Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Churn Pittsburgh

You either move up, or you move out, with the latter being much more likely. Large corporations and businesses are contributing to the trend of increasing labor mobility. The Future of Work is ever shorter tenures at one firm and the never-ending quest for better employment opportunities:

Job tenure has decreased markedly in all age groups over the last two decades - but only among men. Both boom and bust contributed. Economic growth encourages job-hunting, job hopping, and job-shopping. Recessions foster downsizing and bankruptcies. Jobs are mainly obtained through nimble networking. This is especially true at the higher rungs of the income ladder.

Still, the median figure for job stability hasn't changed much since 1983 in both the USA and the UK. Moreover, some jobs - and employment in some states - are far more stable than others. Transformation across all professions took place among workers younger than 32 and workers with long tenure.

The job stability of the former decreased markedly. By the age of 32 they had already worked for 9 different firms, according to figures published by "The Economist". The job security of the latter has vanished as firms, until less than 2 years ago, succumbed to a "youth cult" and inanely rid themselves of precious social and professional capital.

Another phenomenon is the emergence of a Hollywood-like star system among ultra-skilled workers - both technical and executive. Many of them act as freelancers and get paid with a mixture of cash and equity. They regard themselves as a brand and engage in brand marketing on a global scale.

The game is to attract and retain "ultra-skilled" workers while turning over (churning) the low-level position with younger and cheaper labor. But there are problems with this approach to faster, better, and cheaper.

First, even low-level employees serve as important repositories of firm tacit knowledge. Despite attempts to homogenize the worker bees and make their every move visible to management, considerable human capital is lost in the churn. Transforming relationship-dependent services into a flowchart of interchangeable parts is both expensive and difficult.

Second, the churn approach under-utilizes workforce skills, the phenomenon I term "over-educated, under-employed." Employees are often bored and disengaged, yet better versed in the day-to-day operations than their managers. Corporations might benefit from real-time, frontline decisions, but the current hierarchal business model does not support such innovation.

1 comment:

Kosmo said...

Let’s face it, churn is turnover and this can be very disruptive to energy flows and a costly means to realize economic growth. Churning involves creation and destruction with turbulence that increases the economic risk faced by workers, companies, and even localities. It is also a major driver of economic innovation and growth.

So I ask, is it possible to realize the innovations and networked productivity gains of churn without the disruption and destructive downside? Or in some circles realize the upside gains of “compounded rebirth” without the downside of destruction?

Innovation is a disruption; constant innovation is perpetual disruption. This seems to be the goal of a well-made network…..perpetual disequilibrium.

Is there a way to virtually network entrepreneurs whereby they become an incubator for “gazelles” with a resulting rapid innovation commercialization and no employment chaos? Can a career, if that is the appropriate word, increasingly resemble networks of multiple and simultaneous commitments with a constant churn of new skills and outmoded roles?