It would be a crime on the high seas if a ship’s captain threw crew members overboard instead of cargo in an attempt to lighten the ship in the midst of a storm. Yet, corporations do this so routinely (routinely … routinely … routinely … routinely) that it is news when it doesn’t happen:
Oh wait …
This isn’t a post saying layoffs are evil and never legitimate and that companies should go bankrupt fully staffed. But consider the difference between Bluebell’s CEO discussing massive layoffs (37% of its entire workforce) and HP’s CEO discussing the same at HP:
There’s a difference there, and it’s not the monologue vs interview format.
For Bluebell’s Paul Kruse, the pain is evident in having to make the decision to sacrifice people — Bluebell’s people — in order to literally save the company after a true “black swan” event broadsided the company. For HP’s Meg Whitman, axing 55,000 of HP’s people is just part of the program to “restructure” the company, become “lean and efficient,” and hit the promised profit target of 7%-9%. (HP’s most recent quarterly performance turned in a profit margin of 6%.)
And that’s the difference. Throwing people overboard to save the ship is one thing — a tragic, but necessary act of duty. But throwing people overboard to turn a 6% profit into a 7% profit so that a forecast made to investment bankers can come true? That is quite another thing.
The ability to tell the difference, and move as a leader against the prevailing currents of conventional business wisdom, begins with this simple recognition: that this is about people, and they matter. So, say it with me:
- They are people, not “resources”;
- They are people, not “FTE’s”;
- They are people, not “costs”;
- They are people, not “headcount”;
This exercise is best when it is universal. In fact, it may be easier to start outside your organizational world and begin seeing people where too often we only see labels. For example:
- They are people, not “consumers”;
- They are people, not “illegals” (yep, went there!);
- They are people, not [insert politically objectifying label of choice]”;
- They are people, not cases/fetuses/”choices” (yep, went there too!);
- They are people, not simply races/genders/orientations/religions;
- They are people, not “sinners”/”infidels”;
I think that’s enough hot buttons for one day. Hopefully, the picture is clear. We live amongst people, work to serve people, and lead organizations of people. If we fail to see them as such, we will never lead in a way that treats them as people, values them as people, or receives the benefits of their energy, skill, creativity, and ingenuity that comes from them being PEOPLE.
The horrific events of yesterday put a lot of issues before the eyes of America, but there is one thing that is neither political, ideological, or controversial:
Life is singular, unpredictable, fleeting, precious, and final.
As a leader, you have been given much in the way of responsibility and authority, but also benefits and privileges. More than anyone in your organization, you have the power to set the course, choose the target, and determine the measure of what success means. You have the power to impact people’s lives — your people — in heavy and profound ways. What will you do with those benefits, those privileges, that power, and your singular, unpredictable, fleeting, precious, and final life? Will you treasure your crew, or your cargo, on this journey of your leadership life?
When (not if) the storms come, which one will you grab first to throw overboard?