If you can't decide whom you want to fire, new software will make the tough calls for you.
From the realm of the strange-but-true comes new software that hopes to do for layoffs what Quicken did for accounting. Vurv Optimize is a Web-based program that will pick for you which employees should go in a given round of layoffs. It works like this: An executive tells the program how many employees he or she wants to fire, and the software sends an e-mail blast to managers, asking them to rate their direct reports on a scale of 1 through 5. The program assesses those ratings, taking into account factors such as an employee's age, race, and union status to see who among the low scorers might be a lawsuit risk. The software then spits out a list of people who can be smoothly "offboarded" (that's consultant-speak for canned). Meanwhile, it draws data from company HR records to calculate severance payments, to cut final paychecks, and to distribute termination letters to managers for delivery. At the appointed hour, the system automatically deactivates the keycards and e-mail accounts of the workers who are about to be fired. The application, which starts at $100,000, is being used by the likes of Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM) and American Airlines.