Good Times or Bad, Everyone is Watching What Management is Doing

“In the end, I want to know that the next paycheck is coming. Everything else is secondary.”

I thought of that statement from an employee who was afraid that they could be laid off.

When I read about Hewlett-Packard’s impending layoff of 27,000 plus employees, I had a flash back. The subtitle of this announcement was that this would produce cost savings of $3.5 billion.

Plan for the survivors-ALWAYS

My mantra has always been that the for amount of time that was spent coming up with the total amount of people to be laid off, the same amount of time (or more) should be spent on the employees that survived.

Management should be asking questions like:

  • How do we reassure them that we are going in the right direction?
  • What are we doing to prevent this from happening again?
  • Are we REALLY on the right track?
  • What happens if we miss the target?
  • How do we reignite the passion at HP?
  • Were all potential scenarios looked at before this decision was made?
  • How do we solicit help in moving forward?

Having gone through this sort of process before, I doubt much thought was given to the “survivors.”

The survivors are planning

I do know that those same survivors are working on their Plan B.

My mother would always tell me that whatever you do, always remember that someone is watching. That way, you never lose site of your morals and values.

This is not so true of organizations today. Whatever plays out on the executive level, from behaviors to corporate decisions, is being viewed by each and every employee. They are in discussions and making their decisions trying to figure out how things are going to play out.

With a workforce at HP of approximately 350,000, a reduction approaching 10 percent of the workforce is traumatic. And the sad part of this is that the stock price shot up afterward. This is a formula that has been played out so many times before: Increase shareholder value by making massive layoffs.

The internal reality is that the productivity level is going to nose dive, the employer brand is shot, and the vast majority of internal staff have already started polishing their resume.

How are you to convince the folks that are in various stages of the acquisition process that you are headed in the right direction? The offer letters that have gone out will not create an aura of excitement. If those letters went to talented individuals that are currently gainfully employed, you have a problem.

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Strategic workforce planning in good times

When I see massive layoffs of this magnitude, my thought comes back to how did things get so far out of hand? Where was the strategic workforce planning, especially during the heat of the downturn in 2008? When the job market is not particularly strong, it is a bad time to do these kind of massive layoffs.

Large staffs reductions are a sign that the organization failed to manage or institute strategic workforce planning when times were good. These managers have put their organizations at a great risk. The internal and external factors buffeting a company like HP are massive.

Another question is how many folks were hired during this four-year period? It was probably a huge number. They were probably bloated then and now the workers have to pay the price for these misaligned workforce planning missteps.

The executive suite is a fishbowl

Meanwhile, this is an executive suite at HP that has been playing musical chairs. The CEO was accused of personal indiscretions and was bounced. The new CEO was then sent packing in less than a year after a failed tablet strategy. Board members and the latest CEO are charged with turning all this around. Talk about some heavy lifting!

Speaking from an organization perspective, we should all be happy that engagement is not lower. And these type pronouncements affect every organization, not only HP. Your workers watch the news; your workers discuss the news; your workers make their decisions based on this type of news.

To my CEO friends out there — always challenge everyone, not only your direct reports, to find opportunities for improvement. Dig down by walking around to understand the real problems. Don’t always depend on your direct reports. Talk to everyone to find the internal successes that you currently have.

You may find that there are outliers in your organization that are doing a tremendous job outside of the handcuffs of the corporate structure. You may have a workforce that is weary, but they want to win. Everyone does.

Move onward and remember that everyone is watching ALL THE TIME.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


1 Comment on “Good Times or Bad, Everyone is Watching What Management is Doing

  1. Ron, Great piece and a good reminder that someone is always watching and the leaders need to remember that they are the role models. One favor I have to ask, can we please stop calling the people who remain with the organization “survivors”? They are “employees” and by calling them survivors we do a disservice to true survivors.

    I wrote more on this last month at if you’d like to read more.
    Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.
    Only the best,

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