No Smokestacks Here

People.JPEG

So I heard something good about human capital that I wanted to share:


It goes like this:

“There are no smokestacks here, only people!”


We can’t treat “human capital” in our organizations the way we treat industrial/capital assets in our factories. 


The industrial revolution–along with the sweatshops and smokestacks–have been overtaken by the service and information age.


G-d has blessed us with an abundance of wonderful material things that can now be largely produced by automation and robotization–letting us focus more than ever on developing our people, nurturing their ideas, and realizing their innovations. 


In our organizations, the human assembly line has given way to thinkers and innovators.


Sure, we have to build things and sustain ourselves, but the people behind the things are what counts and not just the things themselves. 


We’ve grown from heartless slave labor and sweatshops to emotionally intelligent, compassionate, and thriving humans beings in the workspace–or so we strive for it to be. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

ROBOTS Wanted!

Good video from The Atlantic on automation and the concern about Robots taking our jobs.

From the 1800’s, when “the Luddites,”–British textile workers–protested the loom to the 1900’s where 40% of our nations job were farm workers and now it’s just 2%…the question is where does automation stop?

Very likely it doesn’t (thanks to evolution)!

As robots can first mimic and then outdo their human developers and as artificial intelligence gets more intelligent, robots are moving from farm to factory to white collar jobs.

Computers and robotics, once relegated to repetitive tasks like on the assembly line, are becoming good at winning Jeopardy and as a surgical platform.

The bar is being raised not just on technology, but on humans to retrain to ever more sophisticated thinking and communicating positions (from software developers and product designers to branding and communications specialists).

People are constantly evolving to think and innovate better and are in turn building ever more capable technologies to replace more human jobs and leading once again to the need for even higher-level human performance.

Progress–a never-ending cycle of outperforming ourselves.

Where does it stop–the attainment of ever-higher levels of knowledge and productivity leading to heavenly bliss here on Earth or perhaps large elements of burnout, breakdown, and potentially self-destruction.

I often hear people recalling and reminiscing about earlier, simpler, and “better times.”

The Wall Street Journal (17 August 2013) just had such an editorial looking to bring back the tranquility and idleness of hot summer Augusts, instead now replaced by more work and school.

At the same time, very few of us would really want to go back in time before all the technology-wunderkind that we have now and enjoy (many seem think more like you’ll have to pry that iPhone from my cold, dead hands!).

The challenge: Robots may be taking jobs, but we need to stay ahead and to master not only ever higher levels of human knowledge and skills, but also the good sense to reconcile with the technology blitz and be able to actually find the time and inner-peace to sit back and enjoy it all as well. 😉

Giving Voice To The Workers

Giving Voice To The Workers

In light of the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh and another in Cambodia this week, there is an promising crowdsourcing service called LaborVoices for factory workers and other industries.

A former Department of State employee, Kohl Gill, who I do not know, started the service.

LaborVoices collects information from workers by phone polling in the workers native languages.

The service anonymously records information about hazardous working conditions, product quality, and maintenance of equipment.

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (13 May 2013), LaborVoices aggregates worker responses and provides the results on a subscription basis through an online dashboard.

Unlike with onsite inspections, where workers can be easily coaxed, cajoled, or threatened to provide positive workplace feedback, the private polling by mobile phones provides for more accurate and timely reporting of workplace issues.

Problems that can be identified early can be remediated sooner and hopefully avoid defects, injuries, and illnesses from poor products and working conditions.

Giving voice to the workforce–anonymously, safely, and in aggregate can provide important information to companies, labor unions, government regulators, and law enforcement to be able to take action to protect people inside the workplace and to users outside.

Like an ever-present inspector general, internal auditor, or tip hotline, LaborVoices can help self-regulate industry, produce safer products, and protect the workers who make it all happen.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to UN Women Asia and The Pacific)

Factory Floor Servitude

Factory Floor Servitude

As a kid, I was all too familiar with factory settings–my dad worked in one.

Dad is an incredibly persistent hard worker who went to the factory every day–tuna sandwich in tow–worked hard and was the voice of reason in advancing the business–and worked his way up to manage the place. My dad is a modern-day success story!

He worked in everything figuring out how to design products, make them, sell them, and ensure the business stayed afloat. A lot of people depended on him in the factory to keep production humming, put bread on their tables, and most importantly to be treated fairly and like human beings.

My dad never became arrogant as he advanced himself, he always believed that we only have what the Almighty above grants to us.

What a contrast between the way my dad managed a factory and the decrepit working conditions that led to the factory collapse two weeks ago in Bangladesh that has now left at least 1,038 dead.

The collapse has raised ethical questions again about the horrific working conditions in factories overseas–where low wages and hazardous conditions is the rule–low wages lead to growing outsourcing and hence, a $18 billion garment industry in Bangladesh that has tripled in size between 2005 and 2010 and is expected to triple again by 2020.

The average monthly pay in 2009–$47!

By 2010, Bangladesh had 5,000 garment factories–2nd only to China.

Now most of the factories are gone from the U.S. moving overseas to the cheapest providers, with jobs in manufacturing decreasing almost in half from nearly 20 million in the U.S. in 1979 to less than 12 million in 2010.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (9 May 2010) chronicles the ten years of stagnant wages and horrible working conditions there–verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical punishment and humiliations for not meeting quotas (like having to forcibly stand on tables for hours and undress in front of workers), rare bathroom breaks to filthy and overflowing toilets, and much more.

When the Savar building developed cracks on April 23, one man begged his wife not to go to work the next day, but when she called in and asked for the day off, she was told she would be docked a whole months salary if she didn’t show up–she went to work and the building collapsed on April 24–leaving her buried under the rubble. Eventually, when the rescuers could not free her, they chopped off her legs!

Cheap labor means cheap goods–that’s a draw for us getting more branded goods for less. In a large sense, our insatiable demand fuels the cruel, servile conditions overseas.

This is also a broken market, where people sell their labor just to provide subsistence living for their families, while big corporations increase profits, investors smile all the way to the bank, and we get our boatloads of stuff cheap, cheap, cheap.

There is nothing wrong with making money or saving money–it’s an incentive-based system, but the only measure of success is not money.

We need global standards of ethical conduct in the labor market, and this should be part of every organization’s financial reporting, disclosure, and audit requirements.

People and organizations should not just be penalized for cooking the books or insider-trading, but for how they treat their people.

Those organizations and leaders that balance making money with treating people decently have a leg up on those that don’t–not that they will necessarily do better in the marketplace (maybe they won’t), but that they make their money with their integrity intact and that’s something money cannot buy. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Ronn “Blue” Aldaman)