Winning At Life 101

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Firing away


CABINET APPOINTEES, heads of government organizations, and even military chiefs seem to be summarily replaced just months or weeks into their incumbency. The news just pops up that a certain person has left his or her post. Some reason such as medical leave and “spending more time with the family” is seen as a pro forma exit line. And the replacement is just outside the door. (We have some other plans for the dismissed executive — like swimming with sharks.)

Movies make firing look easy. If someone displeases the boss or is discovered to have committed a felony, or just a case of loss of confidence, he is summarily dismissed in a big scene with the simple words — “you’re fired.” There was even a famous TV program (The Apprentice) that launched a president with just these two words. The terminated one stomps out of the room and conversation resumes.

In the movie Robocop, a rogue executive grabs the chairman as hostage right in front of a startled board and the robot hero programmed to defend and protect the management team hesitates in attacking the hostile turncoat. All the chairman does then is shout out — “you’re fired.” This is all the robot needs to hear for his lights to blink and his head to whir towards the attacker. The fired hostage-taker is shot and thrown by Robocop from the 50th floor window, with no parachute.

In the tech world, it seems deep cuts in headcount have been the order of the day. It’s not just “content moderators” that are getting the axe. Artificial intelligence and robots are taking over the other jobs too.

When companies need to reduce the number of employees, they implement an early retirement program. This is an enhanced separation package over the regular retirement package (sometimes with over a 100% premium). It is targeted at certain employees, including senior executives that contribute to higher cost reductions. These “voluntary” programs still provide the option for management to turn down applicants (Sorry, you’re not in the list).

Still, companies have a way of signaling individuals for whom despedida parties have already been budgeted complete with video tributes from colleagues who have opted and been allowed to stay. (He always carries a handkerchief in his back pocket.) Signals, not always subtle, communicate to a target that his continued employment is at risk.

The targeted executive is dropped from the list of attendees at a town hall meeting. Then he is stripped of different functions, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast but nudging the target nearer the cliff. Often, this “stick” method works well enough by itself. But just to speed things up, the carrot is also served. (Do I look like a rabbit?) Maybe in the computation of separation pay, the sweetened pot is further made to bubble by throwing in the purchase of the car at book value. A ritzy club share is thrown in for the soon-to-be retiree’s continued enjoyment. Can he also bring home his desk? (Why not?)

Still, not all terminated employees go quietly into the night. Even after a replacement has been announced, the sadly sacked can pretend to be ambush-interviewed and reveal a dark plot to have her ousted — I’ve been intrigued. This is a rough translation of the vernacular expression of being subjected to back-stabbing and social pressure.

Some targets may consider themselves invulnerable. Maybe, they were hired as a special favor to someone powerful. The protector may not even be informed of the plan until afterwards. When the firing happens, he can feign surprise — I didn’t know.

Firing is always couched as a necessity. Vague reasons are forwarded: he has lost his zest for life; he has become dysfunctional; he is not a team player and in his old age has been picking fights with everyone. These justifications are not in any minutes of any meeting. They just circulate as small talk, or overheard conversations.

Softening the blow is always a generous exit package. A “soft landing” however does not always mean that the passenger is afforded a door leading to the chute where the wheelchair awaits.

Anyway, appeals at the exit interview are expected. Even the parting words of “let’s keep in touch” are not to be taken seriously. Why go through the details of why there was a falling out. It’s best to part ways amicably — can we just do the math? And that is truly… the bottom line.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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