Wilson & Associates First Monthly Newsletter, June 2016
This year has been a turbulent time for the industry. All of our clients are being asked to do more with less. In an effort to assist in that effort we’re introducing a new website and this monthly e-newsletter. We hope to keep in touch with you – our friends, current clients, and past clients – and to continue supporting you through our article topics and a “tips & tricks” section in each newsletter.
In coming issues we’ll go into more depth around common issues we’re hired to work on (e.g., editing and formatting documents, using SharePoint, document control, process streamlining, and software questions). We’ll talk about our solutions and the theory behind them. We’ll also include some common software tips & tricks that will make your team more efficient. Our goals are to reduce Office NPT™ (non-productive time), allow engineers to focus on engineering, restore successful communication (e.g., by translating engineer into English), and rescue you from getting lost in the frustrating electronic maze that seems to always start with “email me a copy.”
So, stay tuned! But if you need us now or have a topic you’d like us to address, give us a call. We’re always ready to help. You can find out more by visiting our new website: www.OfficeNPT.com.
This article was written by John Wilson and first appeared in the June 1986 issue of the Houstonian Magazine. John had just started working for Gulf Publishing Company, where he stayed until 2000, after being laid off from his previous company in April of that year.
Hard times don’t mean a company has to be hard·hearted.
We sat facing each other – the boss and the worker – in the study of his home. He spoke softly, talking of the sagging oil economy and the economic reversals suffered by the overseas parent company. When he was finished, so was I. My relationship with his company was terminated. Like thousands of others, I was now laid off, gone, set aside for better times.
As I sat, half-listening, I recalled that only sixty days earlier, I had done the same thing to my assistant editor and production manager. One Friday evening, soon after the start of the New Year, I called each of them into my office. We sat around my glass-topped table, and I fired them.
Both responded in essentially the same fashion, “You’re kidding?” I assured them this was not a joke. Their next question was spoken from the deep insecurities that haunt us all: “Was it something that I did?” I told them they were fine workers, and they were. Their only offense was earning a salary the company could no longer afford to pay.
Now, as I sat in my boss’s house, I was being told that my salary was needed to fuel the company engine. The salary I used to pay bills was needed to pay company bills, to pay other salaries, to pay my boss’s salary. Part of my job would be dissolved and parts assimilated into other people’s jobs. If they were lucky, the survivors would even be given part of my salary to compensate for the additional work. As Vice President of the company, I understood the economics of the situation. As a person, however, I felt betrayed.
All of us, when we work for a company, form emotional bonds with that company. It’s unavoidable. Such bonds motivate us, fill us with pride, and give meaning to our lives. We do good work so that we can say our company does good work. Breaking those bonds hurts.
That pain is what I remember most about the people I fired. They gave to the company the full measure of their ability. In some cases, this was a considerable offering. When they were fired, the company refused their offering, invalidated it. When they were fired, some cried, some became angry, some sat stunned into immobility.
That pain is what everyone who fires people should remember. How well a company avoids causing that pain, or how it mitigates the pain, may well prove to be the key to the company’s survival in the downturn and its prosperity in the future. The way the layoff is handled provides a multitude of cues to the survivors as to how they should act today and tomorrow. After all, Houston’s economic condition is hardly terminal. Times are hard, but they will improve. The company that cares for its employees now will reap the rewards when the upswing comes.
When I look back at the layoffs I participated in before my own demise, I’m positive that the axe fell prematurely, and in several cases, in the wrong spots. As a consequence, employee morale suffered. The axe hung heavy over everyone, even employees essential to doing business.
In the late seventies, Gulf Oil went through a series of cutbacks. Entire departments were eliminated without regard to the value of the personnel. It was budget reduction by meat-axe. Some fine people were lost. Nearly ten years later, Gulf Oil disappeared. Perhaps its potential savior was lost during the purge, or perhaps Gulf’s corporate will to live was sapped by such patently unfair treatment of talented employees.
