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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Christian" Competitive Spin

The Reduction in Force from last week has now been implemented, and most of those leaving the company are starting their outplacement. Some are trying to negotiate better exit packages, and the inevitable 2-6 legal disputes (I'm making an educated estimate based upon headcount leaving) are being formed. As of this reduction I've now passed the 1,100 mark in people I've helped terminate in my 25+ years in HR or operations. As reductions go (none of them are pleasant), this one seems to be heading in the right direction. People's spirits are good, and we're getting inquiries from companies wanting to hire some of them. We've had a resignation or two that will create openings for someone on the list, and we're generally getting high marks from our remaining staff as to how we implemented the reduction and are treating our people. Here at "ground zero" things are generally positive, which makes the spin on this from some agents and competitors comical, predictable, and disappointing given how this industry views itself.
This week we began hearing the spin through some authors, as relayed to them by this-or-that agent or competitor. According to the spin doctors, we're "imploding", there's mass exodus of the few remaining staff we didn't fire, our private equity owners are demanding more profit and may actually sell us off early in disgust, yadda, yadda, yadda. Said in Christian love I'm sure...
I sit in the Executive Leadership Team meetings, I've seen the preliminary financials, I was a contributor in the planning of the reduction, and sit in on the strategic planning meetings. In other words, I was there at the time and saw the numbers, heard the discussions, etc... The company is financially healthy, we've had two lower-level staff members resign for family or personal reasons since the announcement on Tuesday, the reduction was strategic and not reactionary, and the company's communications on this reduction have been absolutely authentic. Those are the facts, and I find fascinating the use of false information as a competitive tool in a Christian industry.
I love fair business competition. Going back to my Wal-Mart days when our rallying cry was, "Beat K-Mart" (then the big-boys on the block), its been one of the real pleasures of the business life to identify a competitor and beat them silly. One of the few philosophical disagreements I have with some of my brothers and sisters on our leadership team is their feeling that our industry does the Good Work of the gospel and that we should wish the best for all of our industry, including our competitors, so that the Good News gets out. I, on the other hand, am completely comfortable with, "We win, they lose". Its a character flaw I'm sure...
So while I love competition, the unfair, rumor-mill, press-leak, "we're holier than they are" competition that goes on in this industry falls way short of who we are or should be as people. As a businessman, I'm for a level playing field and whomever can work smartest and hardest and wins buys the loser a drink. As a Christian, I'm for everybody living up to their baptismal promises as they step into the arena of competition. Being a tough competitor, in other words, is not the same as being mean or hateful.
So to some of our agents and competitors (for surely we share this industry with some great people), and please feel free to send this link to them since I doubt they subscribe to an employment blog, I have an old message from our former CEO that I think is applicable. In my first year with the company we had a now-former executive who acted in a really mean-spirited way to one of his staff. I took this to Sam Moore to make sure we were aligned before I called the exec on his behavior. Sam thought for a moment, then looked up at me and said, "You go tell him I said to stop calling himself a Christian until he's willing to act like one".

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