Give me Hope, Joanna…

“Well Jo’anna she runs a company
She runs it in India and around the world
She makes a few of her people happy, oh
She don’t care about the rest at all
She’s got a system they call ‘Virtual Pool’
It keeps an employee in a subjection
But maybe pressure can make Jo’anna see
How everybody could a live as one”

I still remember hearing the song “Gimme hope, Joanna” while Eddy Grant was performing live at the IPL Closing Ceremony extravaganza a few weeks back, in South Africa. There was something about the song that struck a chord in my heart – maybe the peppy beats, maybe the compelling lyrics or maybe simply the timeless appeal against the apartheid that has haunted South Africa for so many years. Little did I know that this song would make so much sense to me and the context of my life, just a few weeks down the line!

I work for a company which was recently involved in the biggest corporate fraud in India, and for that matter, one of the biggest scams the world has ever witnessed. Thanks to a handful of promoters and his close aides, the entire bunch of dedicated and talented employees faced the brunch of uncertainty and panic over the last 6 months. All of this is public knowledge and I won’t go into the details here in this article. We all saw a ray of hope in April as we inducted in a ‘strategic investor’ (as they love to call it) into the system. We thought things were looking up, we thought the months of tenacity, the fighting spirit shown by each and every associate of our once-esteemed organization would finally pay off… and we would finally get back into the league to gain all our lost pride. Lets call this ‘strategic investor’ or simply the new buyer of our firm as ‘Joanna’.

Soon after the honeymoon period where we were welcomed by Joanna into the new system, people began questioning Joanna’s motives. Yes, her visions were ambitious – She wanted to become the “No. 1 IT company in India” in some years from now… but at what expense was the question. People in the company soon began to realize that it was probably at their expense. We could sense a ‘buyer mentality’ in whatever Joanna was doing, in most of her communications and in many of her decisions. It was something like “I have done you a huge favor by buying your company… and I don’t listen to you; I don’t want to understand your system… All I want is my system to be imposed on you”. Somehow it could be sensed that the intention was to push hard right from the word “Go” and an apparent unwillingness on the part of Joanna to listen to us.

Joanna somewhat wanted to “keep a few people happy without caring about the rest at all”… Lightning struck one and all in our company as Joanna announced that there will be a ‘Virtual Pool Program (VPP)’ in order to do away (for the time being) of the excess staff in our organization. I could see the fear in the faces of my fellow colleagues as each tried to speculate his / her chances of being part of this dreaded Virtual Pool. Joanna finally announced the list on Friday, the 12th of June which asked the N number of people put on the Virtual Pool to stop coming to office from June 19th and be in the pool for the next 4-6 months with a whole set of ambiguous clauses defined in the policy which makes everyone doubt if there is any intention whatsoever of absorbing people back from the pool.

“She’s got supporters in high up places
Who turn their heads to the city sun
Jo’anna give them the fancy money
Oh to tempt anyone who’d come
She even knows how to swing opinion
In every magazine and the journals
For every bad move that this Jo’anna makes
They got a good explanation”

The entire VPP exercise was done in the most sugar-coated way you could ever think of. Joanna managed the media extremely well (“She knows how to swing opinion in every magazine and the journals”) – There was hardly any TV coverage of the 10000s of employees in an organization being virtually laid off from the system. Some papers where there was mention of the thing, worded things in such a manner that it seemed to be a benevolent act of some large-hearted saint.

Lets get one thing perfectly clear at this juncture… I fully understand the motive of Joanna and why she had to do this. There was too much excess staff in our organization and someone had to take the cut at some point of time. My concern is the highly insensitive way in which Joanna went about the entire exercise. First of all, ever since the list of 10000 odd people came out, people have been racking their brains on how Joanna arrived at such a list… and they have not figured out any rhyme and reason on how things were done! In IT, we have this concept called billability – A billable associate is one who is paid by the client on a per hour basis and thus earning direct revenue for the company. And a non-billable resource is one who is either not in a project currently and thus not receiving any direct payment from the customer (i.e. on the ‘Bench’ as per IT lingo) or someone else who has a support function in the organization e.g. HR, Sales, Presales, etc. It seems that Joanna only considers currently billable resources as ones valuable to her and she “doesn’t care about the rest at all”. There are people who have been billed for years and years who find themselves in the Virtual Pool (at a nominal pay and negligible benefits) just because he was not being billed in the last two months. How unfair of Joanna! Is it lack of business insight or a short-sighted vision to cut costs at any cost, without considering what might happen in the future.

