Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Jobs, Skills, Status and Stress

The new CBS series, "Undercover Boss," made what I think is an important point in its February 7, 2010, episode: "Undercover Boss - Waste Management." It's in the blurb for that episode:

"Larry O'Donnell, President and C.O.O. of Waste Management, works alongside his employees, cleaning porta-potties, sorting waste, collecting garbage from a landfill and even being fired for the first time in his life."

Mr. O'Donnell's supervisor was nice about it, but told him that he just didn't have what it takes to pick up garbage and put it in a sack. Then the C.O.O. was "...fired for the first time in his life."

It was probably the first time he'd applied for a job he wasn't qualified for, too.

Unskilled Jobs? There aren't Any

If I was living in Hawaii, and looking for work, I could check out the state's "Unskilled State Job Opportunities."

That's a misnomer.

I haven't had a job yet that was "unskilled" in the sense of requiring no skills.

Granted, the time I worked for a retail florists the learning curve was pretty short. It doesn't take much time to learn how to pick up pots in one place and carry them somewhere else. Doing it quickly, without breaking any: that's something else. The day my boss had me delivering flowers, I wasn't an 'unskilled' laborer any more. I was a licensed driver: which does, or should, involve possessing a particular set of skills.

Then there was my short stint as a beet chopper. 'Unskilled,' right? All you do is pick up a beet, chop off the greens with a cleaver, drop the greens one place and the rest of the beet somewhere else.

'Anybody' could do it? Maybe. Doing it well, or even adequately, is something else. One day I got sloppy and chopped a beet. And one of my fingers. A quarter century later, the scar's still there: a handy reminder of my lack of omnipotence.

I do not make a good, or even an adequate, beet chopper.

People aren't All Alike: Neither are Jobs

It's a good thing that not everybody's like me: we'd have a whole lot more damaged crockery if there were. On the other hand, there are things I can do pretty well.

Like deliver flowers. Part of my job at that florist's was taking a flower arrangement or plant from the prep. area, along with a sort of job ticket, to the company's jeep (this was decades back). The destination was on the ticket.

I'd figure out an optimum path to the address: no big deal, but Fargo-Moorhead had upwards of 100,000 people at the time, not counting suburbs. And city planners for some of the newer sections had laid out the streets, using a pretzel as a straightedge. Which is another topic.

I'd typically exchange maybe a half-dozen courteous words at the destination, and return for another delivery. The idea was to get the packages delivered in minimum time while not getting stopped for traffic violations, and presenting a suitable image for the company at the destination.

Since someone needs a valid drivers' license to get that job done, it's probably not "unskilled labor." But it's not exactly a high-status occupation either.

I enjoyed that particular job.

I've also made a pretty good sales clerk and an adequate general office worker: again, not high-status, but they're jobs that need to be done.

Today, a place like America needs people who can fill those positions. We also need people who can shovel stuff out of sewers and administer states.

A good sewer worker might not make a good governor: and I'm pretty sure that most governors wouldn't make the grade in sewer maintenance.

My Boss Makes More Than I do! It's Unfair!!

Or, not.

I've done some management work: and I'd much rather be in the back room, doing almost anything; or better yet at the front desk dealing with customers. Anything that's more hands-on, where I've got a defined goal and elbow room to get the job done.

I did learn that some people need - or at least want - a tightly structured, step-by-step set of procedures that are to be followed exactly, every time. I'd go bananas trying to work that way: but as I said, not everybody's alike.

Part of the trick in management is learning to spot who needs what levels of micro-management. And (quickly) find out who wants to know what what the goal and deadline are: then doesn't want to see you until the goal is accomplished. On deadline, on or under budget. That last sort you do not want to micro-manage. Unless there's a strong incentive for them for them to stay, they'll find another employer. Or become the competition. Yet another topic.

Managers who get their jobs done often earn what they're paid, in my opinion. Working out task dependencies, knowing which people to help and which to leave alone, filling out forms, and all the rest, is work: even if you don't generally get sweaty at it.

Then there are executives: their job is easy, right? Just tell the managers what to do, then practice their putting in the big corner office.

I think I could make a business case for that executive putting green. In American culture, the golf club is probably still a place where people can meet in an informal atmosphere. Think "networking." And, if you don't use a golf cart, walking nine or 18 holes regularly can help keep a competent executive alive longer. Exercise.

Sure, there are overpaid executives. And incompetent ones. And those who simply don't do their jobs. I think the same can be said of people in most lines of work.

The difference is that, in a large company, someone in the stockroom who is incompetent won't do all that much damage to the business: assuming that they keep their job.

Executives, on the other hand, get those big bucks to make the right decisions and make sure that their directives are carried out. When an executive doesn't do that job, the company suffers. Sometimes a lot. If enough executives make bad decisions, a company can collapse.

Or get bailed out by taxpayers. Which is one more topic. ("Big Three Automakers Going Bankrupt: Is it Really a Problem?" (December 12, 2008))

I don't doubt that America, at least, has a problem with incompetent executives propped up by sentiment and connections, inequities like "golden parachutes" - but that doesn't mean that I think everybody should receive the same wages.

Even if I had the abilities, no company could pay me enough to take the stress of having to make the right decision each time: and convince everybody else that it was the right decision. In my view, people at the top deserve more rewards because they put up with more.

I also think that sewer workers may not be getting enough reward for their efforts - Yet again another topic.

On the other hand, it hasn't been the 19th century for quite a while now: and trade unions have seen to it that the 'oppressed proletariat' isn't. Not in my experience, anyway.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy who's chopped beets and delivered flowers.

Sort-of-related posts:

No comments:

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory