Hewlett-Packard's tough week

commentary Employees of Hewlett-Packard have had a torrid time over the past few days as their new chief executive officer and his executive team prepare them for a massive job reduction program.The company seemed to follow a classic pattern in communicating the information, with morsels fed to the media ahead of the formal announcement to dampen the shock, followed by the official statement.

commentary Employees of Hewlett-Packard have had a torrid time over the past few days as their new chief executive officer and his executive team prepare them for a massive job reduction program.

The company seemed to follow a classic pattern in communicating the information, with morsels fed to the media ahead of the formal announcement to dampen the shock, followed by the official statement. Those most likely to see their positions disappear now know, although exactly who and when is still being sorted out.

Human resources, finance and information technology are to take the brunt of the cuts, although all areas of the company are to feel some effects. The 14,500 positions nominated by HP as surplus are expected to be shed over the next 18 months.

HP is of course not alone in seeking to slash its workforce; Big Blue is planning job cuts of a similar order.

The tech sector is highly experienced in massive attrition; the boom and bust of earlier this decade means there is plenty of management experience in hacking away at corporate cost structures.

But while it is relatively easy from a managerial perspective to announce a market-pleasing slash and burn exercise, the real difficulties lie in maintaining the morale and commitment not just of affected employees but of the company as a whole.

HP certainly cannot afford to drift over the next 18 months, but it is tough to convince staff who feel their days are numbered to continue to give a damn. In addition, the program will inevitably cost the company in culture and corporate memory (while some may argue that these are areas most in need of surgery, some of the positive will inevitably be dispensed with along with the negative).

If there is one thing that companies rarely handle with maturity and acceptance of their responsibilities, it is restructuring-forced staff cutbacks and the impact on not just those who leave, but those who remain. If HP can implement a process that deals well with these issues, then it can minimise the fallout of the job cuts on its operations. Hopefully the lessons from the acquisitions of Compaq Computer, Digital Equipment and Tandem will serve the company well in this case.

What do you think of the cuts? If you're an HP employee -- or even if you're not -- we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and let us know or use the talkback mechanism below.

Iain Ferguson is the News Editor of ZDNet Australia.

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