Software

Why is a visit from the big bosses so scary?


A friend of mine just went through a few days of unnecessary terror. The company she works for has several divisions, located in different cities. A couple of weeks ago, the staff in her office received an e-mail stating that one of the company's honchos was going to be in town and had set up two meetings with the staff.

Sounds pretty harmless, but here's a little background on my friend: Over the last 15 years, she has lost two jobs due to downsizing. One place she worked was purchased by other companies three times. The first two times, she was lucky and there was very little change in the day-to-day workings, except that the existing CEO stepped down and moved on, taking with him much of the positive culture that he was instrumental in creating.

When the third sale rolled around, the parent company thought geographic proximity was a business plus, so they moved my friend's company to its home office in a truly craptacular city where it snowed 364 days of the year. She chose not to relocate.

So, not unlike Pavlov's poor little manipulated dog, the e-mail from headquarters set off some fire alarms in her head. Attention from the big executives? This could not be good. A sale? A layoff? Soon, she had herself convinced she was going to be spending Christmas in a soup line.

It turns out that the meeting was actually a positive gesture by management to plan strategy for the coming year. In fact, the executives expressed some surprise when employees took them aside and asked if this meant there were going to be layoffs.

This whole thing was not a lesson for my friend as much as it was a lesson for the execs. Sometimes you can be so concerned with looking up and ahead that you truly fail to see the little ripples around you. I think the whole thing was an eye opener for those executives in that they got a crash course in how insecure and gunshy the modern workforce can be. I've never seen it actually happen, but maybe in the future, execs will begin their e-mail with "This is not about layoffs" and save some people some unnecessary anxiety.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Several years ago, my boss asked quietly where I knew the new CIO from. She has seen me and my usual lunch bunch having lunch, laughing and telling stories. Alas, I had to explain that we were the only underlings that weren???t scared spit-less of him. So, when we saw him looking lost and forlorn with his lunch tray I invited him over. You know, every time after that he visited our location he had lunch with us.

arty_doe
arty_doe

It can only be scary if you know that perhaps you have slacked off at work, but if you have done what expected of you, then there is nothing to worry, unless the company is in a financial crisis.

tiwarinabin
tiwarinabin

If the reason of the visit is known its not that scary but when there is unknown reason then uncertainty having vote for insecurity becomes the main reason for the visit of the boss to be scary

Professor8
Professor8

The main reason is that they tend to be B-school bozos these days. They don't understand (want to understand?) plain English or candor. They get into tizzies over the minor, and let major problems go unameliorated. At the same time, they don't want to reveal their priorities and the reasons for them because of their personal insecurities and empire-building plans, and the desire in a few to get away with pulling a fast one as it were. Set the goal, give us what we need to get there, leave to us the ways and means and the path, then spread the wealth to those who worked together to create it, oh, and be open to ideas for the next great goal... Actually listen/ see (Hark! Behold!) what we're saying and showing to you.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Once upon a time I worked for a very good company who did attack dirctly the problem you mention. Everyone had a top 5 priority list. The presidents came from a long term strategic planning program, and then the president would take his list and give it to his direct reports, and they would pass it to their directs and so on. So when we got down the line to my group, I could see what the president's priorities were and see all the people down to my boss chose to create priorities that supported or complemented those of the people above. This made project planning and priorities in the group so much easier. It was pretty transparent. Of course the devil is in the details. We had the benefit of some very well done higher level priorities like - reduce the deivery time of product X from 90 days to 60 days, or eliminate X major bugs from our software. If you leave the high level stuff as vague generalities (improve productivity, reduce costs, improve revenue) then you won't see anyone making good ways to support that because they lack a good goal and just about anything can be justified with one of those vague criteria. James

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Too funny, HR always arrived with a huge non-speaking counterpart. The muscle part of the equation, to protect against irate members who felt they were being treated unfairly. Mostly just for show but always present. Seems kind of strange, the manager, HR, the prospective unemployed and this gorilla, in a small office with the door closed. Bet he packs a piece too.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We had an HR VP who only showed up (in a chauffeured limo, no less) to swing the ax. When his ride pulled up in the parking lot (in visitor's space or course, to be closer to the door), it was like turning on the light in a bad gas station bathroom. If the brass would show up on a regular basis, good, bad, or otherwise, this wouldn't be a problem. My IT director is in town every few months, usually unannounced. Other than mooching a free lunch off her occasionally, for me it's just business as usual.

GSG
GSG

That takes some b@11s. I'm surprised he didn't leave only to find the tires slashed and the chauffeur duct-taped in the trunk

Jaqui
Jaqui

throat slashed and limo missing. need a getaway vehicle you know. limo driver drafted to drive you.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

why the chauffeur didn't do the job himself and make off in the big ride. I think it was on retainer. At that time corporate headquarters was in Columbia, SC, about an hour from the manufacturing plant in Batesburg. Whenever any of the wheels had to come over here they put in a call for their ride. God forbid they should have to drive an hour themselves. Only saw the pres, CFO, QA VP a couple of times a year, never for longer than an afternoon. The HR VP only showed when heads had to roll.

Jaqui
Jaqui

with a this is not about layoffs? that would just say they are trying to suprise everyone when they lay half the staff off. a better way would be to put the agenda for the meetings into the email.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Any normally paranoid employee, would view, this is not about layoffs as a an attempt to divert attention from the fact that it is. Agenda : Outsourcing.... oops :p

JamesRL
JamesRL

If you don't provide one, people will assume the worst. When I visit my staff in other parts of the country, the know why I am there. I make it a point to have a one on one with each of them, even if its a morning coffee(outside of the office). If you are bringing everyone together for a meeting, it s good idea to give them some idea why. If people are afraid of the big bosses coming by, then the big bosses aren't there often enough. James

Jaqui
Jaqui

or are not involved with the staff enough when they are there. both can cause the same distrust. Any good Manager knows that communication with their staff is key to good morale, specially in the head office Management visiting a satellite office in another city situation.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I try to find a reason to talk to everbody every day. Sometimes its a status update or to pass along news, but in every case its a chance to open the door for other communications. Sometimes its by phone, other times its through instant messenging. James

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