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And the Nominees Are ...

April 9, 2007
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Related Topics: Employee Engagement, Corporate Culture, Ethics, Strategic Planning, Featured Article, Optimas
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T wo weeks ago in New York, we here at Workforce Management gave out our annual Optimas Awards to organizations that reflect the leadership, vision and energy that define workforce management. We’ve been honoring companies with these awards, presented in 10 categories, for 17 years now, and I am always amazed at the smart, forward-thinking work being practiced by the winners.

    But if the Optimas (meaning "among the best") winners represent the pinnacle in managing, motivating and maximizing the bottom-line efforts of a workforce, there is another side—organizations that seem to do whatever they can to cripple and diminish the work of the people throughout their workforce with regressive, ham-fisted policies and actions.

    I have always followed the principle that you learn more from failure than victory, from the bad rather than the good, and that the lesson learned is frequently so vivid and memorable that it might as well be branded on your brain.

    In that spirit I offer you something new: the Stupidus Maximus Award for the most ignorant, shortsighted and dumb workforce management practice of the year.

    Unlike the Optimas Awards, which have a long nominating process including a formal application and review by the editors of Workforce Management, the Stupidus Maximus Award will take a much simpler approach. I will write about bad workforce practices in my new blog, The Business of Management (at workforce.com), and occasionally here, and you can e-mail me nominations anytime. I will pick a winner based on over-the-top stupidity and shortsightedness, and I’ll write about it here in December.

    Although 2007 will be the first year for the Stupidus Maximus Award, last year’s winner would undoubtedly have been RadioShack for its corporate decision to lay off 400 people by e-mail. A front-runner for this year would have to be Circuit City, the electronics retailer, for its decision last month to fire 3,400 experienced salespeople, or 9 percent of the workforce, because they were making too much money. Under the plan, which the company called a "wage management initiative" (a classic in corporate double-speak), workers making more than 51 cents per hour above a set pay range for their departments (according to The Washington Post) were "separated" from their jobs and replaced with cheaper, less experienced personnel.

    For all the talk you hear today about the war for talent and getting the best people, Circuit City has decided to take another approach and dump its most experienced and highly paid workers. And, if the higher pay accurately reflected the quality of work, these were also the best salespeople and floor staff in the company.

    Although this move will reportedly save Circuit City $100 million per year, what kind of people will the company now attract since it is clear that the retailer is no longer willing to pay for good work? As Post columnist Steve Pearlstein put it, Circuit City "has made it clear to consumers that it doesn’t give a fig about service or being a good member of the community," and that "for $100 million or so in annual cost savings, it is willing to become a symbol of everything that is rotten about American capitalism."

    Businesses restructure and people get laid off all the time. It’s never easy to do, but generally there is a reason behind the layoffs that makes sense on some level. The Circuit City layoffs make no sense at all. As U.C. Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken analyzed it for The New York Times: "What makes this troubling is that it is not an auto parts supplier in Michigan under global pressure; this is a retail giant jettisoning its most experienced workers because it is under pressure from the Best Buy across the street. That is a big story."

    And a good Stupidus Maximus nominee, don’t you agree? Send your suggestions for equally boneheaded workforce business decisions to me: jhollon@workforce.com.

Workforce Management, April 9, 2007, p. 34 -- Subscribe Now!

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