Work is a treadmill, and the speed doubles every ten years

April 28, 2008 § 49 Comments

Lydia has an interesting post up about the seeming oddity in corporate life, in which with few exceptions every employee in a large firm is required to have a ‘development plan’. At most large corporations, at least in the white collar world, you (and sometimes your supervisor) are penalized if you don’t change jobs often enough.

I don’t think this is a result of a distortion of market forces and capitalism though: I think it is intrinsic. I’ve argued before that I think that PC tyranny has been adopted by corporations because it is profitable to do so, and I think a similar observation applies here. I made the following comment in the thread:

You can’t think of a company as a ‘fixed’ entity like a car, or even like a cow (a “cash cow” company will get a low market value even if it has high profits, while a growth company will get high market value even with relatively low [current] profits). It is a false analogy. Every ‘human resource’ in the company is an asset, and assets that do not appreciate in value over time actually lose money for the company when measured against inflation; so they have to be gotten rid of. Just because they store some value ‘in place’ doesn’t mean they are worth keeping around: storing value ‘in place’ is money in a mattress, worth far less than productive, growing capital. (The only time this ceases to be the case is when economic hard times hit. Then everyone wants to store value and doesn’t care if it is growing as much as that it isn’t losing value. Usually cash is the hedge against downturns though, since cash is far more flexible than less fungible human-units. PC tyranny helps with the fungibility of the human-units though).

An engineer who does the same job for forty years is a dead asset. We have to keep putting money into him, usually increasing amounts over time, and get some marginal benefit from his increased experience but no true upgrade in his productivity which translates to the bottom line. Rather he needs to be constantly thinking about how to obsolete himself, replace himself with machines and cheaper less skilled labor so he can move up to the next thing. Upward mobility pressure on employees is not pointless. Growth-oriented ambitious people will do well in an environment of continual upward pressure. People who enjoy what they do and want to do it for the rest of their careers and live like human beings may be made miserable by that situation, but they aren’t the ones who will contribute large leaps of growth to the business anyway, so they don’t matter. It is more profitable to get rid of them and staff with the other kind of people.

Step back for a second and think about the logic of earning profits from capital. If you invest your money and earn 10% simple non-compounding interest, your money doubles in ten years. At the end of that ten years you can invest it again and earn twice as much for the next ten years. The same asset now has to be twice as productive. This upward pressure applies to all investment assets, and employees are investment assets: it costs money to acquire them and keep them around just like anything else. It is true that many assets depreciate — lose value over time. Obviously a company in the business of making money (which is reflected in share prices) wants all of its assets to depreciate in real terms as little as possible, and to appreciate in value if possible.

So an employee who produces X today had better produce 2X ten years from now, just to keep up. Why, you ask? Because they can. And if they can’t, someone else will replace them. Every asset in a company has this upward bias against depreciation and in favor of appreciation.

The reason PC tyranny and continual upward pressure are features of modern capitalism is not because they are irrational liberal prejudices or mere tastes. The reason they are features of modern capitalism is because they are profitable, at least in the time frames that matter to modern capitalism. PC tyranny improves workforce liquidity; continual upward pressure improves workforce value. This is how capitalism-qua-capitalism ideally should work, and does work absent adult supervision. That this results in an inhuman nihilistic existence for the actual human beings involved isn’t something that enters into the ‘logic’ of it.

I think it is wrong to take an idealistic view of capitalism, either in the positive or in the negative. Capitalism is not an angel, and it isn’t a devil. It is more like a Golem, and we should beware the lesson of Eliyahu of Chelm.

(Cross-posted to What’s Wrong With the World)

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§ 49 Responses to Work is a treadmill, and the speed doubles every ten years

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice thoughts, Zippy.I work for the government and the pace is crazy. It does not allow for thoughtful work, just production. This is why most businesses and the government have “Human Resource” departments when in the old day they were called “Personnel” departments.This system cannot go on forever unless dehumanization becomes the norm and people become more and more thought of as things. This is already much a part of our lives.I believe the trend is not reversible without revolutionary change. Too many people buy into it without question and without seeing the consequences in human terms. In modern lingo, only a Paradigm shift will address this insanity.Karl

  • JohnMcG says:

