Any Complacent Ib Mers Left?

On the outside, the plan by Chairman John F. Akers to create a "new IBM" has been criticized -- particularly on Wall Street -- for not going far enough. But on the inside, to many of IBM's 350,000 employees, the reorganization looks like a virtual revolution.

And it's a revolution that has them worried. Indeed, from California to Maine, IBM workers who agreed to talk anonymously say that they're still reeling from Big Blue's Thanksgiving week double whammy -- the news that the company will cut 20,000 workers and that George H. Conrades, marketing head of IBM's struggling U. S. unit, had been demoted.

PUBLICIZED CUTS. If a smooth salesman and high-ranking executive such as Conrades can be sidelined, whose job is safe? "We are all panicked," says a programmer in IBM's Austin operation. "Everybody thinks they're going to be out of a job. If they wanted to get a message out with Conrades, they did it." Others say they're not waiting for their pink slips. An engineer in IBM's San Jose plant says "dozens" of his colleagues have left recently and that he is mulling over an outside job offer. He complains that, despite IBM's avowed respect for its workers, the company has mishandled the way it is cutting staff by letting it be known that the worst performers will soon be forced out. To choose those who have to go, IBM has developed a ranking system that assigns a numerical value -- from one to five -- to their work. Those with a four or five are at risk. "My headhunter told me not to leave in 1992, that I would have a black mark against me forever," he says. "It's fine to weed out people, but they should have done it years ago."

Instead, IBM sought to shrink its payroll by repeatedly asking employees to leave voluntarily. Firing many workers still shocks those who believed they had a job for life with IBM. "I feel betrayed," says a White Plains (N. Y.) worker. "If IBM isn't growing, is it the fault of the employees or of the senior management?" Then, there are IBM staffers, particularly those who have been told that their jobs are safe, who say that the company's move to give product units more autonomy will breathe life into their work. "We have incredible technology in our labs," one worker says, "but it's not getting into products. Maybe now it will." If not, this revolution will look mild compared with the next.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.