Rumors had been flying around at XYZ Co. for several weeks that several people would be laid off, all in the name of saving money in the face of a downturn in sales. Finally, the hammer fell.
Company officials knew it would be tough to tell 100 people they no longer had jobs, but they felt an obligation to help many dedicated workers get new jobs.Although XYZ Co. is fictitious, the above scenario is typical of the problem faced by several companies who contacted or were contacted by Organizational Consultants to Management (OCM), 39 Exchange Place, a fairly new company that tries to ease the pain associated with laying off employees.
Only a year old, OCM has its roots in the formation of STM, an executive recruiting firm organized by Don Simon in 1970 to find executives for companies when asked.
In the 1980s he noticed the emerging need for outplacement services to focus on people finding themselves suddenly out of work and unable to support their families. In 1984 he formed Eclecon and by 1989 Eclecon had offices in Salt Lake City, Denver and Houston.
Simons sold the Salt Lake office to some of his employees, sold the Denver office to a Cleveland company and closed the Houston office. I.B. Henson, David M. Hilbig and Kirk D. Wessel purchased the Salt Lake office and became partners in March 1990 when they formed OCM. John Witcher recently became a partner after serving as senior consultant.
An important part of OCM's outplacement services is termination training for managers, a no-cost video-based service to ensure that terminations are handled properly and liability is kept to a minimum.
Wessel said OCM employees keep in touch with the community so they know when layoffs are announced. They get their clients either by soliciting them or the clients come to OCM.
The first step in the process is determining how many employees at the executive, manager and employee level will be laid off. They also help in determining if a company could be vulnerable to lawsuits as the result of laying off inordinate numbers of people in protected groups.
Henson said OCM employees also determine if company severance policies are in line with other companies in the community and decide if company employees who will be telling the workersthey are terminated know how to do so in a way that will be easiest on everyone.
OCM could have as many as 10 people at the company when the layoff is announced. Wessel said their job is to explain the process and encourage the terminated employees to look at the situation "as an opportunity rather than a crisis."
Wessel said workshops are scheduled for terminated employees while individual counseling is held for the executives that could range from one month to one year in duration.
Those attending the workshops receive counseling about reemployment, self-employment, retirement or starting over, the four possibilities after one loses a job.
In these sessions the laid-off employees are taught five key principles in getting started in looking for a job, matching skills and abilities with what is needed in the job market, writing applications and resumes (some people haven't done that for years), strategies in the job-hunting game, proper use of the telephone in job hunting, gaining access to decisionmakers and how to be at your best before, during and after the interview.
After the workshops, OCM's clients continue counseling that includes taking videos so people can improve their interviewing techniques, Hilbig said.
OCM occupies the old Salt Lake Stock Exchange Building that has been restored and remodeled. A big portion of the building has been changed into cubicles and offices where the job seekers have access to a telephone and materials that aid in hunting for work.
Hilbig said OCM has plenty of self-development materials, newspapers from various parts of the United States, books on starting a business and financial planning and periodicals listing thousands of job openings.
In addition to using videos, OCM contracts with attorneys and certified public accountants to offer their advice, and the company also does follow-up work to see if what they are doing leads to getting people back to work.
Henson said the company attempts to pump up the clients and make them aggressive so they'll want to find work. He said in most instances their clients find work twice as fast as those without the counseling and training.
Wessel cites the example of an executive who was making $100,000 before being laid off. "The rule of thumb is that it will take one month being out of work for every $10,000 in salary the person earned, but this particular executive had a new job in 3 1/2 months at more money than he was making before," Wessel said.
Another facet of OCM's work is consulting to redesign companies on how they conduct their business to make them more efficient and more customer-oriented. One of the results is the formation of self-managed teams that usually improves a company's quality and productivity by 30 percent, Henson said.
The list of OCM's clients leads like a who's who in business with Questar, Bonneville Pacific, Eaton-Kenway, Ernst & Young, Evans and Sutherland, Fidelity Investments, Fleming Foods, Intermountain Health Care, Key Bank of Utah, First Security Bank of Utah and First Interstate Bank.
The four partners agree there are plenty of human interest stories in a business such as theirs. "There is satisfaction in seeing people succeed," they said.