The gentleman is taking a well-deserved break. And the one across the floor
has opted to pursue more challenging options elsewhere. Having contributed
greatly to scaling the operations of this company, yet another senior executive
has decided that it is time to move on… The slowdown may have gobbled up
scores of baby companies, but it certainly spawned a new genre of euphemisms.
Firing people was called anything but that–rightsizing, downsizing, clearing
the bottom 5%, and so on. It also gave birth to immortal ‘parting speech lines’
like the ones mentioned above.
No emotional outbursts, no showdowns… nothing dramatic that would make it
to the annals of company history. The truth is, most professional departures in
the slowdown were clean, dignified affairs–which is just as good. For a lot of
those asked to leave were respected, often rather senior-level professionals
whose contribution to their companies could not be denied.
Then why were they asked to go, while many others asked to stay on? Well, it
would be safe to say that a majority of the people who lost their jobs during
the slowdown cannot be held responsible for it. In fact, in most cases, being
asked to leave was a fallout of the poor health of the company itself, not a
reflection on their competence. The IT boom had seen the emergence of several
companies banking on faulty revenue models for success. This, coupled with big
time salaries and perks that ate into venture capitalist money, had resulted in
unrealistic expectations that could never have been met. Not surprisingly, when
the bad times came, those with huge salaries, fancy cars and homes on the
company’s account, were the first to go. A professional of this profile would
have been hired during boom time, possibly because he was the god and not
because he was badly needed. When it came to cutting costs, the ‘must have on
board talent’ seemed like an avoidable expense that had to be curtailed. So
who stayed back? A colleague of the hot shot who could take on the same duties
at nearly half the cost.
The 1999-2000 boom also saw anticipatory hiring in huge numbers, especially
among software services companies and body shoppers who deployed consultants on
overseas projects. Given the rate at which projects were coming in and the quick
turnaround expected, these companies started hiring talent in hoards. There were
teams being hired and put through training courses while they waited for the
project to begin. Unfortunately, the downturn came and several projects never
materialized. Benched, professionals with quick fix diplomas, piggybacking on
the ‘hot technology’ of the day, had nowhere to go. The right qualities
ensure that a person has the flexibility to be assigned alternative functions
within the company. This could well relate to marketing a new technical concept
or training the marketing team in its nuances, who could do this better than a
techie who understands how it works? And the biggest draw for any employer, is
an employee who willingly takes on a function which the company needs at that
point of time, even if it is beyond his or her assigned role. After all, it is
time to consolidate assets, even human assets, and utilize them to the fullest.
The dot-com culture of splurging before the company breaks even is dead.
Managers and even CEOs turning up at work in a T- shirt and shorts with a single
ear-ring is not cool anymore. The events of the past year have seen companies
embrace some Old Economy ideas in a big way. Sound fundamentals, domain
knowledge and prudence have emerged victorious. For whacky ideas, let’s wait
for another boom in the future.
Manjiri Kalghatgi in New Delhi