The publisher arrives at her office and boots up her computer. Her password doesn’t work. No big deal she thinks, those security-obsessed IT guys must be making everybody change passwords yet again. She reaches for the phone to tell them she is being denied access. Strange, she thinks, that she should have to leave a voicemail message. She’s so important and no one is responding to the neon flashing of her name in Caller ID.
She shuffles around her office, sipping her latte, fairly paralyzed without access to her computer and fuming because she can’t get to her email. At some point she notices the sound of cardboard boxes being dragged across carpeting and down the corridor between the cubicles. The sound grows nearer and louder. Ah-hah, she thinks, at last they are getting rid of that #$@%^ down the hall. But no, the sound of sliding boxes inches ever closer. Good heavens, she wonders, why in the world are they are stopping outside my door?
Yep, it’s Judith Regan’s turn to be frog-marched to the curb.
Frog-march: to seize from behind roughly and forcefully propel forward –Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.
In the Wicked Witch’s experience frog-marching usually involves two hulking guys on either side of you, practically lifting you off the ground by your elbows while your feet go through the motions of walking. Not unlike the frantic paw action of the family dog being lowered into the swimming pool.
Did Judith Regan make anti-Semitic cracks? According to The New York Times yesterday, Rupert Murdock personally ordered Judith Regan’s ousting. Not, evidently, because of the O. J. Simpson book debacle over If I Did It, but because of comments Ms. Regan made in a phone conversation “with a company lawyer on Friday that…were deemed anti-Semitic….” Slurs are never justified, but are utterly incomprehensible in a milieu where many of your colleagues, not to mention most of your bosses, are Jewish. (Here, let me hand you your own gun to commit professional suicide.)
Actually, her surprise suggests to me that Regan didn’t consider her comments anti-Semitic. Or at least didn’t intend them to be. It seems hard to believe that somebody could have gotten as far as she has without being politically astute enough to know better than to offend her bosses. And in today’s New York Times (Tuesday, December 19th, 2006), she defends herself, saying that her comments were misinterpreted and that an attorney for HarperCollins, Mark Jackson, who took contemporaneous notes during their conversation, got it wrong. (Watch out for those contemporaneous notes! In the ghastly Bela Szigethy v. Lynne Scanlon three-week trial that took place at this time last year in New Jersey, all my personal emails and contemporaneous notes, even those written in pencil in the corners of documents over a TWENTY year period were considered evidence and subpoenaed. They held enormous weight. Luckily, they supported my position. No smoking gun there! Whoops, there I go again! Sorry!)
Quick to insert the deadly shiv, Jackson conveyed details of the conversation to Judith Regan’s boss, Jane Friedman, HarperCollins’ president and chief executive, and a woman with an already “testy” relationship with Regan. (Testy? How polite!) I’m sure Friedman’s toe began to tap under the desk as Jackson related the “heated conversation” between Regan and himself, and the just-this-side-of “hateful tirade” as it was described in yesterday’s New York Times (Monday, December 18 th, 2006). I’ll bet Jane Friedman smiled to herself while sharpening her shiv. “Dead man walking.” Friedman picked up the phone and called her boss, Rupert Murdoch. (No surprise there.) Let the frog-marching begin.
Who was that person cartwheeling through the halls of HarperCollins today? Jane Friedman?
Whatever Happened to Two Weeks Notice? No can do. Not anymore. In this electronic age, cordially firing (or, euphemistically, “letting someone go”) and allowing that person to take two weeks to “tie up loose ends” is a huge mistake. That’s why frog-marching is de rigueur these days. You have to stun the employee and toss her out before she regains control of her faculties…and weapons.
If you allow a cashiered employee to build up a head of resentful steam while still on the premises and while still having access to a computer, free postage via the mail room, and access to the company’s internal computerized address lists, you’ll find the company underwriting a scorned viper who can, and mostly likely will, spew venomous lies (not to mention a few truths!) about the company, its employees, vendors and clients. And let’s not forget about having to watch the employee steal as many office supplies as she can hide under her coat or pack into those cardboard boxes that she will be dragging down the hall over the course of two whole weeks.
True anecdote: A friend who worked for a Fortune 500 company in Connecticut arrived late for work one day. While walking from his car, he noticed the name of a vice-president being painted over on his reserved parking space. When my friend met the fellow in the hall a few minutes later and asked him what was going on, my friend realized that that was the first the poor sap knew that he was being fired. The guy was gone within the hour.
The same reason for a preemptive frog-march applies to employees who give the company notice. Throw them out in the nicest way, of course. They’re not happy or they wouldn’t be leaving. No work gets done that benefits the company during that time period AND company loyalty crumbles.
Planning to quit? Better to make all those copies and wipe out your hard drive before you give notice.
Judith Regan never saw it coming!
“…a stunned Ms. Regan was confronted by security guards who arrived with boxes and ordered her to leave….” “This came completely out of the blue,” one executive said. “She was completely taken by surprise.”
Ms Regan is stunned that she got herself summarily dismissed. I can’t believe she didn’t give her office a quick once-over after the O.J. Simpson deal exploded in her face and begin to move out personal items, including that photo of her cat or dog from the credenza behind her desk. Just in case. (How many times have you thought about how fast you might have to pack up? How many times have you sneaked personal items back into the office, having been spared the firing squad?)
Conventional wisdom is that you can get away with almost anything when you’ve got the numbers. She published political books like Herding Cats by Trent Lott, nose-pinching books like How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Straus, as well as a National Book Award Finalist, The Zero, by Jess Walter. If you’ve got the numbers, you’ve got the clout – or so it seemed. Turns out that in the end, everyone is expendable, even Judith Regan. Perhaps the News Corporation and Jane Friedman ultimately decided they disliked Regan more as a person than they liked her as a rainmaker.
When I was at AdWeek AKA A/S/M Communications and occasionally had to let ad space sales reps go, I often took the kind route with a couple of warnings or a difficult lunch or two where I stressed shaping up and getting better numbers. If that didn’t inspire the employee to work harder or better, then I gave two weeks notice to “move on to an area for which they were better suited.” That was then, this is now, as they say. The last time I let someone go, I had him frog-marched — but, hey, he deserved it. Just ask the people who sat in on the meeting where he maligned the president of the company (who was absent, of course, from the meeting.) And was he a little critical of me? Not smart. My toe tapped under the table and I, too, thought happily: “Dead man walking.”
Pass me the stun-gun.
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): I’ve been running around like crazy all week attending parties (did you see my px with Ron Hogan and Sarah Weinman at the Galleycat party in NYC?), meeting Eric Meola and Barbara Bordnick (fab photographers) at book signings, seeing the movie the Misfits a few rows back from that legend, 91-year-old Eli Wallach, and generally…running amok. I’ll fill you in on the social networking whirl next week!