    Interesting perspective — I have to put together a “development plan” for my part-time job as an adjunct instructor.—-But on the other hand, I can’t escape the reality that God also wants us to “develop.” I hope that I’m a better husband and father and Christian than I was a year ago, and that I will be better at those things than I am in a year. As we celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary, our marriages better be developing as well.In other words, I’m not sure that valuing growth is necessarily a disordered desire. Now, the reasons my employer has for wanting me to develop are different from the reasons God wants me to develop, but could this be a case where the interests are sometimes aligned?Jesus’s “development plan” for his disciples wasn’t a terribly good match for family life either.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I guess I have to take issue with Lydia’s post, too — the assumption that it should be in everybody’s interest to allow employees to continue to do the same job well, and all this development does nothing for service.Well, I’m not so sure, because if you have employees whose only value is tied to the current way of doing things, say being extremely skilled at typing memos on a typewriter, then you have a constituency for keeping typewriters, and it will be difficult to transition to something that is objectively superior, unless one is willing to consider the worker a disposable commodity who can be discarded when the manner of doing the job changes.To summarize, I agree that capitalism leads comapanies to treat their employees in dehumanizing ways. I’m just not convinced that having employees have development plans is a particular manifestation of that. It seems to me it would be <>more<> de-humanizing to lock people into their current jobs, then get rid of them when that way of doing things is no longer operable.

  • De Liliis says:

    Capitalism is the natural way, other systems have to be manufactured and enforced to function. It can seem morally neutral in that good people make capitalism work perfectly well, bad people the opposite. . . but overall it is more good than any systems that have to be imposed, because these systems inevitably violate property and other rights of the people, resulting in tyranny of one kind or another.Capitalism gives good people the freedom to be charitable and live up to all the commandments of God. It respects property rights, which the Church also respects — because without property rights you cannot be charitable, and nor could commandments such as ‘thou shalt not steal’ exist.

  • zippy says:

    I would certainly agree that property and ownership are natural and fall under the natural law. But modern capitalism – stock exchanges, limited liability corporations with infinte lifetimes, central banks, fiat currencies, “intellectual property,” and the whole infrastructure of modern finance – is not ‘natural’. That doesn’t in itself make them <>bad<>, mind you; but they are hardly an inevitable product of nature.

  • more in favor than not says:

    Some features of the current system are indeed special manifestations of the concept of capitalism. And some such features are degradations of the capitalist ideal, by the way – so it should be noted that not all features are capitalism run amok. Corporate law, limited liability corps, and so on are not natural objects – you can have capitalism without such. On the other hand, I don’t think the basic point about “development” is quite right, either. When capitalism first took complete control in the 1800’s, humans were indeed objectivized. Henry Ford’s model of having a person put one screw on one bolt over and over for a whole day, every day year in and year out, was indeed inhuman. We have moved to other models in part because that was inhuman. Every repetitive act which can be done more accurately by an unthinking machine is, by that very fact an unthinking act, and therefore an act unsuited to man as such. It is intrinsically better that the worker continue to THINK his way out of this current repetitive job into a job more human because it requires reason. If a person objects that this means he has to leave behind work he is comfortable with, we must ask: are you comfortable with the old work because you don’t have to think about it? Are you uncomfortable with thinking? This may actually be true of the glued-to-TV mindset, but that too is a manifestation of an inhuman passivity. All other things being equal, a work model which expects people to think about their future and consider reasonable approaches to achieving reasonable goals is the very heart and soul of a humane business practice. A model which paternalistically “takes care” of the worker according average needs of the “unit average worker” is NOT optimal.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Right — I’m thinking about the parable of the talents. Doing the same thing for our entire careers does not seems to be what Christ envisioned for us.This doesn’t make capitalism an angel, but they may be on the side of angels in this particular case.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Oh, come, John McG. I’ve kept my mouth shut on this thread over on this blog thus far despite reading odd things attributed to me like the idea that people should not be encouraged to grow or develop (when my whole point was to question whether arbitrarily changing your role in a company really _is_ developing), but this is too much. You’re telling me that some wonderful professor of classics who gives faithful service to his university all his life, who touches students over the period of a whole career of forty years, and at last dies in honor is violating what “Christ envisioned for us” because he is doing the same thing all his life? Give me a break. If nothing else, that you could say this shows me that I’m on the right track: We’re idolizing change to the point that we’ve come to view stability, expertise, commitment, and love of a thing for its own sake as somehow bad. But please, don’t invoke Jesus of all things to justify it. A person could easily do the same thing all his life and have much to show his master when his master comes and asks him to render accounts.It’s possible you’re just being ambiguous on the phrase “doing the same thing” and that now I’ll be told that presumably the professor of classics researches various ideas and writes various papers, has various projects and new interests throughout his career. But that’s all within one field, and it is clearly a far, far cry in terms of stability and doing what you’re good at all your life (which I suppose would be called “stagnation” nowadays) from the white-collar worker who does three years in procurement, three years in marketing, three years in product development, three years in whatever else, and so forth, ad infinitum, with the hounds of hell behind him should he stop in the same place for more than five years.Give me “stagnation” any day.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think you’re overdramatizing both the pressure white collar workers are under to change jobs, and the radicalness of the change required. Even at GE, I suspect the “hounds of hell” aren’t after an enigneer to go into sales.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I suspect you are wrong. Perhaps you should talk to some people in the business world (not in academics) who have been put through this process. The man who sparked my post has been in procurement and is being pressured to go *somewhere else*. REally, somewhere else. Not just to “grow” as a procurement guy, but to *change his job*. Marketing is just one option, but we are *not* simply talking about being asked something highly general like, “Please tell us how you can become a better employee for the company over the next few years.”Aside from that, _you_ are exaggerating in your statement about the parable of the talents. Can you really possibly mean that Our Lord will be displeased with someone because he has done the same work for Him all his life? Think about that. I can think of untold counterexamples. A craftsman who has carved beautiful clocks all his life to the honor of God. A scholar who has pursued the same area of precise and worthwhile knowledge all his life to the glory of God, perhaps culminating in a single magnum opus late in his career. A missionary who has just gone on winning souls year after year until he drops dead on the job. You said, “Doing the same thing for our entire careers does not seems to be what Christ envisioned for us.” That’s just patently absurd on its face. Get a picture in your mind of the beauty of continuity, faithfulness, stability, and expertise. If you came back to your home town and found a dear old pastor still pastoring the same church forty years later, I hope you would be touched and pleased. And so forth. Use your imagination.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Can you really possibly mean that Our Lord will be displeased with someone because he has done the same work for Him all his life?<>If so, some of the monastic saints are in deep trouble.

