The other day I was talking to a friend whose daughter just started a promising career. “How’s it going?” I asked.
“She loves the job. But she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have it.”
“Oh, no. What happened?”
“Nothing yet. But she’s had to reapply for the job.”
“Why does she have to reapply for a job she already has?”
I then got a lesson in contemporary corporate logic. The story, as I heard it, was that the order came down that overheads were too high. After deciding that the corporate jet and the stadium box were mission critical to the functioning of the business, management decided that people had to go. Fat needed to be trimmed.
I’m not sure exactly what happened next but one thing is clear. No manager put up their hand and said, “No worries. I’ve let the fat accrete in my department for years. There’s a ton of people sitting around doing nothing. I’ll whack ‘em all. Problem solved.”
It was more like no one wanted to be the bad guy. They couldn’t very well just walk through the office and fire the person in every fourth cubicle. And they didn’t want to admit that there were problems. And, I almost forgot–they didn’t want to have to pay severance pay and things like that to people who were let go through no fault of their own.
So some genius hit upon a brilliant idea.
They decided to announce that changes in the business environment required a bold move to realign the organization’s structure with external realities. I’m sure that the announcement included phrases like “the only constant in today’s business world is change,” “serve our customers and stakeholders better,” and “achieve our strategic vision.”
But the basic message of the announcement was that effective immediately, everyone’s job had been “disestablished.” They actually used that word. That means that whatever job you’ve been doing no longer exists. Too bad. But, because we’re such nice guys, we’re letting you reapply to get a job which is not, technically, the same job as the one you’ve been doing. So we can also pay you less.
Through this act of management by non-management, they have allowed themselves to downsize without firing anyone. All they have to do is say, “Oh, sorry, you’re not right for the job,” or “There were better qualified applicants,” “Severance pay? That’s for people who have been terminated. You weren’t terminated, you just weren’t hired. And everyone knows you don’t have to pay severance pay to people who don’t get jobs they apply for. And what are you going to do about it?”
The added bonus is that morale is so bad that, in spite of the economy, people are leaving so headcount may get low enough that they don’t even have to go through the effort of rehiring everyone.
I’m sure the wizard who thought up this plan has a bright future in the organization. He or she might even get to ride on the corporate jet someday.