Personalizing the Layoffs
I had to tell someone that he was reachable this week.
For those who don't work in the bureaucracy known as the
City and County of San Francisco, this means that he might be "bumped"
from his job by a senior employee. Under the system used by the City, when
senior employees are slated to lose their job, it is possible for them
move into the job of someone who has less seniority in the same
It was reported that 500 people received pink slips this
week. It was also reported that approximately 1,300 to 1,500 people are
likely to lose their jobs.
My employee reminded me that he had one daughter who just
started kindergarten in a new school, another daughter who just started
preschool, a sick father in Hong Kong, a wife who has just changed jobs,
and a new, more expensive family apartment that is within walking distance
of his daughters' new schools.
I told him that I knew, but it was not my decision.
My employee reminded me that he had taken on additional
tasks, talked on Chinese radio about city services, gotten customers'
complaints taken care of promptly, and improved the department's customer
service efforts. I thanked him for all of his work -- and reminded him
that it was not my decision.
We then strategized together on how he could be less
"reachable." Together we created a war plan whereby he could be seen as
having specialized skills that couldn't be replaced by just another person
on the list.
He breathed a little easier.
We made an appointment to see how many people were more
senior to him on the classification list and, just as important, how many
people were junior. We found that 7 people were above him and 22 people
There was great rejoicing in my office. Not only did he
rejoice. Not only did I rejoice. But my entire staff danced around the
office in joy for our team member.
I have a great team!!
But those people below him have families. And bills. And
problems like sick fathers.
No matter who they are, they will be impacted if they are
I don't envy the Mayor's Office of the Budget. Nor do I
envy the BOS' Budget Office. It's a tough time to make financial decisions
impacting the entire city.
If I had make a decision between funding the emergency
room of San Francisco General Hospital and funding 40 administrative
assistants, I would see it as straightforward: for the emergency room. But
it doesn't mean that it would be an easy decision.
Adam Smith said that real economic changes are made during
painful economic times. We avoid changing habits and behavior until we are
actually forced to.
What should we do? Here is my suggestion: the Board of
Supervisors should create an advisory committee of retired financial
officers from corporations, successful nonprofits, and government
institutions to find additional revenue sources for the City. San
Francisco draws people from all over the world -- and some of them have
been able to create successful enterprises. Paul Hawkens, the powerhouse
behind Smith and Hawkens and author of several books on a sustainable
economy, has his foundation here. Amory Lovins, the guru of energy and the
economy, has several staff people here. We are blessed with experts who
may want to donate their services to help the city where they live. Use
that brainpower and have them create ideas for bringing extra money into
It can't hurt. It might even help.