  • Anonymous says:

    Clarify your terms before we get into “he said this” and “I said that”, please.Just because a company asks a person to make out a “development plan” does not <> of itself <> imply the company is asking the person to change his job as such. Development can be as simple as “continuing professional education” to keep current on trends and new facets of the same old job. A classics professor who never read a new article on Ceaser or Latin or Rome, who never went to a conference on anything, and who never looked at new ways to teach the same old stuff, would indeed be a less satisfactory employee than if he did some or all of these things and still taught classics for 40 years. If a company uses the “development plan” model to push people into the kinds of development that don’t apply to their current job at all, the company is mis-using the very notion of development. (Kind of like the theological dissenter’s abuse of theological development to proclaim false new ethical systems.) An abuse of a good thing may be gradually getting to be common in business, but the abuse does not imply the good thing is now a bad thing. Even if there are actually companies out there who push <> “three years in procurement, three years in marketing, three years in product development, three years in whatever else, and so forth, ad infinitum,” <>, that only shows it is possible to abuse the notion of development. Probably those companies will find out in 10 years that they were killing themselves, and will go under from the pressure of other companies who were not so abusing their employees. The fact that some companies don’t understand the proper limits of a good idea just doesn’t speak to the value of the idea very much.

  • zippy says:

    <>Probably those companies will find out in 10 years that they were killing themselves, and will go under from the pressure of other companies who were not so abusing their employees. The fact that some companies don’t understand the proper limits of a good idea just doesn’t speak to the value of the idea very much.<>GE under Jack Welch went from a $25 billion market cap to over $400 billion, in the process becoming the most valuable company in the world. In the logic of capitalism that is not ‘abuse’, it is ‘success’.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Yeah, anonymous, that’s not what I’m hearing. I’m hearing that very much the kind of thing I just found out about is pretty widespread. If it surprises you, welcome to the club. I would also not have thought it would work well, but there y’go. This apparently isn’t mainly or usually just about going to training to keep up on new ideas in your field. I think y’all have been assuming that I’m decrying something that really does sound like “development” in some given area of expertise, and I anticipated (you will see if you look) that response to my classics professor example. But my point is very much that that isn’t what this sort of thing is confined to. That bugs me.Thanks, Bill. Excellent example.

  • JohnMcG says:

    As I said in the W4 thread, Matt Lauer is a GE employee, and I seriously doubt he is being encouraged to change jobs to sports in the next two years. I think GE would be quite happy if he’s still hosting the Today show in 10 years, as he has been for the last 10 years.I do work in the corporate world, not acadamia. My employer is technically a “non-profit” but that is more of a PR/taxation set-up than it having an altruistic mission. And I see two kinds of “development” — professional development like anon refers to — e.g. a C++ programmer learning Java, and managerial candidates being exposed to different parts of the business. I work in IT for health care, and don’t suspect I’ll be asked to become a nurse anytime soon.Which is why I said I think this pressure is being over-dramatized.The “old pastor” is an interesting example. The pastor who spends thirty years at the same parish is an exception rather than the rule, and has been throughout the church’s history. Why? Well, I suspect that the Church has concluded that having a parish and a pastor so strongly coupled is detrimental to both the parish and the priest. That the priest needs to “develop” beyond ministering to the needs of a particular parish, and the parish needs to “develop” beyond dependency on a single priest.In any instance, it appears that the Church’s vision for its employees is closer to Jack Welch than Henry Ford. Yes, it would be stupid to ask a successful pastor to start teaching high school math. But it does make sense to ask a suburban pastor to work in an urban parish, and learn how to deal with different kinds of people.Are there exceptions? Sure. And maybe Matt Lauer is an exceptional GE employee who doesn’t need to develop into a different role (as well as Bob Costas, Al Roker, Meredith Veira, Chris Matthews, etc.) But I think the general principle that we are not finished products, and should be looking for ways to improve ourselves is not disordered, and is indeed in harmony with the Gospels. Perhaps Lydia’s friend is in a truly abusive system. But I don’t think that’s an indictment on the concept of development any more than < HREF="http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/04/30/guest-post-what-lifes-really-like-for-a-stay-at-home-dad/" REL="nofollow">this story<> is an indictment of fathers as primary care-givers.

