I think more than greed it is short sightedness that drives looking at the black for each and every quarter rather than accepting that a red quarter now may result in some great quarters in the future.
Well put, JMILLER: Lost is the motivation and fresh attitude that you lose when you lose people that fill important roles in an organization. When you force people to work too many hours and/or pick up slack for laid-off employees, you create an environment that will become stagnant and filled with lack of creativity and motivation. You lose all you have paid for up to the point you let someone go, and will be forced to spend a lot of time, money and effort to get your business back to previous levels. The Germans have something here, you streamline, but foster creativity without losing talent. It is greed that drives lay-offs in a slack economy, too often those that make the most, are not willing to sacrifice, but they have no problem sacrificing their employees time and livelihood. Everyone needs to suck it up during a slack economy, not just those at the bottom. By keeping people working (even at lower salaries), the economy won't take a nose-dive, but will slowly work its way back.
And I think in today's engineering world I hear more complaints about having to work too long. I think there would be a significant number of my counterparts out there that would love to stop working after 8 or 9 hours rather than the 10 or 12 a day that are expected now.
In the end I wonder if American upper management will be able to ever view beyond the the 50 cents they stop and pick up and step over to the dollars hey could be saving in the long term. Furloughs and asking people to work less for a little less money is a great way to keep the intelligence of the company around. Let's face it quite often the guy you let go this week is the only one that knew how to fix that next problem that comes up.
Yes, George, I understand what you mean about the inflexibility of U.S. manufacturing at some stages of its history. But it seems to me, U.S. resilience always swings back. We get stuck in our ways during long periods of relative prosperity. When we hit a good sharp recession, we always seem to rally. I think we're in a rebirth of manufacturing now. We very well may have the most efficient manufacturing base now. Certainly a lot of automation suppliers have been saying so lately.
Loyalty does not equal inertia. This is not just about employment security, but rather about mutual commitment to each others' success. I'm not sure loyalty is even the right word for what we're talking about, but it may not far off.
Early in my career, I worked for a company with very high performance standards, but also a 100+ year culture of developing employees and trying hard to retain those who met those standards for a full career. They promote from within - no hired guns in senior management. There were staffing reductions occasionally, but one had the sense that the company was committed to one's success, and I thnk most employees felt committed to the success of the company. I know that I and others did things beyond the requirements of the current pay period. One weekend, a group of us worked together to get a prototype product together to show to our director the following Monday - not because of a deadline imposed by the director, but because we thought it was important. Getting the job done included our going over to the home of one our technicians and providing childcare for her, so she could work on some key components of the prototype. We were working for a common cause, not just the paycheck. I had other experiences like that, wherein we saw what we believed was important objective and worked long and hard to achieve it - as a team, not due to some externally imposed mandate. Policies of maintaining and developing employees in both good and bad times contribute to this kind of culture, as do benefits tied to longevity (pensions and other retiree benefits).
As a result of divestiture, I no longer work for that company. What I've seen in business more recently is a trend toward what I call transactional employment. By this I mean that an employer's total obligation to the employee is pretty much settled with each paycheck. Defined contribution retirement plans (mostly 401(k)) and the elimination of many other retiree benefits make it harder and harder to differentiate between employee and contractor. There are few benefits of 'membership' in the organization. That kind of culture does not engender loyalty or incent employees to go beyond the specific job requirements for the day.
As usual, Einstein is correct. We can't compete globally in manufacturing if we keep doing things the same way. The problem is moving beyond the campaign rhetoric and coming up with a strategy, a policy, whatever you care to call it, to revive our manufacturing base.
I agree, German companies are not operating on the basis of altruism. They are trying to preserve their investment in skilled workers and are thinking longer term that many U.S. companies.
One criticism of U.S. manufacturers is their relative inability to quickly scale up when a new market emerges or an existing market heats up. The Apple iPhone glass-cutting operation run by Foxconn is a prime example. Apple said it couldn't find a U.S. company able to produce iPhone glass touchscreens in the amount of time Steve Jobs said he needed them, so Apple went with Foxconn. U.S. manufacturers need to become more flexible in order to compete in high-tech manufacturing.
Many years ago I worked at a Magna company. Overtime was a given - the 'regular' work week was 44 hours, 40 regular and 4 overtime. When business was slow, hours were cut back to 40 - no overtime. When business was bad, hours were cut to 36 - 4 of 9 hour days. The other employees that I worked with claimed to prefer the across-the-board hours reduction to lay-offs. I definitely preferred a 4-day work-week / 3-day weekend, even at reduced pay, to being laid-off.
The boss knowing which employees are worth their salt is a myth. I have worked with several technicians that were barely competent, but had convinced the manager that they were the best thing since sliced bread. More than once I have been blind-sided by a manager citing criticism of my work by a new technician whose screw-ups I had had to clean up after. Even after the new tech had been found-out and fired, the stain on my record remained. Yes, it is like sour grapes; I haven't mastered the skill of BS'ing the boss.
I don't think the Germans operate their system on the basis of altruism; they do it on the basis of a long-term plan, within their specific environment- it may not work in other environments. It takes years to train up workers in any skilled industry; this time is often longer than the recession lasts, so it can be best to keep hold of people ready for the good times. This is the opposite to the short-termism practices in the UK and, it appears, in the US, where our boom-busts have been worse, and it's only been through Japanese Companies-in the low-skilled motor industry- and small management owned companies (and there for different reasons) that we in the UK have seen more of this keeping workers on on short weeks. The problem is that circumstances change so much during these widely separate economic cycles that it's difficult to say that operation X in situation Y works, because the whole "situation Y" never really recurs, and so macroeconomics remains largely a matter of opinion, dominated by socialist economists, since capitalists tend to actually go out and make the money and in the words of one socialist economist, that most economists are socialists, because socialism makes more challenges for economists. A truism in the Uk is that a Labour (Socialist)government will always leave us in a recession, but that's about it.
Where was I ? So, I think Companies do what they do for what they perceive as their benefit within their environment, and since Germany will in the next few years, dominate a Federation of 27 (?) no longer independent Countries, with a total population way bigger than the US, it would be a brave or arrogant individual to say he had a better idea.
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