Sunday, April 27, 2008

What do I want from my government in tough economic times?

Do I really want the government to give me a hand out? No, I expect my government to make sure the rules keep things fair. I do object to my government making rules that make it harder for me to make a living. When changes to the rules cost jobs, I expect the planners to include that eventuality and to have some process in place to replace those jobs.

That means if the government lowers tariffs on a foreign product, they must include in their plan new jobs for the displaced. Before you say “It’s not the government’s job to find work for citizens” remember the immediate cause of the job loss was the changes caused by the government.

If the government builds a dam to prevent down stream flooding, it routinely pays the cost of relocating people who lose their homes and business to the new lake. Just so, changing the economic rules destroys the homes and businesses of citizens. Shouldn’t the government pay for the dislocation it’s changes cause?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Profit and loss

This at made me think. If prices go up faster than wages - did I just get a pay cut?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Turning failure into success

The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top.
Dr. Joyce Brothers

The same principle applies to business.

Far too many companies are so risk adverse that their employees are unwilling to try something new. The companies have created a climate where a single mistake is a career killer. I believe it’s caused by a mix of short term thinking at the top and viewing employees as a cost not a revenue creator.

This short term thinking causes managers to cut costs even at the expense of things that would (if given time) create more income in one, two or even three years. If the pressure for results “this quarter” is too strong you can’t invest in tomorrow.

Over the last 10 to 15 years management has changed it’s view of workers from revenue producers to a cost. Think about the computer sitting in an empty cubicle and ask your self how much work it’s doing? The humans add the value to the equipment, and it’s that value that allows it to make you money!

Combining the two, how much did you invest in your physical plant last year to make it more productive? How much did you invest in your people? Before you say “But my punch press doesn’t go down the street for a nickel and hour raise!”, think about this; if they are worth an extra 20 bucks a week to your competitor, why aren’t they worth that same $20 to you?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Killing off your customers

The Labor Department now estimates that the economy has shed 232,000 jobs in the first three months of this year.

For all of you who are laying off workers a simple question:


The people with jobs in the United States are your customers and when they are afraid of getting laid off, they stop buying, the local stores don’t sell, and you don’t get orders. The more people you lay off the worse it gets.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Grandma's wisdom

How did competent business men get themselves into the mortgage mess? It’s simple, they gambled, and they convinced their customers (home buyers) to gamble with them. We, in the guise of the government, helped by setting up the rules to allow them to gamble.

The lenders, the home buyers and the government gambled that the home buyer would not loose their jobs. They gambled that the home buyers would get raises that would be greater than the expected increase in payments caused by the increase in adjustable rate mortgage interest.

Anyone who has been working for a living knows that expenses have been going up faster than salaries for at least 10 years. Ask any carpenter, electrician, or auto mechanic. We’ve seen jobs running for low wage countries for at least 12 years and maybe 15 depending on what leading indicators you pick.

Every working man has seen this coming, it’s only the economists and politicians who are surprised. I think their surprised because they don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. Mostly, they live in a world of theory, which reduces real world actions to numbers on a page. That makes it easy to analyze events, but it also provides a buffer against the emotional impact.

That lack of connection makes it possible to miss the small leading indicators that those of us that have to figure out how to make a living spot and include in our assessments. When we see a large percentage of our industry being laid off, we suspect a problem. While it’s a significant percentage of my industry, it’s a very small percentage of the overall work force.

Where I see a leading indicator, the statistician hardly notices. I see a lot of very small leading indicators and recognize a potential problem. For the statistician, since each one is so small, it’s not a significant measurement.

Working people see the problem coming where the statistician misses it completely. Perhaps grandma’s wisdom is still more accurate than all the complex calculations.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


“We read for information, with the hope that information we acquire will improve our minds, giving us the means to improve our lives.” John Wesley

The biggest trouble with education in the United States today is that the educators have lost sight of their purpose. People need education so they can contribute to society, and for that contribution, society will support them. While the medium of exchange is money, that is just a way to swap effort for goods without direct barter.

I agree that a broad education is necessary to prepare people for more than just their working careers, but until the basic need of “giving us the means to improve our lives” is served, that broader knowledge will always remain an unused potential.

The educators in the United States are focusing on the “broad” part of education, while many other countries are focusing their efforts on job related skills. That is one reason that so many US companies are complaining that they can’t find enough “qualified” workers and are lobbying heavily for more work permits for foreign workers.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

It is what it is

Are you as sick of business euphemisms that hide the facts or over simplify issues as I am? The current practice of calling problems challenges drives me nuts.

The thinking is (I think) that by calling obstacles challenges you energize your people to “meet the challenge”. I think this practice trivializes the complexities of your business and reduces your peoples sense of accomplishment;

We all “know” what words mean, even when we might not remember the exact dictionary definition. When we hear words misused we do recognize the misuse even if we can’t clearly say why that particular statement is wrong. There is an old Confusion saying “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a tiger have?” The correct answer is “Four, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one”.

It might be useful to look at the Webster’s definition of both problem and challenge.

Challenge (From Webster’s)
1 to demand as due or deserved : an event that challenges explanation
2 to order to halt and prove identity: the sentry challenged the stranger
3 to dispute especially as being unjust, invalid, or outmoded : new data that challenges old assumptions
4 to question formally the legality or legal qualifications of
5 to confront or defy boldly :to call out to duel or combat :to invite into competition
6 to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties
7 to administer a physiological and especially an immunologic challenge to (an organism or cell)

Problem (From Webster’s)
1 a :a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b :a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2 a :an intricate unsettled question b :a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c :difficulty in understanding or accepting :I have a problem with your saying that

Challenge has 7 accepted definitions, none of which demands a solution, while the first definition of a problem includes the idea of a solution to a difficulty. Since we all know the generally accepted meaning of words, using the correct word to describe business events is critical to a common understanding and in creating a common purpose.

By styling something as a challenge and not as a problem, you loose your teams ability to overcome that problem. Remember, you can’t overcome a challenge BUT you can challenge your team to overcome a problem.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Belling the cat

There is an old story about a group of mice who were afraid of a cat. One mouse suggested that they hang a bell around the cat’s neck so they could hear it coming and hide. All the mice agreed that it was a great idea until one mouse asked “Who bells the cat”?

I was laid off in 2004 and have been working temp jobs and jobs outside of my career field because permanent work has been that hard to find. All the advice I get about finding work seems similar - great ideas but no concrete suggestions about how to get it done.

In my last post, I wrote about the CEO of AT&T’s complaint that he couldn’t find great workers. I’ve had some great comments and the suggestion that I teach HR departments how to do a better job of screening candidates. I could do that, but no one has any suggestions about how to market this as a service. The biggest stumbling block I see is the HR departments natural rejection of the idea that they need help.

As with all things in business, nothing will change until senior management recognizes the need for change and drives that change. Until someone comes up with a way for me to talk directly to Randall Stephenson (the CEO of AT&T) it’s just another great idea that can’t be implemented.

Which I guess is part of Mr. Stephenson’s problem - his whole system is designed to keep him from being bothered. Of course the people who his system sees as a “bother” are the very people that could help solve his problems.