Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tact in the event of tragedy (or not)

By now it's probably been broadcast nationally about a local incident that happened Friday afternoon, when a disgruntled worker killed three of his former employers. A manhunt ensued, and the shooter was taken into custody yesterday.

At first, speculation and rumor was that the shooter had been laid off from his job at Silicon Valley start-up, SiPort. Layoffs were in the news, as many Valley firms had announced them in the previous few days, including such major local employers as Sun Microsystems and Applied Materials.

When the identities of the victims was released as the company's CEO, the Vice President of Operations, and the Human Resources Director, it seemed like a pretty good assumption that the shooter, an engineer, had been laid off.

But, the surviving folks at SiPort don't want anybody to think their company isn't doing well. Announcing layoffs is not good for business, and, apparently, the headlines about them laying off somebody were more distressing to them than the loss of three executives.

While I have yet to see or hear a statement from SiPort saying anything about "mourning the loss... senseless tragedy... our thoughts to the families..." (etc., etc., pretending to care), I have heard "company spokesman" making it clear that the shooter was not laid off, but rather fired for cause.

What I heard from "company spokesman" on the news last night is that SiPort has never had any layoffs. In fact, in 2008, they raised $20 million in venture capital and added more jobs, and they expect to add hire more in 2009!

Well, sure they'll be hiring. We know that they have at least four openings right now: CEO, VP of Operations, HR Director, and Crazy-Ass Engineer.

And, given the current climate here in Silicon Valley, you better believe that as soon as the company name and job titles of the victims were released, that the corporate email and fax machine were filling up with resumes for each one of those jobs. They'll have thousands of applicants by the time they show up Monday morning to clear away the yellow crime scene tape that police investigators left behind.

Now, there's really no reason why a well-funded tech start-up should listen to a lowly nonprofit consultant like me, but don't you think their spokesman could have used a little more tact in responding to the correct crisis?

I do understand their needing to privately reassure their venture capital backers that the company will go on, and that this will not deter them. But shouldn't their public statements in the first 48 hours be focused on the human tragedy, and not their business plan?

Or maybe it's just me who thinks that. But then, that's why my clients are nonprofit organizations, not tech start-ups.


  1. Ken, Management didn't have a plan to react to the tragedy. Playing it down and reinforcing the core strategies was their way of demonstrating dominance over the situation.

    Management was wrong in announcing there were no layoffs or that the alleged shooter was terminated.

    Management post "shooting" action points to immature experience and liability for releasing information about a 'former' employee.

    Successful management would have counseled employees and released a general statement accepting the tragedy occurred and providing support to victims and their families.

    My thoughts go to the friends and families of the victims and those who witnessed the terror first hand.

  2. Turns out murder is not good in a corporate culture.. who knew?!


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