A Matter to Consider

It came out of the blue.

          It was a matter to consider, a memo from the CEO asking staff to think about taking voluntary redundancy packages as a consequence of the organisation’s precarious financial situation.

          We knew what the precarious financial situation was. We knew that the building costs had blown out from $50 million to well over $100 million but we’d been told, and the stakeholders had been told continually, that we could meet our commitments, blah, blah! We thought we were safe.

          In his memo the CEO said the Board had asked him to take this step, which seemed a mealy-mouthed way of putting it. If savings had to be made the effect of a few staff taking packages was not going to have much effect on the bottom line.

          And if there was one thing that previously the Board had liked talking about it was the Bottom Line.

          I bided my time. We had three weeks to consider our options. Doing nothing was an unstated option. I took two weeks. Then I made what I considered was a strategic decision.

          Boards, businesses, organisations of all shapes and sizes have strategic plans but I thought I would try a different tack. I would get in first with an alternative proposal.

          My alternative proposal, my strategic decision, was to arrange a meeting with the CEO at which I suggested that I might reduce my hours over the next couple of years to 60 per cent. I had worked the first half of my fifteen years with the organisation as a consultant on similar terms while pursuing other options.

I had other options I wanted to pursue again but favoured the idea of the 60 per cent as a safety net. Besides, there was much unfinished business with the organisation I wanted to complete. In making my suggestion I thought I was careful in not overstating my other options but instead felt that I had myself seemed willing and understanding to make a sacrifice for the medium-term good of the organisation.

I had the meeting with the CEO on a Friday and during the meeting he flipped through a lot of the building plans on which the cost blowouts had taken place. He showed me areas where my ideas would be utilised, where I would have genuine input. He said, ‘You are an important part of this organisation. WE DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU.’ And then he repeated, ‘WE DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU.’ He thanked me for my proposal and said, ‘We will come back to you Monday or Tuesday.’

When international political leaders and diplomats hold discussions they often describe the results as ‘fruitful’ when ‘negligible’ is probably what they mean. I walked out feeling INVINCIBLE. My strategic decision had paid off.

Monday came.

Tuesday went.

Wednesday ditto.

Thursday, the commercial manager rang, ‘Could we meet in five?’ As I arrived the CEO dashed out the door. Our eyes did not meet. He averted his gaze. When I entered the commercial manager’s office the HR manager was in tow.

‘We’ve decided to let you go.’ 

It was the CM speaking.

It didn’t register.

‘We’ve decided to RETRENCH you. Grant’s [the HR manager] worked out all your entitlements.’ Nice work, Grant.

Was I missing something? What about those affirmations from the CEO six days before. My strategic discussion hadn’t proved so strategic after all. Maybe the best action would have been no action. Maybe my offer to work 60 per cent had been interpreted that I was only 60 per cent committed to my job. Maybe I was 50 per cent short in the team-player stakes. Their arithmetic not mine.

‘The organisation’s stuffed blah, blah’, the CM added.

That was supposed to be a consolation.

When the news comes it comes.

The matter had been considered.





© Bernard Whimpress

March, 2010