It started very innocently.
It was Monday morning, about 9:20am; I’d been in the office about 30 minutes, after my usual weekly trip to the chiropractor. I’d been unable to connect to the intranet all weekend because of a fiber cut in Westchester County, so I was busily processing my Lotus Notes inbox (reading email, in English). And I was awaiting the arrival of a colleague (let’s call him J) who was driving in from Fresno to work with me, at our manager’s request — there were two goals: better defining a project we were planning and making sure that J saw other IBMers occasionally. So I wasn’t surprised when my manager (M) popped up on IM to ask if he could call me — I assumed he was going to offer some suggestions for our meeting.
I was wrong.
“Hello, David. There is a resource action today and your job has been eliminated. If you cannot find another position within IBM by March 31st, your employment will terminate on that date. I am sending you the official information by email – please read it.”
I’m probably not quoting exactly, but that was the gist of it. I’m sure M was reading from a script, because the words weren’t in his style, and he delivered them almost in a single breath.
I was stunned. Not just because of the news, but because I hadn’t heard any rumors of a resource action, unlike 2009, where I think there must have been ads on TV telling IBMers to watch for it, it was so widely expected.
After the scripted part of the call, M and I talked a bit longer; he told me to concentrate on myself and not worry about the work in progress and apologized for this having happened.
Almost as soon as we hung up, another IM window popped up; it was another colleague on the East Coast who was going to call when J arrived so we could work together. I told him that I’d been resourced, and that I might need to cancel our sessions, but would let him know.
Of course, I called Diane immediately and gave her the news — she says I sounded pretty shaken. I don’t remember.
I decided that since J had already driven two hours, it didn’t make any sense to tell him to turn around — I did phone him and warn him that I might be distracted and told him why.
When he arrived, we called our East Coast colleague and had a good technical session — I told them where the things I’d been working on would fit into their project (that’s not how I’d been planning to phrase it originally), and we talked about where they were going to go with the project.
In the meantime, I’d told my assistant (who was probably more shocked than I had been) and asked her to start setting up meetings with people who might be able to help me, starting with my HR Partner, who I met right after lunch (with J, where the discussion was not very technical).
The discussion with my HR Partner was just what I needed; she was empathetic, sympathetic, and knowledgeable about the resources that IBM was making available to me (including an outplacement firm, financial advice, and, of course, a severance package). She was also straightforward about my chances of finding a new position in the 30 days I had left (not good, but it had happened in previous cycles).
When I left her office, I felt a lot better — I wasn’t thrilled about what had happened, but I realized that how I reacted to it was in my hands (as a senior IBM executive once said, “You own your own morale”).
So I started reaching out to people in my network and asking for pointers to opportunities, whether inside or outside IBM. And I started declining some of the standing meetings on my calendar (especially the ones at 6am Pacific!), while keeping the ones where I thought I could make a contribution.
I could go on in endless detail, but I suspect it would be boring, and wouldn’t actually help anyone reading this. Suffice it to say that I haven’t been nearly as busy for quite a while, and that it is wonderful to have so many friends and colleagues (both those still at IBM and those who have made the transition) who have been willing to listen to me and offer support of one form or another.
I would have been quite happy not to have gotten that phone call on Monday, but I’m very fortunate because I’m in a good position to use this to move forward.
- I have the luxury of time to figure out what “forward” means (not everyone does).
- IBM is providing various forms of assistance (I meet with the placement firm on Monday — since I’ve never had to write a résumé, I know what one of my first tasks will be).
- I know lots of people who want to see me succeed and are willing to help.
- And I don’t have to write a PBC for this year! (Well, probably…I am looking internally, and my management team is helping me in that quest.)
Special note for IBMers
Frank Jania was included in last year’s layoffs; he wrote “Lessons From A Layoff” during his last month at IBM. I read it at the time, little suspecting that I’d find it so pertinent a year later. It’s on BlogCentral, which will be replaced by Lotus Connections blogs sometime in the not-so-distant future; I recommend you read the series (8 postings) while the URL is still good!