I read the news of the Hutchinson Port Australia’s sacking of 97 workers via text message and email with dismay.

What were they thinking?

It’s a question that I think many of ask would have asked over the last few days.

The Sydney Morning Herald also reported the Employment Minister Eric Abetz’s response, that ‘he was not aware of the circumstances but that letting workers go via text message may have been an “appropriate” form of communication in the context of a relevant industrial agreement’.

How could he say that?

In an attempt to explain himself, the Herald reported him stating ‘if the culture is that employees can text message the boss and they in fact expect the boss to text message them, then that might be an appropriate methodology.’

What was he thinking? It’s clear that he wasn’t actually thinking, because a simple thought of ‘how would I feel if I got a text message like that?’ might have caused some brain cells to fire up.

Then I started to think about answering the question from a coaching point of view.

So if I was a fly on the wall, I imagine a group of people sitting in a room, making tough decisions and if you were to profile them from a MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) I think they would have been TJ’s – logical, efficient decision makers who use criteria, past experience and are task oriented. It would have been about ‘getting the job done’ after the decision to sack people had been made.

Not everyone in the room would have been TJ’s (I hope someone talked about face to face meetings), but I can hear the logical arguments taking over.

Someone might have checked the EBA or called on their past knowledge to confirm that ‘they were within their rights.’  Someone else might have talked about the ‘risks’ or ‘containing the issue’ or ‘bad press’, only to be told ‘there was no other way’.

I don’t know, I’m making all this up.

And then saying ‘ok how will we let them know?’  They knew that they had to get the message out quickly, that it had to be efficient so that everyone got the message at the same time, saving rumours and picket lines and especially not giving the union a heads up on what was  happening.

A text message was obvious because we always send them text messages.  And someone might have spoken up and said ‘then send a follow-up email to explain it’.

Someone would have checked the numbers, to make sure they have got it right.  Sack enough people to achieve the targets.  At this point it’s not about sacking too many, because we can always hire them back.

Someone might have said ‘do we all agree?’ and at this point, because everyone agreed or others were too afraid to speak up or thought ‘what’s the point, they are not listening’, the decision was made.

Someone would have pulled together the mobile phone numbers and whilst they didn’t feel really good about it, they were just ‘doing what they were told to do’ and since it wasn’t their decision, they were covered.

A message on the website today (13th August) says ‘please be advised the terminal is experiencing labour issues today and due to this the terminal will be closed for all time zones’.

Wow! This sounds like they are now blaming the workers for the issues, rather than taking responsibility for the actions that caused it.

This goes to the heart of the culture of the organisation.

Simple. Efficient. Logical decision making.  Totally flawed.  Totally shameful.

From a coaching point of view, all throughout these discussions they could have asked better questions, called on other points of view, considered the Organisation values (by the way I couldn’t find them on their website) and considered the PEOPLE.  They were not just numbers, head count and dollars translated to the bottom line -they are real actual people!

We need to make tough decisions and we need the logical side of our thinking.

At the same time we need the other side of the coin that is focused on core values and people.

Questions like:

  • How can we do this with respect and dignity?
  • How can we do this so that we put the interests of our workers first?
  • Rather than texting, what other options do we have?
  • How would I feel if I got that text message?
  • What are the alternatives to sacking people?
  • What message do we need to convey and what’s the best way to do this?
  • Who do we need to get involved to support the people through the process?
  • What support are the workers going to need?
  • What else haven’t we thought about?
  • How can we go through this difficult period and still be proud of the way we treated people?

We need to encourage our leaders to make good strong decisions so that when they look back in hindsight, they will stand by and be proud of their actions.

We need to encourage, via our coaching, a complete approach to decision making that includes logic and is based on core values.

We need to encourage our leaders to not be afraid to speak up and ask and answer the hard questions like ‘how will they feel?’

Most people have a harder time dealing with the humanity and people side.  They can think of people as numbers and dollars and they are ok.  But think about them crying, they will steer clear because they are no good at it.

What were they thinking?

We know what they were thinking, it’s about how they went about that thinking and how to promote better thinking in the workplace.