Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading about layoffs at IBM...

Here are some thoughts – my father was a “lifetime” IBM’er…he was the epitome of Big Blue, and fit into that society perfectly. It was different generation, where engineers were held in the highest esteem, but in most cases, working on the drafting board would be beneath them. So the society employed thousands of draftsmen (since the majority back then were men), the “non-technical skilled labor”. And boy has their business model changed – no more Industrial Business Machines, as it was when the company was founded. So they’re not the manufacturer they used to be – but they are still trying to stay relevant to the market, so their business model is always evolving.

I’ve got news for you – that paradigm and “society” has already been changed. So many of the tasks and tools used by the “non-technical skilled labor” are out of date…and so are the users. If the draftsmen didn’t learn how to become designers, then they worked themselves out of a job.

And that’s what frustrates me about the article I’m reading. The laid off staff is sending the information about the layoffs to a union. In this case, the union is trying to protect jobs. But maintaining out of date jobs is only serves union leadership, and not the workers. My question to them is, what are you doing to bring that worker up to speed in today’s market, so they can help the company compete in the global market?

While I consider myself conservative, and mainly would support companies over unions, they BOTH serve a purpose – the union, especially in hazardous industries, need to make sure that companies are not sacrificing worker safety and the environment for profits. But I’m also a firm believer in merit pay – if you not only do your job, you look for ways to improve the job or process, and make it better for the company AND the worker, then you should be rewarded, with raises and promotion. I don’t believe that doing the same thing well for 50 years, is the only basis for moving someone up. And this is where corporations and unions need to do a better job of working together.

So, in the case of IBM, the union has no legs here. If IBM has figure out how to replace a manual task with an automated one, then they should be allowed to do that. If it means one less job, that’s the company’s decision – not the unions. This is just one example of leveraging technology like BIM to improve the work process and help the bottom line. Ideally, this would open up more opportunities in other areas – offering more for the same money, such as the BIM model itself, if the relationship with client warrants it. And if their share of the market has dropped, then keeping those jobs only speeds the overall demise of the company - it serves no purpose, and hurts far more than it helps.

And eventually, the market changes – which is the great thing about a democratic society based on free markets. Somebody is always looking to make the next big thing. Just ask Kodak how important it is to understand the market for photography, and how to keep up. We’ve got a bunch of Hasselblad camera equipment, and an old Remington box camera, that cost a small fortune – since they were the best on the market at the time. Now, you can’t get $50 for the Remington, since nobody uses this type of camera anymore – it’s all digital, so now it’s only good as a conversation piece. Film? Forget about it – and this is just a fact of life.

Like it or not, we ARE competing against other countries now, rather than just each other. Countries like India support the development of companies that offer the same type of labor force at a fraction of the rate of US labor. And why wouldn’t they? The cost of living is lower, the cost of education is lower, so the overall cost of the services is of course, going to be lower. If the quality and results are the same, then the only correct answer is this – we have to offer more – and better – information and deliverables than our overseas competition. And we WASTE far more now than we ever have – not just materials and resources, but time and money. In order for us to stay competitive, you’ve got to address the waste in all areas.

In the past, this is where the US set itself apart from other countries. You only have to look at the advancements in our military to see that a determined America, with the belief that we ARE better at what we do that anyone else in the world, can accomplish. And this is what ticks me off about both corporations and unions. Too much emphasis in the unions are based on maintaining the status quo, while corporations need to focus more on improving their own workforce instead of just using it.

At my job, we are working the way it’s should be done. We’re reviewing how we do things, training our workforce to be better at what they do, and investing in people – like family. We’re going to be better than anyone else at what we do – because we’re working together to do it. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll learn from them. And we accept nothing less than excellence in what we do, which is what it takes to be a successful company from the president to the copy room. To me, these folks are the epitome of American exceptionalism – which is why I love working here. The bar is high…

So let me ask you this –

How many of the architects and engineers today believe we should still be on the drafting table, with draftsmen (or CAD people) still creating reams of drawings…and errors…and inconsistency in the documentation?
How many people can do without their mobile phone (actually mobile computer)?
How many car companies can compete by assembling their cars by hand?
How much electricity does your windmill generate?

While Thomas Edison lit up the world, he’d be turning over in his grave if we weren’t trying to improve on his brilliance. It’s time for all of us to “lighten” up, and learn how to work together better – for our own good…and get back our competitive advantage. We’re not serving anyone by trying to preserve outdated methods and jobs. Like I’ve said before – you’d better educate yourself, if you want to survive in today’s market.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Well said David! Competition is the highest form of flattery, if your competitors are copying what you do then your an innovator and leading the pack. If your the one doing the copying then you need to reevaluate things..

I think this recession has made many of us who feel like you do want to create competitive advantages to separate us from the pack. If you dont innovate you close your doors.

Great post!!