  • zippy says:

    <>And maybe Matt Lauer is an exceptional GE employee who doesn’t need to develop into a different role (as well as Bob Costas, Al Roker, Meredith Veira, Chris Matthews, etc.)<>Uh, yeah. I think it is safe to say that those folks are exceptions.If 70% of the workers at GE were chattel slaves, saying “I’m happy and not a slave, though yeah, technically I work for a non-profit” and “Matt Lauer works for GE and isn’t a slave” doesn’t drive the conclusion “the whole slavery thing is not an issue, it isn’t systemic, and it isn’t a problem”.Proof by counterexample isn’t the sort of thing that carries quiddity here. It isn’t that kind of ‘logic’.If only (say) 20% of workers were being systematically subjected to dehumanizing conditions can we say that that is OK, and not a systemic problem driven by the profit motive, because counterexamples abound?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    So pastors _shouldn’t_ be left in the same parish all their lives? People shouldn’t stay in the same town, say, running the corner store? Craftsmen should be told to “move on” from their crafts?Gee, it’s enough to make me start liking Crunchy Conservatives who make you feel a little guilty for not living in your home town near your parents and who hate strip malls.Call me a reactionary, but it seems I’m always more able to see the point of one extreme position when I come into contact with the other extreme.Honestly, this is all terribly artificial. Imagine telling a contemplative monk that he needs to fill out a development plan to explain to his superiors how he plans to make sure he is closer to God five years from now! And by the way, anybody ever here of the vow of stability? It was part of the Benedictine rule. You needed special permission from your abbot to move to a different monastery or even go on a journey. It was expected that you would live in the same monastery for the rest of your life after taking final vows. So much for the importance of moving around as a thing important in itself to “develop our full potential.” Maybe we should leave the old parish priest alone in the vineyard he knows so well.Doesn’t it seem, John McG, that maybe you’ve accepted a catch-phrase and are trying too hard to apply it to all cases?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Oh, gosh. Ever “hear,” not “ever here.” Sorry.

  • Anonymous says:

    I personally have hated the notion that a pastor ought to be moved every 6-7 years. On the other hand, this is a recent (historically speaking) phenomenon related to a canon law rule that a pastor left in place more than 7 or 8 years (i forget the cut-off point) has rights with respect to that parish: the bishop cannot move him to another parish except by a move up – no lateral assignments. Since bishops hate being told “you can’t move Fr. X,” they make sure they don’t get put in that position. This is NOT a matter of “you must develop”, but a matter of bishops keeping their prerogatives open. Lydia, it would help if we had some kind of statistics to understand whether what you are bringing up really is common, but statistics of this sort are notoriously fuzzy. So it is hard to know if any concrete case is purely anecdotal or indicative of systemic problems. I don’t hear anything about the bus drivers being forced to learn new jobs, or waitresses being “developed” out of waiting. Many such jobs are considered “dead-end”, so it would be odd to say the are also development-crazy. On the other side of the coin: in my organization, we have a real pressure to develop managers. The problem is that we don’t want managers who ONLY have an MBA and no hands-on technical abilities. We want to take people who are great at the technical side, and make good managers out of them. Problem is that the managerial tasks are truly different kinds of work, and you have to try out 2 or three people in this to find one who is good at it. What do you do with the other 1 or 2 who aren’t? Shove them out the door as failed managers? In reality, we are finding it so hard to train and keep managers (after 20 years technical and 10 years managing they retire, and the ones who are good get tapped for executive material) that we MUST put a lot of emphasis on finding new talent, which means seeing if any of the technical people might be good management material. This is not the same as “develop into a manager or get out” because we still need the technical work to get done. But it does mean anyone who is even slightly inclined toward moving into management is encouraged to develop that possibility. If you have a solution to the above, you can become a phenomenal executive at any large enterprise, because it is THE headache at that level.