The question of fairness, however, is relatively straightforward compared to the question of necessity. Fairness simply involves management objectively determining who does the work that actually keeps the company afloat, and then picking the right people to discharge. Necessity involves profit-and-loss and people’s perception of that profit-and-loss.
Employees are amazingly astute when it comes to their company’s economic fortunes. A situation that threatens the corporate life is easily understood and accepted. A situation that merely inconveniences the corporation is less well accepted and understood. A company quick to fire for short-term gain may well find itself in trouble in the long run. Employees remember how their departed brethren were treated and why.
In the early eighties, for instance, at the height of the last boom, people deserted several major oil companies in droves. Engineers and geologists were lured away to new companies with promises of big salaries and royalty overrides. At the time, I worked for a major oil company. The company was fighting hard to stem the flow from its own ranks. The defections were causing problems. The people who were leaving were seasoned hands with five to ten years of experience.
The company was losing its next generation of managers. Management quite rightly thought the exodus endangered the well-being of the company. One of the older managers, however, saw the issue in a more personal light. “What’s the matter with these people?” he moaned one day during lunch. “Don’t they have any loyalty?”
His question had the most pejorative connotations. He felt that the company had given a great deal to these employees – salary, training, and benefits – and he expected gratitude and loyalty. His attitude, however, struck me as extraordinarily naive. To me, these men and women were making the same sort of economic decision a company would make. The new offer was made, examined, and accepted as being profitable. To demand loyalty was absurd unless the company was willing to return the favor when economic conditions worsened.
The question was simple. In a downturn, would the company sacrifice short-term profits for people? Would managers sacrifice for clerks? The answer, I felt, was fairly obvious: no. So, too, did the employees. They left. The exodus only slowed when the company countered with more money. The response indicated how the company would act in a slowdown. A management that gives also takes. Today my former employer is laying off people in wholesale lots. Is he fighting to keep them? Will he be surprised, during the next upswing, when employees start leaving once it’s their turn to dictate terms?
Almost every company wants loyal employees. They’re good for business. But management should return the loyalty in some fashion. We’re talking about a tender human emotion. If a company elicits this emotion from employees, then those people should be treated with deference if circumstances dictate that they be let go. They deserve better than pink slips in pay envelopes, and announcements of mass layoffs with details to follow.
Under the law, corporations have the same rights as citizens, except for the vote. With those rights, however, come responsibilities. We expect our corporations to act with decency and fairness, and we expect them to act that way all the time. No one suspends the rules for an economic slump. That’s when we need them the most. Anyone can be nice when he’s making a pile of money. How a company suffers adversity, however, is a better test of its character than how it performs in good times.
More companies should entertain the idea of cutting management salaries and reducing workweeks to cut costs. Cutting a president’s salary by 10 percent in most large companies would keep a lot of secretaries around. This approach would be nice in the oil industry, where boom and bust is a fact of life.
I realize this sounds suspiciously like the Japanese concept of corporate responsibility: total job security. But I find that a boring alternative. I want my loyalty given rather than taken, and I want the flexibility to improve my situation if possible.
Also, we should consider that the Japanese have yet to suffer a serious economic reversal in their main industries. Lifetime security is a splendid idea when the company is flush and the economy is good, but take a look at English coal miners. They had lifetime security once. All they got for it was a brainless complacency, and a total inability to adapt to new circumstances.
As callous as this sounds, I prefer the American system. Hire employees when you need them, and fire them when you don’t. The only thing we need to add is a dash of temperance. I’m talking about the old team concept. Americans love teams. We play on them. We follow them. We wear their colors. We also like to boo them, and change our allegiance.
A good company takes advantage of this tendency by creating loyal employees. These are the kind of people who look after the business as though it were their own, because in a sense it is. Conversely, the company treats these people well when it comes time to let them go.
