Staying Power Has Rewards And A Price Tag

Nancy P. Karen, 46, is pretty sure her job won't be destroyed. In her 24 years with the company, she has been an energetic workaholic in the critical area of information systems. As director of the company's personal-computer network, Karen is facing new and tougher demands as a result of Thrasher's efforts.

She joined New York Telephone in 1969 during the company's big bulge in hiring, often referred to as "the service glut." To meet explosive growth, the company hired tens of thousands of people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Karen, a Vassar College graduate with a degree in math, was one of 103,000 employees at New York Telephone in 1971. Today, NYT has about 40,220 people. Working in a regulated monopoly, she felt a sense of comfort and security that now seems a distant memory. "Downsizing was totally unheard of," she says. "Just about everybody here started with the company at a young age and retired off the payroll."

Thrasher's plan--and Nynex' earlier efforts to slash the payroll--have changed all that. Of the 79 people who report directly to Karen, 59 have already seen colleagues forced off the payroll in previous rounds of cutbacks. Her department is likely to suffer a 30% reduction in staffing. "When they started talking about another round of downsizing, people were a little more anxious because they feel they're already stretched thin. Now we'll have to learn to work smarter and completely change the way we do things."

Working smarter also means working harder--much harder. She once directly supervised 26 people, instead of 79, and she used to work more normal hours as well. No longer. Karen now puts in 50 to 60 hours a week, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday, at Nynex' White Plains (N.Y.) office. Wherever she goes these days, she carries a beeper and a cellular phone and checks her voice mail every hour. "It's a different mentality," she says. "My weekends and holidays are not reserved." On a recent biking vacation through California's wine country, she called the office at least once a day from "every little town." Since Karen is single, "nobody complains about my work hours," she says.

Nynex didn't push Karen into her new and grueling pace completely unprepared. The company dispatched her to the local Holiday Inn in early 1993 for a workshop on culture change put together by Senn-Delaney Leadership, a Long Beach (Calif.) consulting firm. She was skeptical at first. "To me, it was yet another program," she says.

Surprisingly, Karen left a believer. The sessions--dubbed Winning Ways--are an effort to inculcate the new values and skills that Nynex believes it needs to make Thrasher's reengineering changes take hold. It's a quick-and-dirty roundup of today's managerial commandments, stressing teamwork, accountability, open communications, respect for diversity, and coaching over managing.

Although impressed by how the sessions encouraged employees to speak more freely to each other, Karen saw her share of nonconverts at the initial two-and-one-half-day meeting. "Some people come back to work unchanged," she says. "But there's a big middle section that seems willing to change, and then there's a small percentage at the top that's very enthusiastic about it."

BRAIN DRAIN? Not that Karen, who earned an MBA from Columbia University on the company's tab in 1981, doesn't have some big worries about the change effort. One of them is that the downsizing will get ahead of the company's ability to figure out ways to get the work done more efficiently. She's also worried that the company will lose expertise and talent. That would mean that she and other managers won't have enough of the right people to accomplish the tasks placed before them. "It's not going to work perfectly," she says. "There will be cases when the downsizing occurs before the reengineering."

Despite the increased workload and her concern over employee morale, Karen considers herself lucky. "This is a wonderful challenge," she says. "I'm looking at a task of building a new organization in the next six months to a year. I have the chance to test myself as I've never been tested before."

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