the senior management team and I want you to feel good about your job and your future. In order to offset the normal anxiety that accompanies change, we will work hard to keep you informed of our plans and our progress toward achieving them.
Well, now I really “feel” wonderful about my job and my future. If I was, however, part of a top-heavy management team my feelings would be quite different as would my actions. Buy some stamps and start typing. My favorite aspect of this section is its blatant contradiction to a preceding one. Essentially the CEO is saying, “We are going to work hard to keep you informed of our plans but we’re not going to inform you of our plans.” Our CEO should work a little harder and he might have to. If we’re fortunate he might not be working at all.
Our CEO now has a new boss, a bigger CEO who resides so far up the corporate ladder that there is some speculation about his divinity which explains the following: in our newsletter they asked several senior managers including our CEO about the bigger and better CEO. Glowing responses. Not one negative thing. I know, I know, it’s just politics. I hate politics. Think how refreshing it would be if a few negative things were revealed. Everyone knows that along with the good some negative things are being thought and said. Corporate culture, however, dictates that we build a solid, beautiful, impenetrable wall around our “leaders,” even if that wall is an illusion. It’s the illusion that is supposed to inspire us. Maybe they’re right, there’s not much indication that the reality would be any better.
Here’s the kind of letter I wish our CEO had written to us:
Fr: The CEO
To: All Employees
Re: Restructuring of Cheetah Express
Now that the restructuring has been finalized I’d like to inform all of you concerning our plans. As you know most restructuring involves the loss of jobs, senior management changes and changes in operations and this will be the case with Cheetah Express.
Most of the layoffs will involve senior executives and middle management. Some of these layoffs have already taken place and there will be more in the future. We will attempt to give you as much notice as possible(many of you have already been informed) so you can begin looking for other jobs. We are still in process of finalizing these very difficult decisions, but it looks as if about 35% of senior executives and about 30% of middle management will be laid off.
Those of you in operations will not, most likely, be seeing any layoffs. That might change, but it is unlikely.
I am not exempt from these layoffs and have been discussing my future with the new incoming CEO. As of today no decision has been made.
In the long run I believe these changes will improve our company, but I also realize that this is little consolation for those of you who will be losing your jobs. Human Resources will be available for any and all questions you have about unemployment benefits, health care coverage, 401k rollovers, etc. At my request, they will also help with your job search and will be available as a resource for six months after your date of termination. These are insignificant gestures, but I hope that it will be of some help as many of you face this difficult time.
It’s not a funny letter. It’s not a witty letter. It’s not the kind of letter you want to see, but it’s a truthful letter. It gets to the point and it answers the questions that everyone is asking and wondering about during times of corporate change. These things happen. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong that they happen–every case is different. It’s moot at this stage. When it does happen employees want to know what is going on, they want to know the truth. The corporation, at the very least, owes them that.