“She doesn’t care if the fun and games she play
Is dang’rous to ev’ryone”

Layoffs invariably occur in the IT, or for that matter, any other industry… and a certain amount can be accepted. But you can put people down on the basis of non-performance – not on whether he is being currently billed or not. I see around me today and see so many units/departments of our company on the verge of closure just because its entire key people have been placed into the virtual pool. That’s what happens when you judge people on such superficial parameters like billing. As an insider I can tell you, that today the organization is in a mess thanks to Joanna’s immature steps and policies. The last 6 months were real hard work for us – I could see people passionate about rebuilding the organization after the multi-crore scam; people who stood as “One”; people who rejected lucrative job offers from poaching IT firms; people who worked their asses out – just to get the organization back into shape! Look at all these passionate people today – Most of them are sitting in the virtual pool! Kudos to you, Joanna – You know how to run a company!

Today, Joanna very clearly makes people in the Virtual Pool feel unwanted. She has removed several of their basic fundamental rights as employees. They have restricted rights to information access. They have crippled rights to communication – Their mailboxes can’t send mails over a minimal threshold limit! They don’t have internet access during their last days in office. They are not wanted anymore. Joanna wants them to go away. Joanna thinks she can well without all of them. Joanna even refuses to acknowledge / wish if one of those people in the Virtual Pool has his/her birthday. He / She is not important to Joanna anymore – He / She has been dumped by Joanna!

Today I look around me and see the previously passionate and eternally highly-talented people wanting to leave Joanna’s company – Its not their company anymore; It now belongs to Joanna and she will run it the way she wants. The IT industry is witnessing the first signs of revival – the tide is turning… But Joanna is blind. She is worried about herself, how she wants things to be. Is it lack of Joanna’s ability to run a big enterprise, almost double the size of herself? Does she have the business insight to run such a company? She doesn’t really seem competent enough – Especially if you look at her decisions and the haste approach over the past few months… And you start wondering how Joanna can ever take this enterprise to the height she is talking about! Would the people Joanna is dumping ever come back? After all that is happening, would anyone jump into the pool of uncertainty by joining Joanna’s company? The IT industry thrives on acquiring and keeping good talent. Joanna has failed miserably in keeping them and I wonder if she would be any good acquiring new talent as well.
“Even the preacher who works for Jesus
The Archbishop who’s a peaceful man
Together say that the freedom fighters
Will overcome the very strong
I wanna know if you’re blind Jo’anna
If you wanna hear the sound of drums
Can’t you see that the tide is turning
Oh don’t make me wait till the morning come”
I appeal to Joanna not to be blind… She thinks she knows it all – But this is not the way to do it. It’s the people who make or break a company – and if you don’t have good people, you are on your way down to the depths of hell. Today, I see our company, the one we prided in, as a sinking ship… It might look somewhat rosy from the outside but I personally know how things are happening inside. I plead to Joanna to open up to us, to listen to our point of view… to create synergy. We could have done it together… We could have given all the Infys and TCSs and Wipros of this world a run for their money, but trust me, Joanna, you can’t do that by walking over people. Maybe one day you will realize your mistakes… Maybe one day you’ll give all of us hope – and take our beloved company to its acme… Please give us that hope before the morning come.
“Gimme hope, Jo’anna
Hope, Jo’anna
Gimme hope, Jo’anna
Fore the morning come
Gimme hope, Jo’anna
Hope, Jo’anna
Hope before the morning come”

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