The phone call came shortly before lunchtime. A last-minute summons from the President of Kingston Packaging was nothing unusual. He’s probably taking Friday afternoon off. Whatever, the guy works to his own schedule. The door was closed so David knocked and entered. Harold Grove sat behind his expansive walnut desk and the Director of Human Resources had strategically angled her chair off to one side. Oh crap, here we go again. Who does he want to fire now? Since being parachuted in by the new owners, Grove continued to ‘rationalize’ the workforce. David accepted that management needed to present a united front, so publicly he defended Harry the Hatchet while behind boardroom doors, he argued long and hard against the cuts to his sales team. Each time the remaining employees refocused on their jobs, another departure revved up the rumour mill and renewed their angst.
“Dave, there you are. Come in. Sit.” The hot seat was available directly in front of the big desk. Preferring a less confrontational arrangement, he skewed the chair back and to the side so he could address both individuals without tennis-neck as Grove launched into his spiel.
“Dave, you know we’re under considerable pressure from the new owners to…prune away the deadwood and get the business back on a solid financial footing. For the third month in a row sales have been off from last year’s figures.” Having delivered his preamble, Grove shovelled the monthly Summary of Operations booklet—a.k.a. the Summary of ‘Oops’—in David’s direction. It slid off the desk and slapped onto the floor.
“Harold, we’ve already been over these numbers.” He leaned over and retrieved the document. “You know that two of our highest margin accounts are now handled out of head office as part of the consolidation. My sales team, what’s left of it, is out there beating the bushes for replacement business, but most of these contracts are long term. They don’t happen overnight.”
“Not happening fast enough, Dave.”
“You don’t increase sales by whacking the sales team. We’re already cut to the bone. Who did you have in mind this time?”
Grove’s phone rang. The Prez glowered at the nifty new automated system. One of his earliest cost-cutting calamities, the high-tech installation was intended to allow him to rationalize the receptionist. Fortunately for Norma, he had been out of the office during the training session and still needed her to handle his calls. So far she was spared the axe and her stay of execution suited David just fine. He readily acknowledged Norma’s value as an unofficial member of the sales team, arguing that ease of communication for the customer was well worth her salary.
“Dave, in light of the dismal sales performance of the last couple of months...” Tension grew with each ring. Flustered, Grove punched buttons and somehow activated the office-wide paging system.
“Harold! Pick up! I know you’re there. Don’t you hang up on me. Harold, if you’re not home so we can leave within the hour you might as well not come home at all. I never wanted to move to this god-forsaken, hick cow-town in the first place.”
The receiver slammed down with a percussive thud.
Dave and the HR lady caught each other’s glance and their eyebrows rose in embarrassed silence.
“Anyway Dave, we feel your results are not up to the standard of the new high-performance sales team we are trying to build.” David glanced quizzically over to HR but she was busy rearranging her file folder as Grove offered an alternate explanation.
We need a Blackberry multitasker with more dexterity in his opposable thumbs.” Ready to debate the merits of multitasking versus focusing on one task at a time, David turned back to the boss in time for clarification. “You’re fired.”
Preoccupied with the dynamics of his team, he ignored the falling axe. “But …these folks are already demoralized. They need a strong leader. Who will take charge?”
“It’s no longer your concern, Dave, but Angus Hilory will be replacing you. And Dave, I’m going to need your cell phone and the keys to your company car before you leave the office.”
Still more concerned for his colleagues than himself, he blurted out: “Angus couldn’t lead us in singing Happy Birthday.” Grove bristled while his consummate salesman, who prided himself on his ability to defuse fractious situations, immediately regretted getting personal and frantically cast about to salvage the confrontation as it spiralled downward.
“Work with me, Harold, let’s think outside the box.”
“There’s no need. You’re already outside the box.”
The rest was a blur. The phone rang again and Grove waved them out. As HR led him back toward his office there was mention of a severance package, outplacement services and his signature on a letter of resignation which she highly recommended for the sake of his résumé. She was obviously getting good at this, even ready with a taxi chit as he removed car and office keys from his key ring and surrendered his building security card.
“I also need your cell phone.” She gave an apologetic shrug. “It’s…policy. He wants all future contact with the customers to come from the company.” In shock, he handed her the phone and looked around, trying to decide what to take with him. Devotion to work and career had always been his main focus, often at the expense of family and friends. Now, abruptly, his stable pyramid of priorities was tumbling down. Could this be happening? His head was a swirl of indignation, self-doubt and embarrassment.
“You can come back for the rest of your personal things any time in the next few days. Just call ahead.” He slid into a trench coat hanging on his coat rack, left over from one of Calgary’s about-face weather days. It seemed desperately important to latch onto some of his junk. He grabbed a potted philodendron with a couple of spindly trailers that had adorned his filing cabinet, a Freedom 55 coffee mug and his framed long-service certificate. As she escorted him down on the elevator he was sad to see one of the security officers from the front desk arrive and ride down with them. So, it had come to this.
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