Well, as of about 11am this morning, I am no longer an IBM employee … I’ve been made redundant!
It’s a rather stupid situation … let me explain how it happened.
Back in mid 2005, I was running some training for our business partners with the help of a colleague who was based in Hong Kong. He had a role working with ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) across the Asia Pacific region, providing technical support and guidance for the Lotus product portfolio.
Later that year he moved to Malaysia to take on a new role, and needed to find someone to take over his ISV role. He suggested my name to his boss – since I had commented that I was not that happy with my current position.
Towards the end of the year, I was contacted by the manager for that role, who was based in the US, and he asked if I was interested. After some discussion, I agreed to take on the ISV role – reporting directly into the US and covering Asia Pacific, with a focus on Australia and New Zealand. The funding for these types of “cross-country” roles is done by way of an ICA “Inter-Country Agreement”, which is basically just a way of sharing the various buckets of money that are used to fund head-count.
I was still required to have a local “HR manager”, which is someone in the business who is responsible for my day-to-day tasks like setting PBCs (Personal Business Commitments) and IDPs (Individual Development Plans), and for approving expense claims and looking after any other management tasks your manager would normally take care of for you. The Lotus Technical Sales Manager for A/NZ agreed to do this for me – so I reported in to him, but took my day-to-day direction from the US directly.
So in 2006 I worked in the ISV Technical Enablement Team, with my colleagues in China and Japan, and my manager and team leader in the US. Because of the way the funding worked, the local A/NZ organisation now had a free headcount and a vacant position, which they eventually filled about mid-way through 2006.
Then in late 2006, due to some management changes and a general change in focus, there was a decision to cut some foreign headcount from the ISV Technical Enablement Team. I know there had been a lot of pressure to stop using ICAs to fund head-count … and indeed apparently most ICAs have now been canceled – so it wasn’t just me. So, I was notified by my local manager (my US manager never bothered to contact me about it at all – not impressed !) that my position was ending at the end of 2006, and I would need to find a new role.
Now this is where the bureaucracy kicks in. Some accountants in another country decide each year how much headcount each business unit is allowed to have. There is usually some flexibility with this – and the local business gets some discretion to move headcount around to where they see it being needed based on their own market and focus. At the end of each year, there is always a re-arrangement of roles and responsibilities in IBM – as people move on, others get promoted, new roles get created, and old roles get re-focussed. There’s a standing joke amongst employees that you spend January (after everyone comes back from leave) greeting colleagues and asking “so what are you doing this year ?”.
Normally this all works pretty smoothly and indeed creates opportunities for people to move around within the organisation – one of the benefits of working for such a large company is that you get to change jobs without leaving the company. However, this year, the accountants decided that we were over-allocated headcount. This sometimes happens, and it is managed by a hiring freeze and then letting natural attrition take care of bringing headcount back into line. But this year, they seem to be cracking down on expenses quite severely and insisted that anyone without a role at the end of 2006 had to either find a new role quickly or be made redundant.
Unfortunately, given that the business was already over-allocated with headcount, there was nowhere the Software Group could let me take a role – despite several teams saying they would love to have me work with them … they simply weren’t allowed to employ me. My manager warned me that this was the case – and suggested that I start looking across the broader IBM for other roles that I might like to take.
I applied for several roles that were listed as being available, but it turned out that most of them were not allowed to be filled – so even though there was a need and prior approval, in the new year, the rules had changed and most of those roles disappeared. There was one role which they did get approval for – but it turned out they were looking for someone much more junior than me (I would have needed to take a 50% pay cut to be in line with the rest of the team !!). I think they ended up putting on someone who was in a graduate position last year – so you get the picture.
The stupid thing about it was that I was literally sitting around doing nothing – I had no role to do, and nowhere to go – and no indication as to when things would change. They were paying me to do nothing. Any smaller company would have just put me to work where I was needed and left it at that. But IBM’s wheels of bureaucracy move slowly (the dancing elephant is a bit tired and arthritic now) – so even though I was role-less as of the 1st of January, it wasn’t until the second week of March that I was actually formally notified of HR that I was being “redeployed”.
Redeployment is IBM’s term for “you don’t have a role, and you need to find one, which is your responsibility not ours, and if you can’t find a role, we will be terminating you”. It’s a pretty standard thing – and there is a set process. Of course, with no roles available, I was pretty much stuck just doing what I had been doing – nothing. At least I now had a deadline. If I hadn’t found a new role by the 30th of March, I was to be made redundant and paid out.
So, of course nothing became available – and my waiting period has passed, so I have been given 4 weeks’ notice as of today – which is being paid out in lieu of working that extra time. The redundancy payout was more than I was expecting – I hadn’t taken into account the pro-rata long service leave, since I have been there more than 5 years.
So, almost exactly 6 years and 6 months since I joined IBM – I have now completed my employment with Big Blue, and it’s on to bigger and better things (although there aren’t many things that are bigger than IBM … I’m sure there are plenty which are better).
I must admit I am a bit sad to leave … although I’m really not a fan of IBM the company (big, slow, bureaucratic, arrogant, short sighted, and generally idiotic), the people I have worked with – especially in the Software Group, and in particular the Lotus brand … have all been excellent. There is a real passion for technology in IBM’s employees – they are generally very dedicated to what they do and are intelligent, hard working and genuine people. There is a maturity and professionalism amongst the people I have worked with, which I have appreciated and found to create a great working environment. I have had a lot of respect for my managers (in particular Craig and Joanne – and before that, Russell) – they look after their employees well and always take the time to make sure their employees understand what is happening and what is expected of them. This is important for a largely self-managed, geographically dispersed team, which can be problematic if not managed well … and it has been managed very well in my opinion.
So, farewell IBM – I only hope that your bureaucracy doesn’t drive more good employees away … there is so much potential if only you could let the people do what they know needs to be done, rather than holding them back with your short sightedness.
Now, where did I put my sunglasses and beach towel ?
All of those fantastic opportunities that you previously have little time for will undoubtedly present themselves again and this time around you will be thanking the short-sightedness of a few bureaucrats for steering you in a new direction.
If it is to be, it is up to you!
One era ends – another starts.
All the best – I am sure you will keep us posted.
good luck on the start of your new life..willair.