  • JohnMcG says:

    My point in bringing up a counter-example is that a truly dehumanizing process would not admit exceptions. Why should Matt Lauer be any different from Deb from Finance? Apparently, GE recognizes that it would be in neither its own nor Lauer’s interests to nudge him aside.<>Then again, the imminent replacement of Jay Leno by Conan O’Brien when both seem to be performing well and are well-suited for their current jobs may point in another direction.<>I agree that a company saying you must radically change jobs every n years or hit the bricks is de-humanizing. I disagree that such a policy is all that common, and thus I dispute conflating it with asking employees to come up with a development plan, which it seems to me is more humanizing than expecting an employee to continue to do the same job until that job isn’t needed anymore.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    And I don’t claim to have those statistics. I’d be happy to think it’s uncommon. First I’d heard of it was two weeks ago or so now–just before writing the post.My impression of its widespread-ness is confirmed not only by the anecdotal evidence I’ve gotten re. GE (both from the fellow I originally talked to and from a number of people on the other thread) but also by comments from Zippy and from various electronic correspondents both in the thread and in e-mail after I brought this up. You can see for yourself what was said both in that thread I started and in the one parallel to this one by Zippy on W4.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    It seems to me, too, that we definitely need a model of a life’s work that is neither that of an assembly line worker nor that of a job that is constantly changing and in which one needs to prove a constant and rapid state of change and development. There are all sorts of types of life’s work, many of them among the very best, that fit into neither category, where change and growth are slow, unpredictable, and natural, and where part of the whole point is that you give your whole life to it and change and grow in part _by_ just continuing to do it and gradually, naturally, learning from the process and the gained experience. That sort of thing just can’t be charted ahead of time in a plan. It can’t be pushed or forced from behind. Nor should we try.

  • zippy says:

    <>My point in bringing up a counter-example is that a truly dehumanizing process would not admit exceptions.<>I’m sorry, but that is just a ridiculous statement on its face. Not all people are chattel slaves, so chattel slavery isn’t dehumanizing because there are exceptions? Not everyone is aborted, so abortion isn’t dehumanizing? What kind of reverse-Kantian principle is this?

  • JohnMcG says:

    Zippy, you’re begging the question. You’re starting with the assumption that it’s de-humanizing, and then saying that exceptions don’t make it not so. I think it still remains to be proven that it’s de-humanizing. Moving on, though…An interesting note, considering the position I’ve staked out here, is that I think the worst show on television is WifeSwap — if you haven’t seen it, it’s where two mothers move in with a different family, spend one week living according to that family’s rules, and then the second week applying her own rules, and then divides up some substantial sum of money ($50,000?) for the host family.The typical episode is a professional city mother swapping homes with a laid back homeschooling country mom. The implication seems to be that these families will be better off having been exposed to how the other lives. To which I say: bullbleep.

  • Anonymous says:

    No Zippy – the argument would be THIS person isn’t a chattel slave, so being a person does not itself imply being a chattel slave. THIS development plan is not inhuman, therefore there is nothing about development plans of their own nature which are inhumane.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    The phrase “development plan” is just a phrase. Obviously it can mean different things, maybe even radically different things, in different contexts. A young professor might just write his up laying out his path to tenure, with everyone’s understanding that the publish-or-perish pressure will be greatly eased after he gets tenure. Another type of worker in a job with rapidly changing technology might write about how he’s going to get training regularly to keep abreast of these things. And for yet another person (and I gather this is not at all uncommon) it might mean a plan for how he is going to advance in the company, up the ladder, to ever-higher-paying positions within the company, with the implicit understanding that he must move continuously and relatively rapidly up or move out. I have grave reservations about this last requirement. I also think that there are very important forms of work for which the whole concept of writing up “How I intend to develop over the next few years” is fairly artificial and silly (at best) because in these areas development occurs naturally, cannot be forced or predicted in this fashion, is difficult to quantify or identify with concrete external changes (it may consist entirely in the accumulation of wisdom and experience), and may proceed on a much slower time-scale than the “development plan” requirement seems to assume.

  • zippy says:

    John,Suppose I proposed:“GE does X to workers, which is dehumanizing.”Now, you might well disagree that X is dehumanizing, and it might even be wrong that X is dehumanizing.But saying “GE doesn’t do X to Matt Lauer, therefore X is not dehumanizing” is a complete nonsequiter.I don’t know how to spell that out more plainly.

