When Systems Walk Out the Door

My wife Susan and I had lunch last week with a couple from our church—I’ll call them Gary and Michelle. While waiting for our Panera Bread sandwiches, Michelle shared with us that she had just been laid off from her job. For the past 14 years, she had been working at the top level in telecommunications, recently with a company that does business with the medical industry. It was logical to assume this type of company would be well-organized, with very sophisticated standards of operation.

Michelle told us she had been summoned to the human resources office and informed of her layoff “effective immediately”—with short notice and little explanation, other than that the company had lost a major piece of business and needed to “drastically” reduce staff. She was one of many that day who received notice and, as you might imagine, was at first devastated by the news. Michelle had never been without a job in her career, and had NEVER been laid off from any of them.

She shared that, as she was sitting in human resources trying to make sense of it all, she asked the department manager, who had delivered the bad news, “How is the company going to service the remaining customers that have relied on me and my department?”

Michelle told the manager that most of what she handled for the company was exclusive to her. Over the years, she had obtained special information no one else knew how to process or had access to—i.e., internal access codes and other knowledge the company would need in order to continue serving its remaining customers. She was amazed that no one in the company thought to ask her for that exclusive information, or to have her train anyone else, before letting her just walk.

Michelle was not bitter or angry, just surprised that management had virtually no knowledge of the information she processed, or even understood exactly what she did in her position. After the meeting, Michelle had gone back to her office to clear out her desk and finish out the day. About an hour after the meeting, the HR manager stopped by to inform her that management wanted to meet with her before she left, if she was willing. She agreed and went back upstairs.

Philip Beyer, founder/president of Beyer Printing and Ebiz Products LLC in Nashville, TN, is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant, author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business," and an InterTech Award recipient for the design and development of System100™ business process management software. Philip speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses.
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  • Linda

    Thank-you for that story Philip – it is a good reminder of why systems work. Fortunately for this company Michelle wasn’t vindictive.