Pyromaniacal managment

My wife considers me a workaholic; naturally, I disagree. On our European vacation, I did not work at all. I read The European Wall Street Journal only twice — and that too because when the blazing Milanese afternoons forced us to retreat repeatedly into our hotel room, I had run out of books and the hotel’s management treated all weekday guests as business people.

An August 12 article (“Sounds like a combined position? It is”) caught my eye. It reported: “Call it a sneaky way to get more work for less money. U.S. companies in some sectors that are cutting back on manpower aren’t eliminating positions entirely, bur rather have taken to melding a midlevel position with a more junior one – then advertising it as a junior slot, offering a low salary.”

I have to confess that the article left me dumfounded. Does anyone actually think that this is a smart way of doing business? Consider the logic inherent in the idea: “We have a managerial/executive position that is important enough to preclude its elimination, even in these tough times. However, it really does not matter if we offer it to an unqualified person.”

Let’s take this logic into another field – how about surgery? “Doctor X assisted in 15 (pick an appropriate number) heart surgeries while completing his internship. Let’s make him the Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery of this hospital, since we can’t afford to hire an experienced surgeon with management experience.” Or, consider a parallel to the specific example (of a contract manufacturer) in the article, “Doctor X has assisted in 15 heart surgeries. Since we cannot hire both a cardiovascular surgeon and a gastro-intestinal surgeon, we will combine the two jobs and have him do both. We should be OK, since a senior surgeon will check in on him occasionally.”

Would you go to such a hospital for a surgery? If the logic sounds asinine in medicine – or engineering or professional team sports or a dozen other fields – why is it not asinine in the running of a complex business? All these years, I had believed that the only field of human activity in which you could (routinely) find such sheer stupidity was politics. I guess the good news is that I am still living and learning.

Near the end of the article, the Journal quoted experts saying that such measures “… tend to backfire in the long run …” and “… when jobs are poorly combined, the strategy can also be bad for the firm …” because the company may be “… cut(ting) into the bone, into the things that are really adding value to your customers …”

The house can burn down and the experts are worried about the possibility of a long term decline in real estate values? Here’s what I would have said, had I been asked, “If you are a customer of such a company, immediately conduct an quality audit of everything you got from them. Also, find a replacement provider immediately. Then you won’t be singed when your provider crashes and burns.” To the Board of the provider company, I’d say, “Would you give a match and lighter fluid to a pyromaniac? No? Then fire the person who made the hiring decision. That’s an executive you can do without, particularly during tough economic times.”

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