  • Anonymous says:

    Lydia, I tend to think that the last model is NOT one that is prevalent in the work world. For one thing, there are just too many jobs recognized as dead ends. For another, the kind of advancement that it implies also implies stating, much of the time, that you intend to move into your current manager’s job soon – not a declaration likely to garner admiration from him/her responsible for your evaluations. Lastly, by pure anecdote, people in my family have had some 16 jobs with 13 organizations in about 10 industries, in the past 15 years, and only about 2 required “plans,” and they were not the high-pressure kinds of plans at that. One brother DID work for GE, and he did not have a plan at all. So the concept that GE is forcing the bulk of its workers into this inhuman model is hard to swallow. Can we agree that there are some kinds of business practices that are acceptable when practiced within limits, and others that are of the same general category but are excessive because they do not accept such limits? Requiring people to state what their long-range objectives are, and a compose a potential plan for meeting those objectives, is hardly contrary to human dignity or well being. Requiring people to leave work they are good at because they have been at it more than 3 years is not conducive to well being. We are not arguing about these, are we?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I definitely agree that making people leave work they are good at because they’ve been at it more than three years is not conducive to human well-being, but I’m not sure everyone to whom I’ve brought this up agrees. On the threads on W4, there were really two questions going: 1) Is this a good or a bad thing? 2) Does this help businesses to make more money?Zippy’s position as I understand it is that the answer to 1 is “no” and the answer to 2 is “yes.” My implicit impression of the commentator Aristocles’s comments (and I often have agreements with him on many topics) was that the answers to both questions were “yes” (though he was chiefly discussing question 2), because making people move around in the company and learn whole new jobs keeps them from getting “fat and happy” by “doing the same ol’ thing.”I take it that John McG would actually be hesitant to agree with your statement about making people leave work they are good at; see his interpretation of the rule about leaving a priest in a parish for more than a particular number of years. It’s apparently “good for” the priest, on his view, to be forced on to somewhere else, however much he is loved, however good the work he is doing, however connected he is with his people there, in order to move onward and upward and not become stagnant. Or something like that.So, yes, I think there are disagreements about the matter of moving on for the sake of moving on.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Perhaps the disagreement is about what would make GE’s policy, as presented, de-humanizing.What I saw as de-humanizing about the GE plan was its blindness — everyone must have a “development” plan, regardless of how effective they are, or how happy and productive they are in their position. This is our policy, you must have a plan, and I don’t want to hear about why you don’t need one. You are a cog in the machine, not an individual.The existence of counter-examples give lie to that. GE apparently has come to the conclusion that in some cases, it is foolish to force people into other jobs, and recognizes the individuality of the employees.Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GE sees things in terms of positions rather than individuals, and “Today Show Host” is exempt from having a development plan, not Matt Lauer.

  • Anonymous says:

    Lydia, But even with a standard “change positions after 3 years” there can be different approaches. If the job is one that <> inherently <> involves the kind of duties that the employee will benefit by being exposed to a varied environment, then the organization (or bishop) could in effect be saying “your skills in handling your <> current <> position will be improved by looking at it from different perspectives, and this is best achieved under a new location/division” of the outfit. This is NOT the same thing as saying “no matter how much good you are doing us now, we are unsatisfied unless you will do us still more good in 3 years so write down a plan that shows you moving into a new job doing us more good in 3 years.” Most obviously, the first example has the company identifying for the employee that they want to ensure he improves handling his duties attached to his job description – to do better that which he is already doing. The second wants the employee to change to a new job description. For questions 1 and 2, I definitely think that 1 is good and the answer to 2 is that it does NOT help business make more money in a sustainable way over a long period – not a policy that applies across the board. Here is why: As a general standard, a plan that says: I am at the lowest rung on the company chart, but in 3 years I want to move into a foreman slot, and then 3 years after that I will take up a management position; is simply a matter of repeatedly replacing a pre-existing higher cog with me. Assuming that the higher cog person preceding me is already functioning suitably, this does not actually increase the company’s operation in any way. In order to project an actual improvement in the bottom line, you have to state an improvement that increases production with the same resources, or decreases cost of resources, or increases sales total, or increases profit per unit sales. Changing your job description from one at the bottom to another one already planned for in the company chart does nothing to alter the operation toward more profit. I suspect, Zippy, that your model description really can only be applied to limited categories of jobs like sales, where they want you to hit 600 units this year, 800 next year, 1000 the following, and so on. They call 600/ year a starter in sales, and when you hit 1000 you are a upper-grade salesman. This kind of expectation of infinite increase is truly insane, but if achievable would imply increasing profits.

  • zippy says:

