A regular reader and loyal subservient leader of one of my best factories pointed me to a Doonesbury comic from earlier this week that captured the value of people during this period of lemming-esque layoffs. In an attempt to avoid the copyright cops but still provide a nice colorful graphic to augment the visual value of this post, here's just one frame of the strip from December 28th.
The rest can be found here, on their fully-authorized website.
While several frames do talk about the value of people from a knowledge and creativity standpoint, I still have some issues. First off, albeit minor, is the reference to people as "hands." That unfortunately perpetuates the concept of workers being assemblers and not thinking, creative, key members of an evolving organization.
How about "brains"? Would we think differently if we had to say "let's lay off about 95 brains today"? It's at least better than the usual term of "heads" or "headcount". Even better, try this: change your HR reports to say you have "103 full-time brains and 32 temporary brains." Hmmm… I know what's going to happen now. That same loyal subservient leader I referenced above will probably do this, as he also recently tried to slide through a bunch of personnel action forms (perhaps we should rename them "brain action forms"?) to remove the job titles from almost everyone at his plant, claiming he had cross-trained them to equality. I appreciate his thinking, although we're not quite ready, and perhaps I should start calling his plant a "commune."
But back to the strip. There are also several frames that imply that age equals experience equals value. That's the same trap that unions, government workers, and the like fall into. Basically anyone that gets an automatic increase due to time of service. Knowledge and creativity are not age dependent, in either direction. Old teachers may be the worst teachers, young autoworkers may be the most creative. This concept relating age and knowledge driving the incorrect relationship of age and value and correspondingly age and income then has the perverse side effect of creating the exact situation the Doonesbury strip deplores: laying off older workers to be able to hire younger, cheaper workers (brains…). Once again, unintended consequences, this time in a self-fulfilling kind of way.
I was also going to take issue with the frame above, and the limitation of "businesses" instead of including government and other organizations. Then I remembered that government is a bit unique in that they don't have to follow normal financial rules, compete for customers, and therefore rarely have to lay off or even fire either valuable or incompetent brains. Hmmm…