How to kill a company’s morale in one easy memo

Ever wonder how to kill company morale and drive the stock
down 20% with only one memo?
Here’s how

That link [no longer functional] is to a Business school assignment (via Google). It is the creed of the CEO of Cerner Corp. to his minions.

Here’s the text:

From: Patterson,Neal To: DL_ALL_MANAGERS; Subject: MANAGEMENT DIRECTIVE: Week #10_01: Fix it or changes will be made Importance: High To the KC_based managers: I have gone over the top. I have been making this point for over one year. We are getting less than 40 hours of work from a large number of our KC-based EMPLOYEES. The parking lot is sparsely used at 8AM; likewise at 5PM. As managers — you
either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing; or YOU do not CARE. You have created expectations on the work effort which allowed this to happen inside Cerner, creating a very unhealthy environment. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you. NEVER in my career have I allowed a team which worked for me to think they had a 40 hour job. I have allowed YOU to create a
culture which is permitting this. NO LONGER. At the end of next week, I am plan to implement the following: 1. Closing of Associate Center to EMPLOYEES from 7:30AM to 6:30PM. 2. Implementing a hiring freeze for all KC based positions. It will require Cabinet approval to hire someone into a KC based team. I chair our Cabinet. 3. Implementing a time clock system, requiring EMPLOYEES to ‘punch in’ and ‘punch out’ to work. Any unapproved absences will be charged to the EMPLOYEES vacation. 4. We passed a Stock Purchase Program, allowing for the EMPLOYEE to purchase Cerner stock at a 15% discount, at Friday’s BOD meeting. Hell will freeze over before this CEO implements ANOTHER EMPLOYEE benefit in this Culture. 5. Implement a 5% reduction of staff in KC. 6. I am tabling the promotions until I am convinced that the ones being promoted are the solution, not the problem. If you are the problem, pack you bags. I
think this parental type action SUCKS. However, what you are doing, as managers, with this company makes me SICK. It makes sick to have to write this directive. I know I am painting with a broad brush and the majority of the KC based associates are hard working, committed to Cerner success and committed to transforming health care. I know the parking lot is not a great measurement for ‘effort’. I know that ‘results’ is what counts, not ‘effort’. But I am through with the debate. We have a big vision. It will
require a big effort. Too many in KC are not making the effort. I want to hear from you. If you think I am wrong with any of this, please state your case. If you have some ideas on how to fix this problem, let me hear those. I am very curious how you think we got here. If you know team members who are the problem, let me know. Please include (copy) Kynda in all of your replies. I STRONGLY suggest that you call some 7AM, 6PM and Saturday AM team meetings with the EMPLOYEES who work directly for you. Discuss this serious issue with your team. I suggest that you call your first meeting — tonight. Something is going to change. I am giving you two weeks to fix this. My measurement will be the parking lot: it should be substantially full at 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM. The pizza man should show up at 7:30 PM to
feed the starving teams working late. The lot should be half full on Saturday mornings. We have a lot of work to do. If you do not have enough to keep your teams busy, let me know immediately. Folks this is a management problem, not an EMPLOYEE problem. Congratulations, you are management. You have the responsibility for our EMPLOYEES. I will hold you accountable. You have allowed this to get to this state. You have two weeks. Tick, tock. Neal ….. Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Cerner Corporation 2800 Rockcreek Parkway; Kansas City, Missouri 64117 “We Make Health Care Smarter”

Now, I’ve flamed a few times in emails – but never like this, and never to people working for me. After this little gem was dropped on the company, employees responded in kind on the Web, and the company stock went down 20%. I know that had I received this, I’d be getting my resumeé out ASAFP. This is the sort of thing you keep in your desk drawer, and read when you think your job sucks.


The beatings will continue until morale improves!


It’s a five year old memo. I wonder what’s happened to the company and to Neal since then.

A quick check of their website shows that they’re still in business, although there seems to be some sort of involvement with a Hussey.


Their Google Finance page shows that Neal L. Patterson is still Chairman and CEO.  The stock price data doesn’t go back as far as the memo above unless it’s the down tick on September 21st, but they seem to having been doing OK since some kind of stock price disaster (another memo?) at the tail end of March 2003, although 2006 has been a bit rougher than 2005.


This memo was at the end of March 03 to my recollection… I joined Cerner in October of 2003… left in 2007.  So wasn’t part of the memo, but they pretty much require a minimum of 48 hrs…and most work over 55 a week and that is pretty much necessary to get good raises.


Hell, at my previous place of employment, people would be sending their resumes to Cerner to move to a better environment. My former COO and VP over me was stressing people over not putting in enough unpaid overtime, and people taking sick leave because they were sick. I’d wager EA makes this guy look soft, they’re just too smart to put it down on paper.