    <>I suspect, Zippy, that your model description really can only be applied to limited categories of jobs like sales, …<>The first time I personally encountered it at a Fortune 50 company I was an engineer. I intended to get my MBA and move along anyway, so it wasn’t an issue for me personally; but I have a very specific memory of a particular quite competent engineer asking me, in a very anguished way, ‘what about people like me, who just want to keep on doing a good job?’ He was not alone — more than half of the staff had the same anguish over the ‘development plans’.The answer, of course, was that at the next layoff which required axing engineers those were the ones to go.I didn’t come to really understand the phenomenon until much later, after I had gotten my MBA and run my own company, been involved in public market M&A transactions, etc. Granting that I haven’t ‘proven’ anything here – I’ve just related my own perspective – I think a significant amount of the disagreement may stem from the fact that I have a perspective on the phenomenon, a perspective that people in the trenches do not have unless they’ve had their turn in the grinder. Many or most of the people who haven’t had their turn in the grinder will have it eventually though, in my view. Perhaps that is simply hubris on my part; but I don’t think so. I really think people are just being naive, because they want to think the best of the economic system which puts food on the table. It is a laudible impulse but not entirely realistic.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Anon, I wouldn’t mind so much an order to an employee to move that was tailored to making him better at his job. I fear that now that moving employees around has become trendy, employers might be parroting cliches rather than making objective evaluations on that score, much less being really concerned for the well-being of the employee, but it certainly makes a difference if there is some explicit attempt to relate the move to that particular employee’s job and to a way in which a change can actually help him improve.As for your argument that general moving policies for business cannot be productive, I have tried to make an argument something like it in the threads on W4, which see. In other words, the approach seems to me _dumb_ as well as not good for the employee, and in fact those two things seem to me related. However, not only Zippy but a number of other people disagree with my “dumb” evaluation; that is, even if they deplore the policy approach (Zippy does, some others don’t) they all seem agreed that I’m just not “getting it” and that a fairly ham-handed requirement for internal movement (see Zippy’s example of the engineer who just wanted to go on doing a good job, for example) really does nonetheless somehow _work_ to increase the value of the company’s stock, which is related to company profits.It’s beyond me.

  • Anonymous says:

    Well, I agree that a general across the board policy to move every 3 years is dumb. I have been in my current job (with grade increases to a senior level) for 22 years. I could not possibly do my current job as well had I gone on to other positions in the outfit. Personally, I believe that companies who are trying to force everyone to move internally every 3 years will feel it on the profit line. First, I suspect that the policy as implemented (applying to everyone across the board) is probably NOT the concept as first derived by executive gurus – that at least in some cases the ham-handed implementation is the result of a stupid manager who doesn’t get the real idea. Secondly, (if I am wrong about the first), people who move every so often cannot possibly get really good at any job they actually hold. Which means that constantly, all the jobs are being held by people who are amateurs at that position. This CANNOT be good for development, production, etc. – for profit.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    That’s what I thought, too. Experience is supposed to be good, etc. I was at least relieved to see one commentator saying something like, “So even though this sort of policy defies conventional wisdom…”Phew! It’s good to know that my immediate reaction to hearing about this is in line with conventional wisdom. So even if I’m wrong about its being counterproductive, I’m not completely crazy.

  • zippy says:

    <>Which means that constantly, all the jobs are being held by people who are amateurs at that position. This CANNOT be good for development, production, etc. – for profit.<>Unless, of course, the jobs themselves (and not merely the jobs, but the businesses wrapped around them) are constantly changing.Lydia: it is definitely counterintuitive, but think of the position Jack Welch was in. He had to tell 300,000 people in hundreds of different businesses what to do in order to create higher equity values for the aggregated entity, GE. (If he had nothing to say then he might as well have just gone home). Broad brushes are inevitable, but broad brushes are more profitable than no brushes.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I wonder if the draconian policy was strong medicine for the situation GE was in versus a general standard operating procedure.If GE at the time had a lot of people entrenched in their current positions, maybe forcing everyone to move was a necessary step to start doing some things differently.

  • zippy says:

    No. This kind of thinking is the norm now, and furthermore, on the scales of large companies and w.r.t. white collar workers, it works. IOW, this kind of thing is the norm at the most successful large companies. It isn’t an anomoly, it isn’t counterproductive, and it isn’t medicine. It is SOP, because it is profitable.

  • Anonymous says:

    <> Unless, of course, the jobs themselves (and not merely the jobs, but the businesses wrapped around them) are constantly changing. <> I don’t follow that, Zippy. I thought we were excluding from discussion the limited development expected to keep up with changes in your current position, and only talking about making employees change to brand new jobs. Surely you are not saying the jobs themselves cease to exist after 3 years. If they did, you would not have to “make” the employees switch jobs, it would happen regardless. Can you point to a source for saying that it is SOP for most major organizations? I have trouble imagining how to even define the category clearly enough to get meaningful data out of, say, polling HR managers.

