You’ll have to pardon me if I raise an eyebrow at the way the word ‘crisis’ is bandied about to describe the government shutdown that has been going on for the last week or so. As something on the order of 9 million manufacturing jobs were lost in large measure due to inane regulations and absurdly imbalanced trade deals over the last twenty years I don’t recall that being viewed as a ‘crisis’ in Washington D.C. No, I distinctly remember a lot of pompous intellectual rationalization revolving around the ‘Information Age’, the ‘Service Economy’ and economic theories that sound great in the classrooms, but fail the common sense test in the real world. In general, politicians of all stripes have essentially told manufacturing folks to get used to it and get over it – to go get a college degree and innovate something. In fact, Mr. Obama said a few years ago, “Many former workers in traditional manufacturing will need to transition into new, growing sectors.” Perhaps many workers in traditional bureaucratic, government positions should consider transitioning into those new and growing sectors, as well.
Some sort of resolution is needed, however, and it seems to me the shutdown creates a unique lean learning moment that may be the ideal solution.
I pretty much make my living helping companies transition from functional organizations to vaue streams, and then deploying people along the value streams in a lean culture, applying lean tools and generally doing whatever comes to mind to waste less time and money and use that time and money to create more value for customers. I have found in every case – not most of the time, but 100% of the time – and I have done this dozens of times with dozens of companies – that when you lay out the value streams then reach into the pool of people to staff the value streams as necessary to function and create value, there are people left over. In every case, the functional organization s over-staffed.
I have yet to hear of a single farmer who was unable to get up and go to work harvesting his crops last week because the Department of Agriculture was shut down. The work of growing corn and raising pigs – the value adding in agriculture – pretty much went on the day after the shutdown the same as it did the day before most of the 105,000 Ag staffers were sent home. Same is true for the schools. I am unaware of a single school that couldn’t open, teacher who couldn’t teach, or student who couldn’t learn because no one showed up for work at the Department of Education.
Now I imagine some of the folks currently laid off are really needed, but like every siloed manufacturer, the number needed is probably a lot less than they currently have. The criteria for determining who is needed and who is not should be value adding. Each position in each government job should be evaluated and rationalized based on its direct contribution to value adding – or not. For instance, each Department of Agriculture job should be re-defined in terms of exactly how famers eliminate cost, increase yield or improve quality as a result of that job. If the answer is vague, theoretical – anything other than a clear, logical linkage to vale adding, the job should be eliminated. Which farmer, which pig, which ear of corn is improved as a result of that job?
Same with the Department of Education – how does each job reduce school costs, increase the number of kids being schooled, improve the quality of the education. No theory allowed in the answer; no long chains of logic … a simple question … which school, which teacher, which kid is realizing greater value because of that specific job? And of, course, that teacher or kid should be willing to agree. If the customer doesn’t think he or she is realizing value then there is no value being added.
Those folks in jobs that pass the value adding test should be funded and put back to work. The folks in the multitude of jobs that fail the test, well, perhaps they will need to transition into new, growing sectors.