“Hello, you’ve been surplussed.”

by Bluewater Advisory

April 26, 2018

I’m mad as hell and…..  wait – that line has been used before.  Let’s just say I’m mad as hell and, for those of you familiar with Bluewater and our training philosophy, you will know two things:

  1. It takes a lot to get me upset, and
  2. We follow and teach the performance feedback rule of praise in public and reprimand in private.

And if you have attended a Bluewater Candor with Respect training module, you may also remember that there are two exceptions to the “reprimand in private” standard above.  They when someone is threatening either:

  1. the physical safety of a group or individual, or
  2. the emotional safety of a group or individual.

In my opinion, a prominent school district violated the emotional safety standard above.  The intent of this blog is not to publicly call out a district nor its leadership (I’ll share my plan below later); however, to bring to light the often-unconscionable behavior to which we are exposed in our line of work – in the hope of raising awareness so others do not make the same mistake.

Backstory – a client recently invited my wife Janet and I to dinner, as a Thank-you for some executive career transition guidance we (Bluewater) had provided.  This gentleman found himself unexpectedly “re-gifted to the field” and after some strategic white board sessions followed by tactical objective, landed very well in his new position.

As we were toasting his new career and our friendship, we asked his wife how things were going with her job – as a several-year accomplished language teacher with an exemplary performance record.  After an awkward pause, our friend shared how there had recently been an administration change within the county (one of the wealthiest in the country), and several divisions and programs had been eliminated.

Shocked and saddened that his family was going through a mid-life unplanned career change for the second time in a year, we inquired if she had been laid off.  Her response was what began to get me fired up.  “While some people were directly laid off, my HR Director told me I was lucky because I was surplussed.”  Surplussed!?  Really??

Of course we know what a labor surplus is – when an organization or government has more people than the current demand for business or services requires.  But to categorize a human as Surplus congers up all types of visuals, none of which are positive.  I mean, are they going to put her resume on Overstock.com??

Let me be clear – I am not taking a position of whether the staff and program eliminations were right or wrong – we are not privy to the executive level issues and politics.  I am offended about how the discussion was handled, how this prominent school district categorized these professionals, and the lack of support thereafter.  In a nutshell, the “surplussed” employees were told there would be a one-day job fair with principles from all over the county to on-site interview the surplussed employees.

“Think of it as speed dating” (you can’t make this stuff up!) they were told.

So where is the lesson in all this?  I suggest it is two-fold:

  1. Let’s all learn to think about the person with whom we are talking, how they might receive the message we are going to give and deliver our messages with a little more care. The technical term is empathy, and for those of you who get tired of hearing about empathy, think about the sign that hangs over my wife’s desk that simply says, “walk a mile in my flip flops”.
  1. One of Bluewater’s most popular and highest-rated training modules is titled “Candor with Respect”. We are going to offer a pro-bono workshop for the Directors and Executives of this prominent county.

In health and the pursuit of all of us working at our highest and best opportunity,