  • zippy says:

    <>I don’t follow that, Zippy.<>Clearly.<>Can you point to a source for saying that it is SOP for most major organizations?<>No. As I mentioned above, I don’t claim to have <>proven<> anything. Nor was it my purpose to do so. My post was written in response to Lydia’s post, explaining what was observed (and was new to her, and probably many other people, apparently including you).It isn’t my objective to establish that PC tyranny and the accelerating treadmill are parts of modern corporate life. It has been my objective – given their existence – to explain why they are not anomolies or counterproductive. It has been my objective to explain why the accelerating treadmill and PC tyranny are profitable to investors, not to establish their existence. People who don’t believe in them don’t concern me much: they are like people who don’t believe in death. Eventually reality will do the convincing. I don’t have to.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I know that in a sense I’m talking through my hat here–being a theorist rather than an on-the-ground person with experience. But, it seems to me that even in a rapidly-changing business there would be some value in having the person in such-and-such a job go through the changes _with_ the job over the years rather than being moved on to a different job description altogether. Sure, you can say his job changes with time. But even so, it seems to me that there’s bound to be some sense in which he’s trying to do the same general type of thing (getting stuff for the company, developing products, organizing transportation, marketing the product, or whatever), and trying to do it through different circumstances and in different ways should have some value in itself.And as I pointed out on the other thread, if the job really changes so quickly and so drastically as to make all of your previous experience obsolete every couple of years, then one thing that can’t be argued is that you are “learning the ropes” in all the departments of the company by being moved around. That argument will work only if “the ropes” remain in some sense the same as you move from job to job. So the argument that it’s always changing radically and rapidly, so you might as well move people all the time (for some reason) seems incompatible with the argument that it’s profitable to move people through all the parts of the company so that they know it thoroughly from all different angles.

  • zippy says:

    Obviously things are neither perfectly static, nor in such flux that we have complete chaos. Obviously mandatory ‘development’ doesn’t entail a complete reset of reality every cycle.Think about it from a different angle.Any business will inevitably go through cycles of change, with hiring binges and layoffs tracking the business cycles, and with the business itself undergoing fundamental revisions each cycle.“Development plans” of the sort described by your friend insure that on balance, the people you keep are the sort of people who are (1) competent at some jobs, (2) flexible enough to do multiple jobs, and (3) understand/integrate with the business as a whole, not just their specialties.It is of course possible to describe just about any business practice in a straw man form which makes it seem stupid and ridiculous. This is just as true of PC tyranny as of the accelerating treadmill. But that doesn’t change the fact that the reality of both as actual widespread business practices is profitable to investors. PC tyranny pays. The accelerating treadmill pays. Both also treat people as intelligent bundles of meat the purpose of which is to maximize investment returns.

  • Anonymous says:

    <> It has been my objective – given their existence – to explain why they are not anomolies or counterproductive. <> But that is just where we seem to go around in a circle. You are trying to explain why businesses would adopt this regime: because it would make each individual unit person a higher-producing unit (and thus it adds at the bottom line). But we pose arguments as to why this does not appear to be reasonable, and your response has been that this is “SOP” at most major companies so it MUST be valid. Either I have missed the construct of the argument, or you have argued in a circle. If your support for why we <> know <> that it really will produce higher profits is that we have seen it to be so in actual experience, then you are relying on statistical data from the real world, so please identify it. If not, then could you please start actually showing how our reasoning is faulty?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I guess that’s where numbers 1-3 come in. Showing why this is profitable. It still seems to me that the flexibility thus proven is relatively artificial and that the cost for proving it and forcing people to be thus flexible should be too great in terms of frequent motion and upheaval, lost experience, and lowered worker morale. But I’ve certainly been wrong before in my life.

  • zippy says:

    <>If your support for why we know that it really will produce higher profits is that we have seen it to be so in actual experience, then you are relying on statistical data from the real world, so please identify it.<>What <>YOU<> have seen I can’t say. What <>I<> have seen, absolutely. And not everything that everyone has seen is backed by multiple peer-reviewed statistical studies, blah blah blah. (If you try to do that as a prerequisite to understanding businesses and making decisions, BTW, things will be all over long before you look up from the books). This is a blog post responding with my perspective to the givens in another blog post, not the submission of a Harvard case. I don’t pretend otherwise.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have told you what I have seen: <> people in my family have had some 16 jobs with 13 organizations in about 10 industries, in the past 15 years, and only about 2 required “plans,” and they were not the high-pressure kinds of plans at that. One brother DID work for GE, and he did not have a plan at all. <> But if you happen to be in a job where they do require plans to move into completely other line of work every so often: do you have data that shows this particular facet of the business is what is responsible for an increased profit margin? You comments are intended to adduce a connection between a policy of this sort and increased profits.

  • zippy says:

    Right. You haven’t seen it, so it doesn’t exist, and even if it does exist it has no connection to profitability. I get that. Good luck with it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Are you saying that you think that policy like this will bring profits merely because the <> COMPANY <> thinks so? Or what? You stated a line of reasoning. But you don’t seem to want to support it. What was the point of making the initial argument if you weren’t going to justify it either in terms a basis in the principles human nature or a basis in actual data showing the claim as fact? Just to lay out a bald claim?

  • Anonymous says:

    On what grounds do <> you <> happen to think the policy is SOP at most major companies, as you say? Anything in actual data? Or have you had jobs as most major companies and been subject to such a policy at them?

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