I still have strong emotional ties, for instance, to the first company I worked for out of college. One of the nation’s biggest oil companies, it displayed an amazing capacity for compassion. The preferred method for staff reduction seemed to be a hiring freeze that took advantage of natural attrition. The company also used early retirement, coupled with a nice separation package, to gracefully remove the older, less productive employees. Finally, when actual cuts were mandated, the company would give several week’s notice and adequate severance to allow employees a chance to establish a new life.
Being a decent human being is damned difficult. Being a decent company is even harder. The business world is a competitive place, and it’s full of jackals. But there is no reason on earth why everyone needs to sink to that level. This downturn would be an excellent time for companies in Houston to prove their mettle by treating fallen employees with dignity and respect. This is a lot to ask, but they should think of it as an investment in the future.
Got a Watermark that’s Stuck?
Often when working on a file, it’s marked as a “Draft” using the Watermark feature in Microsoft Word. This feature places that text behind the content on the pages. When the document is ready to be made final, the “Draft” watermark can be removed.
Sounds simple, right? Not always; and no, it’s not because technology disagrees with you. It happens to us all.
When documents have a multitude of section and page breaks, sometimes the watermark can get “stuck,” resulting in random pages where “Draft” still appears, even though the watermark has been removed. Here is a quick rundown to troubleshoot this issue if / when it arises.
Tip: To insert or remove a watermark using the tool ribbon, go to Page Layout > Watermark. There, you can create a custom watermark based on your needs, or select “Remove Watermark” to delete an existing one.
But as we mentioned, sometimes issues arise and you find a lingering “Draft” or two somewhere in your file, even though you selected “Remove Watermark.”
Trick: Watermarks are essentially images, and thankfully you can easily remove them individually when you need to. If you find a remaining watermark, simply double-click in the header on that page to access the header space, and then click on the watermark as if it were an image, and delete it.
Get more Tips & Tricks in the online archive on our website as they are added with each new newsletter.
Got a File that’s too Large to Email?
While emailing files is not recommended due to that file’s tendency to proliferate, leaving you with as many different versions of the file as the number of people you sent it to (or even more versions; how did that happen?), sometimes you just need to quickly email it.
Pretty simple, right? Not always; suddenly you get an email notification that the file is too large to send. And, it’s probably 5 o’clock. Ugh! What now?
There a few things that can have a significant impact on document size. Here is a quick rundown to troubleshoot this issue if / when it arises.
1. Does your document contain a long history of tracked changes?
- When a document is being worked on by several people, and/or if that document is high-profile and requires that all revisions be accounted for, the Track Changes feature in MS Word is often used.
- To find out if there are lots of revisions being stored in your document, go to the Review tab in the tool ribbon and change the view to “Final: Show Markup.” Any revisions or comments made to the document will show up.
2. Does your document contain a lot of pictures or figures?
- Believe it or not, how you paste a picture or figure into your file matters. Copying a figure and then pasting it straight in isn’t the best course when you have a large file.
1. On the Review tab in the tool ribbon, click the drop-down under “Accept” and select “Accept all changes in document.” Save this version of the file and use it to email.
- To avoid revisions making a file large in the future, try working on the file from SharePoint. SharePoint keeps track of all versioning behind the scenes. The version history can be accessed at any time by mousing over the file, clicking the drop-down that appears to the right, and selecting “Version History.” Older versions can even be restored over the current version.
2. The best way to paste a picture or figure into your document is by using the Paste Special feature in MS Word. On the Home tab in the tool ribbon, click the drop-down under Paste and select Paste-special.
- Try selecting “Picture (Enhanced Metafile)” if it is an option.
- Finally, review your image to make sure you didn’t lose any visual quality. Sometimes Paste Special will not be an option with highly detailed images.
- Also, be sure not to resize your images by dragging the corners. All of that resizing code takes up a lot of room in a file. Instead, right-click on the image and change the size using the height and width settings.
Get more Tips & Tricks in the online archive on our website as they are added with each new newsletter.