Friday, December 07, 2012

Great news - 4,500 people are going to lose their jobs

My grandfather - my mother's dad - was proud of his 40-year pin from General Electric.
There were a few years when he didn’t work, during the Depression. My grandmother served up food to the desperate men who showed up at the door, despite her family’s own hard times. 
But mostly, over more than four decades, Arthur Jones walked a long block down Lansdowne to the Davenport Works each day, came home for lunch, and went back in the afternoon.
There was an implicit deal - do the job well, and GE’s managers would do their job well so you would continue to be employed.
I thought about my grandfather this week, when a National Post headline sounded a familiar theme. “CP Rail shares climb on CEO's plan to cut 23 per cent of workforce,” it said. 
I like the psuedo precision, and neutrality, of phrases like “23 per cent of workforce.”
While shareholders were bidding up CP Rail stock, about 4,500 families - that’s the number of jobs to be cut - were coping with very bad news. People learned they would be unemployed, losing a good job a time when finding any work can be challenging.
I know CP Rail isn’t in business to provide jobs. That if managers didn’t cut these positions, then customers might go to a more efficient railway, and more jobs might be lost. And that shareholders deserve to have managers who run the business effectively and prudently on their behalf.
And I know that no one is being malevolent. CP Rail CEO Hunter Harrison and the management group are charged with - and rewarded for - increasing shareholder value. If they can run the railway with a fewer people, they have an obligation to do so. I’ve been a manager, and made those decisions.
But it’s troubling that we don’t see, or talk about, those 4,500 people and what’s ahead for them, as we talk about the share price. Can government help them, or should there be policies that protect the jobs, or support retraining?
I saw a lot of newspaper stories about Harrison’s plan to cut costs and jobs. But I didn’t read any stories about the family dead terrified by the prospect of unemployment, wondering how they would tell their kids that they had to move because they couldn’t make the mortgage. 
Who does speak for those people?
And how did the social contract between good employers and good employees change so dramatically, without a public discussion?
My grandfather’s tenure with GE came at the end of an era. Celebrity CEO Jack Welch won great praise for chopping more than 100,000 jobs at the company in five years in the early 1980s. 
It’s quite a contrast. My grandfather built giant transformers, as a worker and a foreman. When he was getting older, the company moved him into the guardhouse at the entry to the works, instead of eliminating his job. (He died too young, of lung cancer. You might wonder about the PCBs in those transformers. Or the roll-your-own cigarettes he smoked for 50 years.)
GE wasn’t an anomaly. Employers considered it correct to look after the people who did the work.
That’s changed. Global competition, reduced unionization, tremendous pressure on managers to produce better results every quarter - the social contract has been rewritten.
What’s troubling is that we haven’t talked about the change. We haven’t tallied the cost, or considered policy options, or discussed mitigation strategies. We’ve just adopted policies that resulted in millions of lost jobs. And millions of damaged families.
I doubt the CP Rail jobs could be saved.
But attention must be paid. (Yes, it’s a quote.) People’s lives should not be so casually altered for the worse.
And our public policy debate should be based on more than share prices.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Details of MacIntyre firing shows premier's office plays rough

They play rough in the premier’s office. At least that’s the way it looks from a series of emails following Sara MacIntyre’s firing as communications director in October.
Vaughn Palmer wrote about the emails this week.
MacIntyre seemed “blindsided and bereft” at her firing after eight months in the job, Palmer notes. She had apparently given up a pretty good gig as press secretary to Stephen Harper to join Christy Clark’s team.
The hiring might not have worked out. Certainly MacIntyre messed up in one notable exchange with the media - the video is here - that came to define her in a negative way.
But the firing, based on the email exchange, was brutal and unprofessional.
MacIntyre was called in for a morning meeting with Dan Doyle, Clark’s new chief of staff and told she was out of the job and would be dispatched to a undefined role in the government communications and public engagement office. (The PR shop.)
Later that day. MacIntyre tried to find out what the new job would be, what she would be paid and what her options were. That’s reasonable. That kind of downward move is a firing. The person involved - MacIntyre - has to consider whether to opt for severance rather than the new, lesser job.
So she emailed Lynda Tarras, head of HR for the government. 
“I would like to request some sort of written job description with duties and obligations, reporting structure and terms of employment as well,” wrote MacIntyre.
Tarras said pay and benefits would be unchanged and MacIntyre woud find out what her duties were when she reported to work for her new boss the next morning. No job description was provided.
As a former corporate guy, I have some experience in pushing people from jobs. 
And MacIntyre’s shift was not good HR practice. She should have been given information about the new role, a couple of days to consider her options - and see a lawyer - and respect as an employee.
It’s particularly brutal from the office of a premier who professes to be interested in a different way of doing things. (Though perhaps explained by a desperate desire to avoid paying still more severance to political appointments shown the door.)
I dealt with MacIntyre in her Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation days and found her professional, good at communications and always helpful.
Which doesn’t mean she was the right person for the communications’ director job, of course. And at that level of political job - it paid something like $125,000 - the risk of dismissal is always present.
But the emails suggest a basic disrespect and lack of professionalism.
Palmer notes another interesting aspect to this. The NDP used an FOI request to get the emails, which show HR head Tarras was communicating with MacIntyre in writing. But in ousting Clark's chief of staff Ken Boessenkool a month later after an incident in a Victoria bar with a female staffer, Tarras committed not one single word to paper about her investigation or the departure.
That too shows either poor HR practice, or a desire to avoid FOI accountability.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Clark's new staff, and the hiring freeze that wasn't

When Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced a hiring freeze in September, because the government's budget projections were faulty and the deficit was rising, most people thought he meant, well, a hiring freeze.
Certainly in my past life as a corporate guy, a hiring freeze meant you couldn’t hire people. (Not always a smart policy.)
But according to an unnamed spokesperson for Premier Christy Clark, what de Jong really meant was that no new positions would be created.
So when Clark added three new people to the premier's office Monday - taking her staff from 31 to 34 - that was consistent with a hiring freeze, in her mind, because she had 34 people working for her at some point in the past.
The public wasn't alone in being confused.
The government's HR arm outlined a "NEW" Hiring Approval Process after de Jong’s announced “freeze.”
"There is currently a hiring freeze on all non-critical positions across the BC Public Service. All internal and external hiring requests - including regular, temporary and auxiliary appointments, renewals and extensions - require approval from your deputy minister and the Deputy Minister to the Premier. Hiring will only be approved for areas of critical service or to meet an urgent government priority.
“Consideration must first be given to internal candidates. Requests for external hires will only be approved for critical roles -- corrections and social workers, for example -- and must demonstrate why an internal candidate could not be identified.”
The website could have been a little more accurate. Critical roles include “corrections and social workers” and staffers in the premier’s office.
Clark added her fifth key communications staffer in 21 months, former TV reporter and Ontario Liberal staffer Ben Chin.
Which brings to mind a joke I used in reference to Gordon Campbell’s fretting about communications problems.
A man goes to see the marriage counsellor who has been working with the couple, and says, “The problem is my wife doesn’t understand me.”
“Sure she does,” the counsellor says. “She just thinks you’re a jerk.”
After hiring and whacking three communications directors in a short period, it’s time to consider that the problem might not be communications strategy. It might that people get what you’re saying, and just don’t like it.