The Digital Transformation Challenge

Digital transformation is upon us. Whether you choose to acknowledge this or not is irrelevant. You have to adapt, or become obsolete.

We can’t escape it.., no matter how hard we try.., modern times will always catch up with us. In a few cases people do manage do without, some because they choose to (i.e. Amish) and others because economics simply don’t reach them, like (very) rural areas.

But, in the western world (and the eastern, northern and southern), it’s inescapable. More and more of our daily lives are digitized. It’s inevitable.

The question is.., how do you deal with this? And do you even want it, or one step deeper, should you want it?
Continue reading “The Digital Transformation Challenge”

How To Fire Employees

When you worry about how you’re going to fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.

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There, that was an interesting post. Short, but interesting.

Maybe I should explain that most insightful conclusion a little bit.

Again.., a dear (anonymous) friend told me a great story about what happened at work. This time around it was a bit darker than usual. This time there were victims. This time people got sacked, fired, let go, made redundant. Come in to work in the morning, leave jobless before lunch.

And nobody saw it coming, no one knows why, and no one knows if these fired colleagues are the only ones.., or if there are more to follow.

Now, I can imagine that under extreme, and usually misguided reasons a company feels forced to lessen the number of employees, it’s money in the bank.

In that case the title could actually be “How to fire employees humanely”.

Necessary Evil

OK, let’s assume a company has no choice. It simply can’t hold on to the workforce as it stands, and it needs to let a number of people go.

(But, let’s face it, if you reach this point as a company you have made some pretty stupid decisions. And (top)management’s activities, reasoning and processes deserve a long hard and critical look.)

Having an employee come to the office in the morning only to tell them they’re being let go that same day, without any warning is simply cruel. And I do not mean that as a metaphor, I really do mean cruel. In my friend’s case (who didn’t get fired) one of her colleagues was part of that company for 18(!) years.

cruel |krʊəl|
adjective (crueller, cruellest; US crueler, cruelest)
wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it: people who are cruel to animals | a cruel remark.

Next to the fact that these people never saw it coming, it leaves the rest of the workforce uncomfortable, restless and uncertain about their future. This too is cruel. And yes, the next day another was “let go”. Adding fuel to the fire.

There has to be a better way.


That’s a dirty word, after all, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. The fact that the company is putting you out to pasture after 20 years of service is, of course, nothing personal (note the sarcasm here, in case it wasn’t clear).

However, I can imagine that even companies with the best intend to change for the better may have to deal with some old fart’s legacy. Sometimes change hurts, even when it’s for the better.

Even then, you can have compassion, be courteous. You could even involve employees in the process, or at the very least keep them informed of the changes ahead. Let them know how many FTE’s need to be cut, then at least they know when it ends.

And maybe, just maybe, some employee might even have a good suggestion to help with the crisis. Or somebody might even volunteer to be let go, saving some other poor soul the grievance of being fired on the spot.

I do understand the rip-the-band-aid-off-in-one-go tactic. I really do. The process still hurts, but for a shorter period, although probably a lot more. And, those responsible avoid any situation where they have to explain themselves. Why would you take responsibility for something when you can avoid it.

Dying Industries

When I was discussing this with my dear friend and podcast co-host John Wenger, he brought up British Coal as an example of a business in a very tough industry. There are others to choose from of course, many are dead or dying, and many industries change all the time. The continuous development of technology happens quicker and quicker and we all need to keep up, or be left behind.

Anyway, John’s point was, what if you have no choice.

I’d dare say, you always have a choice. The sad thing is that most business related choices revolve around profit, and profit alone. And usually only for a few people who seek to make as much of it as possible in the shortest possible time.

They don’t care about long term consequences, whether they’d be sociological or ecological. most decisions they make won’t come back to them in their life-time, especially when they have enough ‘profit’ in the bank. Rendering them untouchable of the consequences.

This directly relates to people losing their jobs. It’s the direct consequence of bad and selfish choices of a few.

Wilful Ignorance

Politicians take the cake with this. And let me be frank, I loath politics. I think there’s no such thing as a “good” politician. Yes, you can argue all you want about those who truly believe in the positive change, are green(ish) and left(ish), and try and work the system from the inside.

In reply to that I say, how’s that working out for you?

[ted id=1380]

No, in our current “democratic” re-elective system the focus is always on compromise and (re)elections. Leading to promises made and promises broken. And the ones who really matter, or really want to change the system are snowed under and kept short, because.., well.., they are annoying. And thus, effectively, quite useless. Without the aid of the masses no real change can happen.

James Hansen’s TED Talk is evidence of this reasoning.

