Facing Up to the Ugly Truth on Facebook

“After 22 years with Sun…”

“You guys are the best – I’ll miss every one of you…”

“Waiting and waiting – will the axe fall today?”

These are just a few of the layoff messages I’ve seen on Facebook today from my many friends and colleagues at Sun.  Heads are rolling, and with this, the 8th or so major Sun reduction in force in five years, there seems little rhyme or rhythm as to who has to go this round.  Eventually, I guess, we’ll all be gone. And what was once the best company on the planet will be just a memory.

I’ve been down all day about this, but do draw some comfort from the number of supportive messages being posted – some in response to a particular person’s layoff and some just expressing, as Dana Fugate said, small written hugs to our community.

I’ve also had several online Facebook chats with colleagues about how they’re doing.  It’s tough to be laid off, but it’s also heart-wrenching to have to give the news to one of your employees.   Miserable stuff, all around.

And meanwhile, we continue to wait for the European Union to approve our acquisition by Oracle.  And wait.  And wait.  And worry.  Then wait some more.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I extend my  warmest support and good wishes to all Sunnies – whether you lost your job, whether you had to tell someone the bad news, or whether you simply are watching good people go.  It’s a sad day for all of us.

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There’s Gotta be a Pony in There Somewhere

I’ve sat down to write this post a number of times, just to find myself staring at the screen with nothing to say. While out walking my lovely dog today, however, I finally figured out how I was feeling.

Some years back, I did some volunteer work with the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization. As I’m sure you know, the organization looks for good families to foster their puppies for the first two years of the dogs’ lives, during which time the dog is trained and tested and trained some more. For those pups who have passed all their tests, there comes a time to meet their adoptive parents, blind people who are eagerly anticipating working with and getting to know their new guide dogs. The annual graduation day celebration is bittersweet. There’s joy on the faces of the recipients, and both tears and pride on the faces of the foster parents who must say goodbye.

So what on earth does this have to do with the Oracle announcement this week?

That change is hard. That some of us are changing surroundings, colleagues, homes. That skills and knowledge learned in one environment will now be tested in another. That new opportunities await all of us, whether we are going to be part of the new organization, or if like me and many of my colleagues, we likely shall not. That saying goodbye to something that is so dear to you is very, very painful, but that life moves.

I’ve used this quote here before, and I’m going to use it again. In a famous Pogo cartoon, the great philosopher possum said,

Pogo

“The misery of uncertainty is far worse than certainty of misery.” (Walt Kelly)

What we have been through as a company over the past month has been just plain dreadful. Rumors, innuendos, nastiness that has been devastating to our employee morale. Well, we’re just about at graduation day, and at least we know where we’re going and why. That’s so much better than where we were just a week ago. When I talk to friends and colleagues, there’s huge relief in their voices – although a job search may await in a tough market, as least the guessing games are over.

A BIG Mouth: The Sequel

I’ve heard from a number of you about who actually had the big mouth – was it a Sunnie or an IBM’er? The consensus seems to be that the leaks did not come from us.

In the end, what difference does it make? Whoever talked – whoever had the big mouth – hurt us. Distracted us, damaged our morale. Made a hard job harder. I hope like hell it wasn’t someone from IBM, a company for whom I’ve always had the highest respect. And I hope like hell it wasn’t someone from Sun, because this company represents so much that is goodness to me. It’s not you, it’s not me, it must be the man behind the tree…

A secret, the saying goes, can be kept by three men, but only if two of them are dead. And when jobs and careers are on the line, what a shame that someone spread rumors – be it cynically to manipulate the situation, selfishly for personal gain and glory, or naively, not calculating the harm that could done. A lesson to all of us, then, on the consequences of breaking trust.

And for those who wonder why companies don’t comment on rumors, consider this your case study in why saying nothing can be in the best interest of all.

Someone Has a BIG Mouth

And this time, it wasn’t Ralph Kramden. The person with the big mouth and total lack of integrity is he or she who felt compelled to leak the IBM story to the press. And I’d like to say to that person, “Why don’t you go work somewhere else? Like for the competition?”

Consider the grief we’ve had since the story hit the Wall Street Journal. Employees have been distracted. Angst has soared. Productivity has taken a hit. As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, laying off 1,500 employees last week.
And for what? Nothing. The talks have ended, if you believe the papers (although that doesn’t necessarily mean anything). So we’re back to where we were before, but … different. There’s an uneasiness in the air that wasn’t present before. We’ve had dirty laundry aired in public, and we’ve had to come to terms with our attachment to Sun, should we actually be acquired by another firm.

Employee communication 101 teaches us that to help employees through a transition of this size, you need to answer two basic questions:

Why is there better than here?
What will happen to me?

Neither question is possible to answer when you’re in a state of limbo. Which puts managers in an impossible situation – not knowing anymore than the employees do, completely unable to answer questions and not able to paint a picture of the future. So the faster a company can move to a decision point, the healthier it is for employees.

But we had the worst of all worlds – unsubstantiated rumors everywhere we turned. Respectable journalists reporting the story. And enough details to the rumor to make it hard to believe someone wasn’t just making this stuff up.

Which brings me back to our own Ralph Kramden with the BIG mouth. You’re not the greatest, pal. And you’re no friend of Sun’s. “To the moon,” buddy, to the moon…

Saying Goodbye with Dignity

I admit it – my original blog today was a rant:

“It stinks. It never gets easier. The fact it’s necessary is small comfort. No comfort, in fact, to those who are losing their jobs today.”

