By Jon Miller | Post Date: April 6, 2007 7:34 AM | Comments: 5
If you haven't exercised your neck muscles lately, read the first few paragraphs of the article Short-Circuited: Cutting Jobs as Corporate Strategy and shake your head in disbelief as you scratch Circuit City off of your shopping list for a while.
After the story of Circuit City and their egregious approach to layoffs, the article states:
"...we have learned a lot about good practices and bad practices [in eliminating jobs] by watching companies in action."
What did they learn?
Research has shown that if a company announces a downsizing without a broader reference to a strategic plan, its stock price will, on average, drop 5% to 6% over the next several days, according to Useem. By contrast, if large-scale job cuts are announced as part of a broader restructuring, and a strategic plan is laid out, the firm's stock will rise some 4%, on average, in the days following the announcement. Useem says the research shows that, contrary to popular wisdom, Wall Street does not always welcome job cuts for their own sake.
Translation: say "Oops! We screwed up and we're gonna have to let some people go" gets you bad marks with Wall Street while saying "Ooops! We screwed up and we're gonna have to let some people go, but it's part of our strategy!" gets you high marks with those same folks.
The authors conclude that Wall Street isn't rabidly demanding job cuts in the name of improving financial performance:
How can layoffs as a means to reduce cost be anything other than a short-term measures? The laid off workers will only save you money that one time. Choosing to retain, retrain and reduce cost in the other 90% of the cost of goods sold is the true long-term strategy that brings lasting success to Toyota and other organizations focused on building great people and processes, not just product.
"Cultural revolution" is an unfortunate analogy, in the light of history. If you can't wake people up except by using the sound of gunshots from the people you are executing, you're really bad at waking people up. Layoffs are not strategy, they are a failure of strategy.
It may be the choice of words by Wharton management professor Lawrence Hrebniak that make it impossible to sympathize with the chief executive of Citibank:
"He's getting pressure from shareholders," Hrebiniak says of Charles Prince, Citigroup's chief executive. "He's feeling no love. He's got to show he's doing something to cut costs, improve margins, make some more money. So it may not primarily be a move to restructure at all; it could be a move to get critics off his back." If Citigroup does decide to cut 15,000 jobs, it would represent nearly 5% of its workforce of about 327,000.
In the typical scenario the incomes of people who are laid is reduced while the income of people who did the laying off increases. The way layoffs are used to improve stock prices in the short term enriches very few people, while causing disruption to the lives of many. In any case, no process is improved.
When layoffs become common business practice in a society, the distribution of wealth shifts away from the normal towards one that is bimodal.
Let's put a human face on this. The two humps are for the increasingly rich and increasingly poor. When layoffs are done as part of a strategy to increase shareholder value, people who were living in the middle of the normal distribution (the middle class, the working class, etc.) find themselves shifted to the left (less income) even as the number of very rich grows. We might even say that the people who have been laid off have been "humped."
There is nothing wrong with capitalist free market systems rewarding a small number of individuals very well for their superior performance. Layoffs as strategy is not superior performance, or even management but the lack thereof.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have personally terminated and laid off people in to keep a small business viable. That experience does not rank as a "strategy" in my book. It was a failure of strategy and a source of learning, not to be repeated. All of the points the article makes are valid. What is disappointing is that effort was put into writing about layoffs as strategy, rather than strategies to avoid them.
So for all of the CEOs out there shopping for some modern art with the millions pocketed from layoff strategies, here's an artist's rendering of your handiwork titled "The Bimodal Hump".
Bidding is now open on this piece, for the next 30 days or until the reserve price is met, but only from qualified CEOs who have been enriched by their layoff strategies.Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.