Climatologist Hansen has been trying to convince governments of the severity of climate change for over 25 years. He argued his point in front of the highest echelons of many western governments. And where has all this effort led us… no where. What has been done? Nothing.

Now, sea levels on the North-east coast of the US have risen nearly 4 inches in one year (between 2009 and 2010). This is permanent, not due to (extreme) weather.

And yes, there is a point…

We know things have made a turn for the worse. Those in power have known for decades things are getting from bad to worse. Irreversibly so.

Tough decisions had to be made to save our living environment. Most would’ve had severe economic consequences. This is the one reason why nothing has been done. Sure.., now we acknowledge the fact climate change is real, and we come up with all sort of long-term solutions, like reducing emissions over a 50 year period, or something useless like that.

Problem is, it’s too little too late.

We knew, but did nothing (hence The Age of Stupid). Sitting government officials cannot (or will not) be held responsible for things they did while in office. So they’re good to go. There is no need to worry, it won’t affect them and they never lost the power they worked so hard to obtain by making unpopular (economic) decisions.

‘We’ still aren’t committed to reducing CO2 to an acceptable level. But, our generation doesn’t really need to worry about that. It’ll be our children who’ll reap that harvest.
(which is probably not true, because the changes in our climate happen quicker and quicker, the chain reaction has become unpredictable. We know what will happen, we’re just not entirely sure when)


As mentioned in my previous post, companies go to great lengths to please their shareholders. IBM even created a program to optimise the return on investment (ROI) of its shareholders, with the inevitable lay-offs following suit. I think Bruce Kasanoff got it right;

Protect the machine, not the people.

As I wrote about in the Bloodhound post, the initial attitude of any business determines a lot of its eventual outcome. A business build with the sole purpose to generate as much profit as possible is doomed to fail. It’ll lose its customers, partners or market share, or it’ll be bought out by a bigger player (this too is a goal for many who build a company).


Where was I?

Oh right.., how to fire people.

I guess I’m still trying to make the point that you shouldn’t have to.

Be Smart

A smart company has its focus on the thin line where customers and the company meet. Some say those who actually have contact with the customer are the most valuable people in the company. Managers three layers removed from the customer become less important.

I agree.

Also, a company should keep an eye on everything, the market, economical and political situations, the environment, their customers, the attitude of their partners, their employees… All should be continuously considered.

Not only will you be able to (partly) predict the market, which is good for your products, but you’ll also be able to (partly) predict big changes in any of these areas. Giving you a heads-up. This might give you enough time to adjust any parameters to make sure you stay in the game.

Couple that with an engaged workforce and you just might have enough fluidity to move with the current, instead of stubbornly fight against it. Which, in the end, will result in the need to fire people.

Just Don’t

So, there you have it. When you worry about how you’ll fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.

Our “What If” Syndrome

‘What if’ can drive us to great discoveries and inventions. It can also block everything. Especially when we’re taught that all our actions are scrutinised.

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Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist and this is not a scientific article. Although it is a pretty clever article, I have no facts, surveys or statistics to back this up. Just a bunch of (life)experience, common sense, and a lot of absorbed stories about Why we need to socialise our businesses. It doesn’t come from nowhere. But, what if I didn’t write this article.

If there is one dominant feature that separates man from beast.., it’s the ability to ask the question; What if?

Think about this for a minute.

What if we turn that log into an axle and put some wheels on it?
What if we pre-slice that bread?
What if we come up with a philosophy that inspires a more engaged work force?

What if…

An animal never asks “What if?”. It just does what it needs to do. It doesn’t second guess. When it sees a threat it runs, when it sees a pray it attacks (albeit sometimes very calculated).

It doesn’t wonder, what if that snake is quicker than me? It attacks, experience might provide some caution, or tactic, but it won’t stop and wonder about all the possibilities of this life choice.

On the other hand, we humans do it all the time, in almost everything we do. Many great inventions and discoveries were conjured up this way. People asking questions like, what if the earth revolves around the Sun. That would make a lot more sense when looking at the heavens.

If nobody would have ever been able, mentally, to ask that question, we’d still be throwing stones at the other monkeys. Then again, some people are stupid enough not to ask the question and just do, and then the digital world amplifies our thoughtless act. Some learn the hard way that taking a moment asking ‘what if?’ is a very good thing.


Next to the wonderful stories where we invent stuff like electric light or the iPod, we also tend to limit ourselves by the question. In fact, with our current digital lives we enhance the subconscious notion of what might happen if we take a certain action. It often leads to second guessing. Something that can be useful, but not always is.

