Hiding dysfunction; protecting the lie

I know someone who recently made a foray into an organization that is doomed.  When we spoke, it was clear that he meant the people,  There is a real and present danger to their gainful employment in their present jobs.  Several have already been laid off and it’s likely there are more to follow.

They had been hired to do a set of tasks that morphed into another and now they are morphing into another.  Many, many haven’t even made the first morph.  And they’re hiding it.

Now, progress has always forced the acquisition of new job skills.  The Industrial Revolution automated people right out of their manufacturing jobs – or into new ones if they could make the leap.

Not all could.

In this day of outsourcing and off-shoring, it has become increasingly more stressful to “look good” to management.  Like the Luddites of old, people will say and do all manner of manipulating, lying and nay-saying to preserve a world and a job that is passing away whether they like it or not.

As we have spoken, I have been convinced my friend has solid empathy for the people caught in the transition.  But, on the other hand, we are all caught in the transition and we need to figure out what to do and do it.  It’s heart-wrenching but it has to be done.

When I speak in church, I talk about progress in terms of the construction business because everyone (except me!) understands it and the analogies I try to bring.  If a construction company showed up outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country with only hand tools to frame a set of walls in 2013, that company should probably be sent packing.  Hydraulic hammers are twenty times more efficient to put nails into wood.  And they look like fun to use.

But imagine a new hydraulic hammer design that required its user to know algebra.  Those who had math skills could now be 500 times more productive than those using the old hydraulic hammers.  The implications of this development are profound:

  • Most framing carpenters would lose their jobs.
  • The algebra-mastering craftspeople would demand much higher wages, which employers could and would pay.
  • Builders would pocket more cash because their costs would decrease

Now, we can say that the profits of the builders and the new higher living conditions of the mathematician/carpenters were made at the expense of those laid off, but that implies defying progress and it makes us Luddites.

So what do we do?  My friend is asking the same question.  And the best he can come up with is what we don’t do.  We don’t

  • pretend progress hasn’t been made that obsolesces people’s job skills
  • run roughshod over people’s lives
  • protect the lie that things are working well for them in the new, more productive jobs
  • ignore the need to make a best effort to retrain people, knowing that some won’t make the leap
  • hide the fact that more layoffs will be coming.

So it’s rough and unpleasant for my friend.  He’s catching a lot of wrongly-directed ire; it’s a good thing we talk.