If the Employees are Starving for Information, Let Them Eat Cake!

Here we went again! The President of the corporation announced another massive reorganization and new strategic vision. We all received the memo. It was about 500 words long. We had been operating as business unit segments but now we were returning to the tried and true method of being organized as separate companies under one corporate banner. Great! The previous restructuring had begun about 18 months earlier and we were just about half way through getting that one all organized. Of course everyone was still reeling from the catharsis. This was a large multi-location corporation and our last strategic move had been a huge undertaking. Employees had been transferred all over the place. Reporting relationships had become so convoluted that no one was sure of who did what. Scores of people came and went. Now it was to be chaos time all over again.

After reading all of the new platitudes like, “When it comes to quality we take no prisoners”, “The customer’s vision is our focus” and blah, blah, blah, we got to the paragraph that everyone was really interested in. Hmmm, it seemed that some of the VP’s and their staffs that had been brought on over a year ago would be leaving, some would be staying with new titles and, of course, a few new VP’s and directors would shortly appear to support the strategic vision du-jour. What about the rest of us? The memo ended abruptly with the line, “If you have any further questions, please see your manager or supervisor.”

Hold on! I was a manager. My direct reports were inundating me with questions. I had no answers and no more information than they did. At the time, I believed that this was probably just a slip up by the wordsmith who had penned the memo. I was certain that more information would follow and placated the staff with my confidence that soon we would all be informed of the gory details. Two days later, it was time for our weekly management conference call with my superior from headquarters. My level of middle management was functionally “matrixed” into the headquarters staff and so I had at least some form of connection there. The agenda called for a discussion of the reorganization and the memo. Super! The boss asked if everyone had read the document. All managers answered in the affirmative. He then proceeded directly to the next item on the agenda. Huh? We anxiously awaited the end of the meeting when he always asked if there was any other business. When he did, the questions flew. He was silent for a moment and then asked us again if we had all read the memo. Again, we answered in the affirmative. “There are your answers,” he stated in a semi-sarcastic tone. End of meeting.

Weeks went by and nothing seemed to change. There was no further communication from above. Everyone kept on doing what he or she was doing but there was heavy tension in the air. Rumors flew and productivity began to slip. Where was the leadership? Everyone hungered for information. Where were the meetings with our new leaders to discuss the new organizations, the new strategies, etc.? Although there was always a bevy of strange characters running through the plants and offices appearing to suffer severe eyestrain from constantly staring into their cranberries and looking like deranged madmen talking aloud to themselves on the bluebirds stuck in each ear, very few employees or even managers had ever spoken to, met or even seen their business segment or company leaders from even the prior reorganization let alone the latest one.

A few months passed and things seemingly returned to normal – at least whatever “normal” meant in our goofy organization. Then a bombshell hit. Another memo from a General Manager of one of the newly reorganized (but not as yet really organized) companies announced that his “company” was being sold. It was another tersely constructed document that lacked any kind of details. The tension level rose again. Everyone was waiting for the next shoe to drop. Still, there were no further communiqués from headquarters or our local company leaders.

Finally, we all received an Email from the corporate head of HR. We would be asked to complete an attitude survey. Wow! I’d been through these before in my previous corporate lives. Here was the opportunity that many had been waiting for. Perhaps now we could vent our frustrations and get some answers. But the surveys were short and concentrated only on inquiring as to whether we were all in lock step with the corporation’s new vision and how we felt that we could contribute to it. What? There was only one small area in the survey where employees could “free-form” any questions or comments. The surveys were completed. Disappointment and anxiety returned.

A month later, we were graced with the results. The corporate leadership was shocked by the statistics. Over 85% of the employees reported that they neither understood the new strategy nor how they could contribute to it. In fact, demographically, only those respondents in the very top layer of management voiced any detailed knowledge or support of the new vision. What a surprise! It seemed that that the rest of us were neutral and confused. Something had to be done.

The answer came about a week later when corporate HR sent out a mandate that each of the company’s offices and plants were to encourage corporate sponsored bowling or softball teams and we were all to implement a monthly celebration of service anniversaries topped off with a cake! There was no further information and again, we returned to the status quo. The tension and anxiety grew and grew. We did get a cake every month.

Perhaps the fans of Marie Antoinette live on!

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