For some, this is a way of never taking any risk. Pondering about every eventuality and getting stuck on the worst-case scenarios will grind everything to a halt.., and very effectively so.

Insurance commercials, for instance, are experts in lettings us know what will happen if you do not have their insurance. What if you fall down the stairs?

We are trained to do so. In the office and outside the office.

Surveillance State

On a greater scale, our current surveillance apparatus makes us overly self-aware. We know “they” are watching. They admit they do. It is no longer hidden, it’s no longer covered up.

Of course we hear news about censorship in Islamic or communist countries like Iran or China. But in our wonderful western world they are a little more, let’s say… strategic about it.

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Under the umbrella of terrorism we (and I do mean us all), we now have mass-surveillance on all citizens. And not just in the US.

Western-Europe also has its Big Brother mechanism well in place, and it works very close with the NSA, doing exactly what it is told.., like a good little dog.

The problem with this all-out surveillance is that it does not discriminate.., sure, you have an extra flag if you are a Muslim, or when you’ve enjoyed a vacation on Cuba, or even when you visit Boing-Boing (read the article at your own risk).

No, it applies to everybody.., no exception. Whether you are decent hard working white collar suburban Christian, or a Mosque visiting single dad with a beard, it really doesn’t matter.

The worst thing is.., the system doesn’t even do what they ‘promise’ it is supposed to do. It doesn’t prevent terrorist attacks. I think the events in Paris are testament to this point.

Besides.., if I were a terrorist and I wanted to communicate with my fellow conspirators.., I’d just get a postbox and send a letter.


This is the cause of the actions.

Glenn Greenwald opens his TED Talk with the anecdote of somebody being filmed, without his knowledge, while dancing in a room. The moment he realises someone is filming he stops, embarrassment ensues, the video is posted on YouTube and the odds are that person will never again dance like he’s alone in a room ever again.

This is the effect the awareness of mass-surveillance has. We no longer ask the question; What if somebody is reading this email? We know they do. And therefore we censor ourselves, we don’t speak our mind and we don’t write that email.

And this is not about sharing information about building a bomb.., no, much much worse.., this is about you expressing your displeasure with the current head state for example. Somebody who was elected through a democratic process. Somebody who can be impeached by that same democratic process. It’s about being a dissident.

Greenwald goes on saying;

A country is not judged on how it treats its citizens, it judged on how it treats its dissidents.

So, what if they did found out you were even thinking about this.., you better not. In North-Korea people are taught that their divine leader can read their minds. It sounds far fetched.., but the people of North-Korea are (mortally) afraid to even think bad thoughts.

Thoughtcrime is very real.

This is the world in which we all live.

The Office

This post was intended to be about working in the office, and how “What if…” could prevent you from expressing a great and innovative idea that just might save the company in the long term.

Instead it took a bit of a darker turn.., and now I am wondering if it is even relevant that somebody in some office is able to share a simple thought. Especially in the greater scheme of things.

Then I think.., yes it.

In fact, it just might be the most important thing at the moment.

All For Profit

This “rant” came about, in part, by an article written by Brian Solis; “Companies Profit When Customers Suffer“. And I’m gonna spoil it a little bit, but at some point he explains why shareholders take something that is working pretty good, and which leaves customers and those working with the customers quite happy, and break it. Simply because more short-term profit can be made.

Read the article for a more in-depth explanation.

So, here are some Wall Str. shareholders asking the question, What if we fire the CEO, and replace him with somebody who can be our puppet?

That was the wrong question to ask, but it makes them richer, and that, my friends, with so many things, is the bottom line.

And yes, this is what drives most behaviour in your office too. However misplaced, however short-sided or stupid it is, this is the reality in which we live.

Turning it Around

One of my major concerns is the attitude people adopt because of this retarded way of conducting business.

Employees in the above mentioned company were probably quite content. And the company probably had a pretty good employee engagement and retention. When stuff works and customers are happy, employees are too. It is not complicated.., really.., it’s not.

Turn that around, create unhappy customers and you’ll end up with unhappy employees.., there goes your engagement and retention, and your chance of having a solid and healthy company for the long-term.

To me, this is sad.

Chances are, this is also from experience, and I’m sure everybody can relate, when you have a good day, you bring that home. When you have a bad, that too comes home…

When you have a job which provides an above average amount of good days, you will become a more positive person. You will bring this home, you will bring this back to your local community, your family and friends. This positive outlook has the potential to change the world.

Turn this around… and you create a society where nobody cares.
A society where nobody feels the need to stand up and do what’s right.
A society where nobody stands up against the bullies of the world.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke