by William S. Frank
OUTPLACEMENT is the business of helping people losing their jobs to be re-employed. Sometimes it’s done one-on-one, sometimes in groups. I've done onesie-twosies and worked in 5,000-person layoffs.
This time I was headed to an oil and gas company in Wyoming where a manager was to terminate his best friend of 25 years. This was a tough one. Mark, the manager, asked me to meet him the night before to plan the termination meeting. He met me in his hotel room, which was odd.
He was tearful and said he was terminating his best friend, Travis. Their wives were best friends and worked together. Their children were best friends and played together.
This was one of the few times I've seen a seasoned manager cry.
I assured Mark that I would help them, and that the process would have a good outcome. He believed me, but was terribly fearful. He asked if I would sit in on the termination meeting to help him out, and I told him that outplacement consultants don’t do that. We like to be perceived as the solution, not as part of the problem.
He insisted and said it was the only way he could proceed; so I agreed. The following morning we met with Travis. Mark was so distraught he could barely say, "Your job is being eliminated.” He left the room and I took over, explaining who I was and how I was going to help. I told Travis I was taking him to Denver for a few days to begin the re-employment process, and I asked him to go speak with his wife.
I told him she would receive the news as he presented it: if he presented it as a crisis, she would go into crisis, the family would plunge into turmoil, and we would spend the next few weeks undoing the damage. If, however, he presented it as unfortunate, but as an opportunity, it would be much easier to manage.
Travis left to go home. We met at the airport, and once in the air, I asked how he was doing.
He said it with such certainty I knew it was a fact. His future would be good. And I knew in that moment that the outplacement assignment would be easy.
We flew to Denver and began assessment exercises. Travis handled logistics for new oil wells. That is, he prepared the roads, and got all necessary supplies and equipment to the drill-site. We talked about consulting as an option, and the idea of having several employers, not just one. We built Travis a blueprint for the future and a resume. We talked about job hunting strategies, and he returned to Wyoming.
In a few short weeks of investigating, Travis determined that his original employer still needed his services, but as a consultant, not as a full-time employee. Several other oil and gas companies needed logistics too, and within three months, Travis had replaced his income, even improved it. He was his own boss with much more freedom and control.
He retained his lifetime friendship with his prior boss. Their wives and children remained friends. It was a happy outcome in a dire situation. And it was built on the client’s attitude: “I don’t know what my future holds, but I know it will be good.”
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