Outsourcing With Grace
by Robert H. Thompson


Grace moved swiftly down the hallway towards the cafeteria, nodding hello to those she passed. Some looked her in the eyes with stares that would freeze fire. Others kept their heads down as if looking for a pin on the grey slate floor tiles. Phil was the only one who managed a sheepish hello. She knew what was coming. Rumors were flying. This all-hands meeting was meant to put them to rest.

Her mission, as VP operations, was to explain the decision from above. They were struggling with margins and profit was down considerably. Flexibility, focus and less management became the order of the day. It was all about the “O” word. They were outsourcing a number of functions. Some folks would be eased out while others would be asked to do more. Several in the room would be asked to take new positions. Painless? No chance.

It was up to her to share the rationale and ease the wounds. She was up all night in stress mode, trying to find soothing words that would tame the beasts that were sure to rise up. Was she up to the task? That was the question she tossed and turned with all night.

“Good morning,” she whispered into the microphone.  “Can you hear me?”

The crowd began to settle down. Those at the refreshment table began to move towards their seats. Show time.

“Many of you have heard the rumors and have an idea of why we’re here this morning. For some it’s good news. For others? Well, let me start at the beginning.

“It’s been more than a few months, but some time ago, as most of you are aware, we noticed serious stagnation spewing from our ship.  We needed to figure out new ways to do business, or our ship would sink.

“Like you, I have concerns about this latest move. I am very grateful for all that you have done to try to remedy our situation without this drastic action being necessary. But the Board is resolute. They want to spread the risk, increase operational efficiencies and generate some cost savings. They feel this is the smartest strategy. After careful consideration, I am in full agreement.

“However, just to be very clear, we who remain in what you lovingly call the ‘C-Suite’ will also be impacted. Pardon the mixed metaphors here, but there will be no platinum parachutes while the plane is in a nosedive at 30,000 feet. Nor, will you be ejected from the cargo bay carrying a knapsack filled with employee of the month plaques to hasten your fall.”

In unison, the crowd let out a nervous laugh and then quickly found their silence again.

“We are all keenly aware that the Internet has changed everything for us as well as our industry,” Grace continued, happy to see she could break the tension even for a second.

“We’ve tried several, what turned out to be, short term fixes. You were all involved in reviewing processes and cutting the fat. We brought in the gurus to help us stop doing the stupid stuff that was getting in the way. But it turns out that was not enough. We need to focus like a laser. And that’s what we are going to do.

“Cynics in the room think we are setting out with malice to eradicate jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. That would be suicide. Our current situation calls for sensible streamlining, not suffocation.”

A few stifled coughs echoed from the back of the room.

“We now find ourselves smack dab in a raging global economy. Obviously, a downsizing transformation in many organizations hasn’t always been well received or, most importantly, well done. People’s lives have been affected inappropriately. We want to do everything possible to avoid that outcome. The stakes are too high to leave human debris in our wake.

“We know, among other actions, that education is the key. People will need to be retrained, not just for a new job, but also for a new mindset. Everyone in the room will be afforded that opportunity. We want to eliminate fear, resistance and remove the prophecy of doom.

“Some of you who are staying with us will be asked to change functions from something that might be comfortable to something challenging. We hope all of you will be newly inspired by our fresh approach. We want you to expand your career and erase those limiting thoughts so you can continue to learn and grow.

“For those who are not continuing with us, we hope we can calm your fears and urge you to look at this as an opportunity as well. We have prepared plenty of options and supportive next steps. Elaine from HR will share the details later, but we want you to know we truly appreciate your contributions.

“No matter which group you fall into, we ask you to not adopt a ‘victim’ mentality. Whether with us or not, we want to encourage you to embrace the attitude of leadership we have nurtured. Become indispensable in your next position. Go after what you love, your niche, and develop it. In short, take ownership of you. Keep in mind, the life we all lead is the sum total of all of our moment-to-moment choices. We want to help you choose wisely.

“Even though this situation is unavoidable, we continue to embrace the leadership messages we all heard from Abby Bancroft of Perfect Leadership Consulting last year.

“Remember, Abby was insistent we close the gap between our beliefs and behaviors. She told us clarity of values is transferrable from workplace to workplace. Real leaders understand these are the fundamentals for themselves and those who choose to work with them.

“Regardless of your situation today, we want to be of service to you as you transition. We hope you can continue to build your competence and challenge yourself in the future no matter where you land.

“Abby was adamant we can stay in our ‘sweet-spot’ regardless of external circumstances. Each day, she said, we get to choose anew how we respond to our circumstances. I remember Abby saying leaders ask ‘what do I want my life to look like today’, not ‘what do I have to do today.’ That was huge for me. I hope it had that impact on you as well.

“Perhaps some of you today will be the entrepreneurs stretching the boundaries we see celebrated on the front page of Fortune magazine tomorrow.

“I mean what would our world look like if Gates and Allen, Jobs and Wozniak, Page and Brin, Filo and Yang, etc. had stayed in a sequestered structure that celebrated conformity? Would we have Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo!? Without Bob Noyce and his ‘Magnificent Seven’, would our Silicon Valley have spawned hundreds of companies from Varian, Fairchild, HP, Cisco, Intel and numerous others to reshape the world and how we experience it? Perhaps. However, I would argue the contrary. Real leaders are always looking to stir things up a bit. I am convinced you will do the same.

“The most powerful positive springing from our efforts today might be more hungry entrepreneurial efforts being tossed onto the marketplace fire. This stoking of burning passions to succeed ensures that innovation in our community continues to thrive.

“Those stubbornly opposed to this decision will say the pain is too great. Their position is we should not view this as an innovative “creative fire”, but rather the scorching of lives. They build walls, figuratively or literally, and with fingers plugging their ears scream at the injustice in the same tones as Western Union ignored the telephone or the town Lamplighters laughed at Edison.”

 “Personal as well as organizational struggle is a shadow of innovation and growth,” Grace said, aiming her gaze at the back of the room where more chuckles and whispers could be overheard.
“However, although there are numerous examples, Silicon Valley history alone proves without struggle little is gained. When hungry, talented and, yes, sometimes disgruntled workers tap their creative power the world shifts. New products and companies emerge and boundaries of impossibilities are shattered.

“Our own history books tell us breaking barriers and forging into new frontiers is not suicide, but rather a part of the American dream.

“Perhaps we can chat about it sometime on Facebook,” she beamed.

“But seriously, I bring my full commitment to you as we move through this process.

“Please recall Abby’s insistence around commitment. With it we can overcome the largest obstacles. Without commitment, nothing changes. Not you. Not me. Nothing!

“Again, thank you for all you have done and for your understanding in this difficult situation. It’s time for some detail and good ol’ Q and A. Elaine would you please join me up here and help me share some of the particulars?”


The Author

Robert Thompson The Offsite

Robert H. Thompson is the author of The Offsite: A Leadership Challenge Fable, a speaker and executive coach. He can be reached at http://www.leaderinsideout.com

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives

Copyright 2008 by
Robert H. Thompson. All rights reserved.

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