What Worker Weakness Looks Like: Output Über Alles

No, this isn’t a post about the car service Uber (Aside: if the tech and business press is to be believed, our greatest challenge is being able to easily hail a cab. Perhaps not?). There’s a interesting post about productivity over at Slate:

When Scott Maxwell, founder of the venture capital firm OpenView Venture Partners, was working as a consultant at McKinsey in the early 1990s, he received what he considered to be an odd pep talk. Jon Katzenbach, then a director at the company, told Maxwell that when he was starting out back in the ’70s, everyone worked seven days a week at McKinsey. That was the culture. If you didn’t work that many hours, you weren’t pulling your weight.

For religious reasons, though, Katzenbach worked only six days a week. And he noticed that he was actually getting more done than the guys—and they were all guys back then—working every single day. He decided to try only five days a week, and he found that he was even more productive. Work too long, he said, and you get less done. He told Maxwell that he always wanted to drop down to four or even three days a week, but he wasn’t sure that the company would accept it.

…By not working so much, you’ll get more and better work done. Hours themselves represent a cost—instead, measure output. Who cares how many hours someone worked on something? In the end, all that matters is how fast it’s delivered and how good it is.

The problem is that many workers are judged by quantitative outputs: how much stuff did you do? Sadly, quality often doesn’t entire into the equation. It’s cheaper, especially when are ‘silos’, to shove your costs onto a different part of the organization–or the customer (c.f., cable companies). If someone’s per unit of time efficiency degrades, but that can be made up by flogging workers harder, then that’s the strategy that will be used.

New economy burblings notwithstanding, labor is often still at odds with management and capital.

Same as it ever was.

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