Thursday, January 22, 2009

• You’re Fired. Now, Where’s My Raise?

Today Microsoft announced a shaving of 5,000 jobs internally and a reduction of thousands of external jobs with its contractors or suppliers. This is rationalized by “economic conditions.” Did we read anything about wholesale compensation cutbacks? Not much.

This is not a condemnation of Microsoft, but a statement on Executive responsibility and attitude. Management in companies across this continent, particularly senior management, holds meetings on how and where to cut back roll calls, and diminish hard, non-discretionary costs weighing on the cash flow statements. The purpose of these thousands of meetings in fluorescence filled rooms is first, to save the most senior jobs, and second, to save the most senior jobs. Why? Because they can. Why? Because they’re more senior than the rest. If you are a senior executive in this economic climate you would have to commit evident fraud to get fired. The economy gives you all the rationalization for failure you will ever need, “It’s not my fault, and the economy sucks.”

None of these meetings are discussing the extermination of options from compensation packages. Starting with the CEO on down the layers of each corporate pyramid, each individual has been convinced that options are the way to riches. Middle and lower ranks dream of the day when they will get a taste. Wall Street pulled all of corporate America into its game. Brokerages influence companies through their prejudice of CEOs and Boards of Directors, and as well as through their control of the public trading markets of the companies these executives manage. Employee options are one key to that control. There are other schemes used to control CEOs, however, for the manipulation of the senior crowd, options are a perfect and very effective tool. Corporately, options can be argued to be effective in up-markets. The effectiveness argument looses fervency when options are under water, as is the case for many in the markets we are now experiencing. So why is no one arguing against them as an effective tool in the motivation arsenal? Options don’t work in a down turn. So why use them? DON’T.

Employees, including CEOs, should not be preoccupied with stock markets. Doing their jobs effectively will strengthen the company and that will, or should, satisfy shareholders. Forget the broker. This employee option business is a Wall Street subterfuge and everyone is familiar with the refrains that attempt to legitimize the practice. Any executive hiring a consultant who sings the “equity compensation” song to his board or to the shareholders, should be fired. Their rhyming couplet about, “aligning executive interest with shareholder interest,” is a fraud. Throw them out.

Middle America has been lulled into accepting that those at the top of the corporate food chain know something it doesn’t. Middle America has come to accept that the lofty layer of American capitalism somehow deserves hundreds of millions in annual compensation. The practice should be stopped and all shareholders should demand an end to it. The senior ladder of success should be compensated with salaries and bonuses structured around objectives intended on building the business. Objectives such as growth and profitability. You don’t need a complex algorithm to establish actuals against quotas for sales or margins that could be employed to dictate an employee’s compensation.

None of the above mentioned corporate meetings are having serious discussions on ethics, moral standards, sustaining the human community, or sustaining jobs through the recession by dramatic overall cuts in salaries and bonuses. Have any companies announced immediate 20% pay cuts to the top half of the employee spectrum? Is anyone making over $100,000 in total compensation getting chopped by 20%? Is anyone making over $250,000 getting a 25% haircut? As for anyone taking over $500,000, … hmm, OK, for you maybe we’ll, hang on, ... let’s talk about a loan back to the company, could we? You get the point. Implement major cut backs in salaries and bonuses, and save jobs. You can’t save all, but save as many as humanly possible. This will require an attitude shift in senior management.

Such a strategy would allow people to continue supporting their families, buy food, make car loan payments, and pay their rents or mortgages. I’m not suggesting that corporate America turn into Sally Ann, however, the whole economy needs creativity injected into its limbs if it is to by-pass a depression. Don’t keep positions that are not required or redundant, but most of the employees now being fired were hired for good reason. As markets shrink so too will payroll, but in these times of bailouts, the escalated compensations of senior staffs need revisiting. These senior levels must take compensation diet pills. Big ones. Such therapy can only be prescribed by those taking home the largest piece of the pie. All CEOs should make a visible and public effort to save the rank and file.

The economy does not need to read about any more cuts in work forces, as 3 million already lost their jobs last year, but it really needs to read that you, the CEOs, implemented drastic cuts in compensation. Even if you personally take one cut of $30,000 to save one job, that is a move in the right direction. Each company can do its part. The positive PR will do wonders for your frame of mind, for your company, and most importantly, you will be forever grateful. Really.

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