1) There is more to life than work.
2) Being present at work and actually doing productive work are two completely different things.
3) If you need to work unreasonable hours, somebody made a mistake on the financial planning.  If you cannot operate a profitable business with employees working reasonable hours, then the business is a failure, and overtime is masking that failure.

Remember the predictions made in the 70s that productivity would rise so high by 2000 that we would all be wondering what to do with all that leisure time?  What happened? Partly rising expectations in standard of living, partly a race to minimize costs (not maximize productivity) and a slew of other things. It also helps if you don’t confuse material wealth with maximizing your well-being.

By the way, the people responsible for company morale are the management.  If morale is bad, it means you have poor managers. Remember that one volunteer is worth ten pressed men. If you have lazy, uncommitted staff, then what made them that way? Few people are born lazy, and most wish to feel that they are making a worthwhile contribution with their efforts.  Remuneration is more than just mere money, and definitely more than a cheesy ’employee of the month’ program.


My sister used to work for a large multinational that pressured people to come in on Saturdays.  The employees would come in but they would work on personal tasks like paying bills and balancing their checkbooks.  It was all for appearance and it just pissed off the employees.  She left the company after this pressure started.  Part of her Saturday “work” was looking for a new job.


If you read the memo, that was the CEO’s point — it was the fault of the managers, not the employees. This memo was directed at middle management, not the workers.


But it was telling middle management to whip the slaves harder.  I worked at a place like that, the managers and executives making all these emergency afterhours and weekend work sessions, but they themselves weren’t there along side us, of course.  Projects just became more and more behind schedule, too.  Lack of ability by management to prioritize things and trying to get other departments to work on their stuff in the name of “team playing” got everything so constipated nothing could happen.  Then the trendy downsizing to improve things was tried a few times.  Watch out for these telltales, means the company is going down.


I’ve been in these places, too.  My thoughts have always run along the lines of “the bigger the company, the less I’m going to stress and push”.

I have no problem working 40 hours a week for a big company, but if a Fortune 1000 wants me to work 45, 50 or 60 hours per week, they better be paying me a huge amount of money ($100,000+ / yr) and compensate with excellent benefits and comp time.

However, I’ve also worked for small start-ups and have worked there for 50+ hours a week without complaint.  Usually with these companies, though, I much more enjoy what I’m doing and it has a greater direct impact on the company’s health and survival.

Finally, working for myself or as a contractor usually has me working 60+ hours a week — when I can get the work.

So, you can say the number of hours I work is inversely proportional to the size of the company.


And middle management did the right thing by telling their CEO to get stuffed. Nothing improves morale like having middle management stand up for workers against the higher-ups.


“Remember the predictions made in the 70s that productivity would rise so high by 2000 that we would all be wondering what to do with all that leisure time?  What happened?”

That ignores one important factor — people who want to work. Either because they enjoy their work, feel it’s important, or are compensated for putting in additional work. (I should probably also mention those with poor home lives or workaholics.)  Having been “under-employed”, I can tell you — unlimited amounts of free time can get boring and lonely.


I like it in the form that the link provides:  a student exercise in management email.   It would make a good real-time final in some class or other.

As an exercise, it deserves a good hour or 1.5 hours to reply, if at all possible — i.e., if there is enough of that time to dissuade Mr. Patterson from sending it in quite that form.   I won’t spend that much time on it but, a good private reply before Mr. Patterson broadcasts this:

1. Yes, that’s basically right — but don’t say it that way.  The details that are wrong are show-stoppers.

2. Yes, we collectively have more on our plate than we can handle in a typically slackful “40” hour week so this is very much a time to demand more and yes, that falls on the managers.

3. No, your list of threats will bite us all in the ass.   For example, you want to start clocking statutory employees?  First, you’ll demoralize the productive groups.  Second, it costs a lot more to implement (other than as a joke) than you think.   Third, you are opening the company up to liabilities re overtime and such.   You *must* not make this specific list of threats and you will be lucky if all you wind up as is slightly embarrassed.   There are far better ways to express the bottom line.

4. No, your memo reeks of your own and all of the executive incompetence generally.   Your metric will be the parking lot?!?!   The parking lot?!?  Let’s go say that some wall street analysts and see how your options look 24 hours later, shall we?   Metrics are *our* responsibility and in this memo you are just throwing up your arms and saying “I’m not executive material.”   Sorry, but that’s what it says.

5. Yadda yadda yadda.

Yes, you have your eye on the crisis that needs immediate attention.

No, this is ABSOLUTELY NOT the way to snap the whip.

I’ve CC’ed this reply to <all the other execs and 3 good managers>.   I think it is very important that we meet for a few hours within the next 48 to refine your good insights and shitty expression into the memo that *should* go out.

Right idea — somewhat wrong form.  Let’s fix it.

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