“Cheap Labor” Inefficiency – The Short Cut Society

In a society where the only cut is a short cut, be it on the road to work or driving in the opposing direction to oncoming traffic to shave a few mins or seconds in reaching the destination, it is incomprehensible how we continue to survive.

In developing economies much like ours, with a large working class population, labor(economics tells us) is abundant, opportunities to deploy that labor are scarce. Hence every outcome should be maximized by the labor as the cost and price of substitution is marginal at best. Yet the exact opposite happens every day.

Lets take a basic example, scenario one, you have a simple task, you have a water pipe that has a leak, you reach into your pocket book and call the “plumber” you have on retainer. He comes in, potentially without his “real tools” and sees the issue, whilst chewing tobacco of some kind he mumbles some thing and says “not to worry”….

What you don’t know, is that because labor is so cheap and he knows he can get a quick “fix” of payment from you by temporarily fixing the leak, he applies some basic remedies to get you going. Two days later, due to the non-compatible adhesive he used the lines are clogged, the pipe burst in two places and the motor took a reverse allocation of water. You are really worried now, you call him again, he once again pacifies you and says not a big deal, this time around his last short cut that cost you more than you bargained for is fixed , full and final as best as he knows. Had he replaced the dysfunctional piece of pipe or applied appropriate treatment on the pipe in question. You wouldn’t have had to shell out the extra you just did.

So, wherein lies the problem? The problem starts with you, you want a short cut, the most valuable asset in your go to retainer black book of contacts is the guy who responds on the first call and get on site the fastest. In the long term by not measuring twice and cutting once, you have actually caused more harm. The second issues lies with the entire labor pool, there is no such thing as a days honest wages in the environment we operate in. Every one wants to amass more for doing the minimal viable output. Over time just pushing the minimal viable output, you are destroying value as opposed to creating value.

This is what happens when labor is cheap, we become cheap, in our intellectual ability to think straight and in rationally trying to solve problems. What we are creating or enabling is an entire work force of shoddy, below par, marginally qualified individuals who will spend a life time thinking and believing the tools and methods they use are by far the right ones. This happens because of acceptability by us the end user/consumer. In our plight to just solve stuff and not be dragged in to the mechanics of things happen, we have just given up, given up on demanding fair service for fair wages paid. Sooner rather than later we will drown under the weight of this short cut work force. As a starting point we are already disadvantaged by our economic disposition, over time we will be a society of large labor pool of untrained, un reliable individuals who would at best be utilized for repetitive tasks.

Lets shift gears and look at scenario two, the white collar labor pool. What’s shocking is, the “its not my problem attitude” that is far more prevalent , doing the right thing isn’t any ones prerogative any more. Across industries, clients, national , regional and multinational companies where I’ve had the opportunity to interact with folks from various age groups, its been a rude awakening. The amount of time spent on office politics and Facebook redirected to attitudinal change would result in a 10 basis point change in output for most organizations.

At the offices of a large conglomerate that fancies it self as a top employer, a brand of the year(what ever that means) and draws lineage from the best of breed corporations I witnessed the following. I walked in, at the reception, the receptionist looked at me, whilst continuing to take a personal call on their mobile phone. I stood by the reception, a few minutes later they waved me to sign the guest book and asked me, albeit not so politely to put my ID Card next to the register. I continued to follow the instruction. A good 8-9 mins in, she saw that id come to see the CEO of the company, by this time I was waiting in the adjacent area.

She came up to me and apologized, then called some one “upstairs”. “Upstairs” sent an equally dis-interested person, also chatting on a mobile phone who asked me to follow them. I was asked to be seated in a well appointed neo colonial waiting area. A third person, the CEOs executive secretary came to greet me. We walked passed a hallway, purportedly of this Billion $ enterprise where a row of laptop wielding corporate types were sitting, mostly atop desks, chit chatting, the common theme was that every single laptop had finger stains across the farm of laptops. That’s the first thing I saw, its left a mark on me as the first thing I recall about this organization. Its this lack of this ownership where no one cares. Yet in my mind this leaves a lasting impression. I shared this with the CEO, their response was “oh, the cleaning staff comes in again at 3pm”.

My simplistic view was, If you cant really take care of a company asset provided to you, as a shareholder can I trust my money in your hands? Should I? But millions of us do every day no less. Look at the stock exchange, where else would one invest? The question of intelligence and growth becomes secondary in my opinion. I cant look past the fact that supposedly rational people engage in irrational behavior. We have become so reliant on some one else to do the job for us, that we even refuse to under take the basic corporate hygiene items into consideration. Some one who is so disenfranchised from the get go, can they really ever become any thing but a short cut worker?

Given the scenario of a labor surplus pool, even for white collar jobs, we rarely care about the outlook we have or present. Some how I’d expect the opposite, where people would try harder to excel and project a far more professional outlook than that is prevalent today. When I walk in to an enterprise I want to see positive energy at the reception, that vibe should carry across. You should be treating your employees the way they want them to treat your best customer, slowly its becoming evident that this problem is systemic. It starts at the top. Its more about attitude than any thing else.

Just because we have a lot of people and we can put a lot of people to solve a task, it doesn’t really mean that we need to, or that they will produce a positive outcome. We need to be matching problems with right solutions as opposed to using the labor arbitrage we have and hoping some thing eventually sticks. We need to get efficient in identifying which short cuts make sense and do away with the rest. If we don’t we will be far worse economically than wed like to explain to our kids one day. Not like its not evident why, but some day our kids will ask us. Lets make sure we do a course correction today than wait to be a completely dysfunctional society and before its too late.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little

                                                                                                        Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)

One thought on ““Cheap Labor” Inefficiency – The Short Cut Society”

  1. The way you have dissected the whole scenario is really up to that mark. A fabulous read and an eye opener for alot of the folks. Will certainly be visiting the blog on a regular basis.

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