But as I read emails from my departing colleagues, I realized that a rant was not appropriate. Because it didn’t do honor to the dignity and classiness of the people we said goodbye to today. To give you a taste of what I mean, here are some sample lines from farewell emails I read today:

“Every day I’ve been at Sun has been a privilege.”

“It’s been an honor to work with such an amazing group of people.”

“There have been a multitude of people at Sun who have touched my life and I wish and pray the best for you all.”

These comments are a reflection of our culture of caring. As is the vibrant online community that is hard at work helping each other find jobs, get support, know they’re not alone. You’ll find us on LinkedIn, on Facebook. You’ll find us blogging. You’ll find us emailing. Gone but by no means forgotten. We keep in touch with each other. I’m so impressed by the number of us willing to share that most precious of commodities today – job openings. That speaks to a generosity of the spirit that you just don’t find everywhere.

When our founders started Sun almost 30 years ago, I know they envisioned a company of extraordinary people creating extraordinary innovation. And of that they – and we – should be proud. But I’m even prouder of the kind of person that Sun has bred. High in integrity, loyal to each other.

Even as we go through these tough times, we all have many reasons to hold our heads up high. I salute my colleagues and thank them for the lesson in professionalism and generosity they’ve taught me today.

Rumors

I know nothing. Nada. Zippo. And if I did? I wouldn’t tell you. Not that I don’ t love and respect you. Not that I wouldn’t love to roll in the rumor hay with you, spinning up scenarios, one juicier than the next. But because there’s a reason companies don’t comment on rumors and speculation. For one thing, the company may end up spending all its cycles denying or affirming what’s out there. And for another, it’s illegal.

As a publicly traded company, we live by SEC rules. One of those rules is that we can’t tell employees something material before we tell our shareholders. Doing otherwise can lead to insider trading, and let’s face it, none of us think we can pull off prison stripes anywhere near as stylishly as Martha Stewart.

This is true if the rumor is correct, misguided, or complete nonsense. Doesn’t matter. Officially, our response to rumors is “No comment”. Unsatisfying as that is.

When someone tells us what to think or see, we tend to take it as gospel. For example, consider this still life by Cezanne: …

invisible

What do you see? Rich draperies, luscious fruit, fine crockery, right? Now what if I told you, “Oh, no – this is not a painting of a table setting – it’s a painting of a pig in a nun’s habit.” What do you see now?

Scroll down

Keeping scrolling…

OK, you can look now:

pig

Did Cezanne paint a pig? Or did he paint a still life? What was his intent? What should we read from his painting?

So, to get back to rumors… Newspapers print stories that point out what some people see as the pig in the painting. Whether it’s there or not. Whether its inclusion in the artwork was intentional or just an unintended consequence of certain folds in the drapery.You can read the stories as well as I can. But we each need to draw our own conclusions. It’s not up the company to tell us if it’s a still life or a whimsical painting of pig. Until such time as we’re ready to move beyond the superficialness of an image – be it in paint or print – and on to the reality of the event – be it a dinner party or a meeting with a new habit. Until then? Well, there may not be an “until then…” This rumor could just as easily fade into tomorrow’s news.

We’ll just have to wait and see. <br

From Wild and Wacky to Reality

I spent much of this week in meetings about our emerging new intranet, and by the end of it all, I was so excited about where we are and where we’re heading that I (almost) didn’t mind the two-hour delay at SFO to get home.

Eighteen months ago, we started out on a mission that was pretty cool – if a little out there – to create a corporate intranet that lives on the edge, that is 90 percent customizable by employees, that can link to any widget or gadget out there, and that is device agnostic. In the airport and need to check something on our website? Enter through your iPhone or Blackberry. Need access from a kiosk? No problem. On your home computer? Welcome.

We wanted to not only say goodbye to firewalls but to the entire idea that a company intranet is primarily an information forcing function. Rather, we wanted our new intranet to be employees’ home away from home – for work as well as personal interests. We wanted a place where employees could build communities, share expertise, and – yes – have fun online. So we’ve figured out a way to keep your Twitter tweets in full view, let you hop over to Facebook, Ning, or whatever social networking pavilion you like. A place where you can quickly take care of business, be it an HR transaction or collaboration on a project. A place where you choose what’s important to you, instead of us making that decision for you.

The project has been known as SunWeb Next at times, and other times as Project 90/10, because corporate will control only 10 percent of your home page – employees will personalize the other 90 percent. Lately though, we’ve started calling it “The Mother of All Aggregators Site.” Or “mother,” but only affectionately, of course!

Our new website will really be an extranet, and we see it as a way to go to where employees are, rather than expecting them to come to us. Pilots begin this month, and with many fingers and toes crossed, we hope for broad rollout in early fall. Our team conversations are shifting from architecture and platforms to risk management, governance, template creation, channel and content migration, change management and communication. And to tell you the truth? What still needs to happen feels overwhelming and scary. But what a privilege to birth this particular baby.

This has been a cross-Sun effort, with so much help from so many groups. Include Clear Ink, our talented and fun partner in this adventure. And while there have been tussles over whose technology to use and what are corporate versus local decisions, they have been fought and resolved with a positively inspiring “Sun First” mindset.<br
I started this project as such a technology newbie that I scared myself. While I’m not planning on programming your next project, I have managed to learn a ton about the brave new world of e-communities, and what it takes to make them work. So stay tuned, because I hope to be able to show you more very soon. And it will be the worth the wait. Guaranteed.