Improved Efficiency Is Possible with No Job Loss

The other day I tweeted:

http://twitter.com/#!/sympmarc/status/124109058532835328

Dan Dragnea called me on it, fairly enough:

The thing that caused me to tweet what I did was an annoying one with a simple fix, and there was a reason I tacked on the “with no cost in jobs” bit. I was driving out of the parking ramp (garage to those of us who aren’t from the upper Midwest) at my hotel. There were two exit lanes, one marked with a sign saying “Monthly Cardholders Only” and the other saying “Hotel Guests, Credit Cards, and Cash”. All of the cars were dutifully lined up in the latter lane, since (I assume) none of us were monthly cardholders. When I got to the booth, I noticed that the other lane also had a card reader for hotel guest keys as well as credit cards. I pointed this out to the main in the booth and he basically said “Huh. I never noticed that.” So the twenty or so of us who waited in one lane could have been using the other lane instead, at least those of us not using cash.

This is the sort of no job loss inefficiency that drives me crazy. Not only is the booth guy necessary, but someone could get a little work out of fixing the signs.So in this case, it’s a tiny job *gain*, not a job loss to improve the efficiency.

Back in the 1990s, the concept of efficiency was probably irrevocably intertwined with job loss. The Business Process Reengineering (BPR) movement and characters like Chainsaw Al’s tenure at Sunbeam caused many people to begin to fear for their livelihoods. (Think about how good we all had it back then compared to the world of impermanence we now inhabit.)  This was a huge detriment to the knowledge management consulting work we were doing at Renaissance Solutions at the time because many people thought that allowing their knowledge to be captured and disseminated was going to make them obsolete. There was literally no goal for that in the work that we were doing. By elevating everyone’s performance, we hoped to allow everyone to work on more value-added tasks than the mundane or rote parts of their jobs where they added less value. This was around the dawning of the knowledge worker moniker. We don’t want to get rid of well-performing knowledge workers (the badly performing ones are a totally different story); we want them to work on things that will add more to the bottom line.

Now we call all of this collaboration and we run into many of the same fears and doubts. Add to the mix the erosion of employee *and* employer loyalty, and it’s reasonable for the fears to be even stronger than they were back then.

There *are* no-job-loss efficiencies we can implement all around us, though, just like that parking ramp example. The guy in the booth would be happier because people wouldn’t be as testy when they got to him, and each person would save some few minutes on their way out.

Think about the person in HR who has to collect and collate all of the paper forms we use to elect our benefits. (Yes, plenty of places still use paper-based forms.) They probably don’t love that work and they probably feel that they should be doing something more important. Well, by electronifying those forms and routing them to the right places automagically with a workflow, that person can focus on something we all care about, like improving HR’s customer service around the process or holding more informative sessions explaining what the forms cover. By improving the efficiency, we can improve the overall experience, and there’s no reason a job would be lost.

Or take the case of a team working to accomplish a project’s goals. If we can make that team more efficient by giving them a robust team workspace in which to asynchronously collaborate, then they will have more time to find other experts in the organization to bring into their effort, or pursue tangential possibilities that may address the project goals better, or do more research using external sources, or attend more educational conferences. No one loses a job, the team performs at a higher level of efficiency *and* effectiveness, and we’ve opened the door to more serendipitous results.

I know that I may be a bit of a Pollyanna about all of this. There’s no guarantee that no one will lose a job when greater efficiencies are introduced. But it’s not an inevitable outcome. Take that extra manpower and energy and focus it on process improvement, and you’ll get direct benefits to the bottom line. And we all might get out of the parking ramp a little bit quicker.