Behind the Numbers
Northeast Ohio has certainly had its share of job loss. And even in the Kent city government we’re operating with a workforce that is 10% smaller than it was years ago. This is hard on business and hard on people.
When businesses announce that they are reducing their workforces by hundreds of people, it can seem as though they are sweeping the equivalent of a group of marathoners – individuals notable only as part of a mass, with numbers instead of names on their chests – off a bridge.
That is a disturbing image, but one that has some truth behind it. In many ways the twentieth century was the Organization Century, an age in which much of a worker’s identity came from the company he or she worked for. Individuals in those organizations were plugged into predetermined slots or roles. The individual was the human resource that made the role operational – and in many cases, he or she was an easily replaceable resource. It was not an attractive image of business. People don’t relish being mere tools of management, known more by their job titles than their names.
I think our new century will be different. Organizations are already shorter and flatter. IBM once had 27 layers from top to bottom; at last count it had a maximum of 7. Such restructuring can save a lot of time and money, but it requires more discretion be given to each employee. In the future, individuals will matter more than roles.
The photo of the marathon reflects this change. Those 30,000 runners are all there by choice; no one ordered their participation. They are competitors but also associates in a communal endeavor. Yes, a few of them are striving to reach the top, to win their division. Most however are competing only against themselves. This is not a horse race in which only the first three across the line count and the rest are also-rans. In a marathon, everyone who finishes wins. And since one is competing with and not against the others, there is a camaraderie and an atmosphere of shared pursuit that is obvious to anyone watching. Some of the runners are also using the race to make a contribution to a charity or a cause. So participating in the marathon is not a purely selfish activity for them but one that in some way benefits society.
The best organizations are marathons in that sense. Their workers are there more by choice than necessity. The employees enjoy being part of something significant and value the opportunity to improve their performance and develop their skills. They are not expecting, most of them, to reach the top but rather to finish the project and beat the target. They appreciate the opportunity that a good business gives them to contribute in some way to society and they gain from a camaraderie with fellow workers.
There is for each individual, pride and joy in having been a part of something bigger than themselves, something worthwhile, something worth a celebration.