Category: Musings (page 2 of 10)

The fallacy of just cutting labour

I worked in the MUSH sector for my entire career. I was in the infrastructure management, construction and maintenance field. We were constantly refining our requirement for work and our methods of performing that work.

During a 40 year career, various management philosophies came and went. They were usually just variations on the basic theme. What should be done and how to do it.

What work should be done is easy.

Got to do – that which is legislated

Aught to do – those tasks which when done will save/preserve/make safer

Want to do – those tasks which are nice to do but truly don’t add value.

Defining value wasn’t always easy but most often we could figure out if the task was truly worth while. I was lucky and had a staff who were knowledgeable and committed.

With this familiarity of our work and using the 80/20 rule (80% of the value of a task is contained in 20% of the items) allowed a very small management group to quickly review many items within a reasonable time.

We then considered on how to do the work. The common cry is “cut labour”. This thrust comes from a misguided method of accounting where labour is listed as a line item (Once when discussing how to do a task, I said point blank, you can cut in-house labour, but I’ll just hire someone. The response was you can’t do that. I countered that I’d hire a piece of equipment with operator. The accountant said that was OK because there would be a hard invoice. There still would be labour; just not in-house and not necessarily lower cost labour.)

Labour is just one component of costs. Identifying a reasonable “work” to count, calculating a cost to fully perform the work gives a better view of things.

Think about a task and cost it with in-house vs out-sourced labour. You’ll probably find that one or the other will be slightly less expensive.

But, that was the wrong question. You should first have asked did we have to do that task. By tinkering with the labour (because it’s a visible line item in someone’s books) rather than deciding if the task had to be done, you are just nickle and dimeing not saving. By eliminating an entire task, you’d save the entire cost. If the task has to be done; do it.

During elections, we are often promised that the civil service (ie labour) will be cut. We are not told what tasks are to be eliminated.

A couple of decades ago, the Ministry of Transportation stopped doing in-house maintenance. Many (if not most) of the eliminated employees just turned around and went to work for the private contractors who contracted for the work (often at quite decent salaries and wages because of the competition for experienced personnel). Was there a savings? No, the provincial auditor general investigated and found no savings. The tasks performed were necessary so the change just tinkered with costs.

However, I do believe that it can be necessary to shake up established organizations. If management gets complacent and doesn’t continuously monitor it’s tasks; if labour gets complacent (often because they have stood up for gold bricks in front of far too lenient quasi-courts) and loses interest in performance, corrections must be made.

So, when someone says they will cut labour, ask the question – truly cut the labour (ie stop doing the task) or just move the labour from one organization to another. We’ve seen that this shift often isn’t any more cost effective.

The Plaidneck

Driving in Cottage Country

My family has a longstanding property in one of Ontario’s cottage countries. We lived on the edge of this now “hot” area all my growing up years and are intimately familiar with the area and its roads. I left to move back to my family’s original Canadian settlement area. We now come back home to cottage country. On a recent trip back to what is now the cottage I observed something about cottage country drivers.

There are three major types and two are anoying.

First for some context:
a. I like to drive
b. most country roads especially the paved ones are great for driving.
c. The design for most paved curves on rural ontario roads is to be safe in wet weather right at the speed limit.
d. They’re fun to drive when pushing the speed limit.

e. I drive a standard transmission sedan and sit at a normal height from the ground.
f. The vehicle I drive has a good suspension and is made for driving.
g. I made my living managing a rural road system. I never had a four wheel drive, a SUV, a pickup. I got around in all weather just fine. Southern Ontario (south of the North Bay/Sudbury line) has a great rural road system, also
h. I used to (motor) cycle and love curves.

There are two type of drivers in cottage country.
1. The locals
a. Locals seem to like to drive trucks; a left over from when a lot of them farmed and those who didn’t were small business types who needed a truck. Pick ups abound,
i. Some with caps
ii. Some with equipment racks
iii. Some fancied up
iv. Some just a plane jane slightly rusted work truck (Once in a chat with a local while waiting for children to exit an event, I chatted with a local who knew a good friend of mine. Unfortunately it forgot his name, but remembered he had a beard and a rusting pick up. When I tried to recall him to my friend, his reply was Hell, they all drive rusty pickups!).

b. Locals drive slowly because they’re at home and not trying to get somewhere. They often don’t signal because most of the year every one else knows where they’re going.

2. The tourist
a. Tourists like to drive SUVs or their cousin the CUV (Cross-over Utility Vehicle if they’ve been fooled into believing that they’re now being green)
i. Tourist drivers think they’re in the boonies (not many tourists actually make it to the boonies) so come armed with a SUV
ii. The SUV is often a great honking four wheel drive
iii. Especially if the vehicle’s a CUV there’s often a Tulle box and/or a kayak or bicycle carrier mounted on luggage rails.

b. Tourist drive slow because they’re semi lost. They’re trying to get somewhere they don’t really know and afraid they’ll miss the turn.

It’s a pain being in cottage country roads behind vehicles that obstruct your view and are moving so slow that they take all the fun out of driving.
The Plaidneck

Irksome words

I have heard many erudite commentators/writers using some common but imprecise language.

1. One of the most common examples is “try and” do something. In this case, the and is the problem

a. “Try and” means that the person will accomplish what they are trying. Most times that this phrase is used, the outcome is dependent on factors beyond the triers control so accomplishment is not certain.

b. If you are not in full control and/or are somewhat unsure if your results will be as stated, the phrase is “try to” do the something

A recent example of the misuse was a person saying that there was a funding arrangement to try and flood proof a town located in a flood plane. Anyone working at predicting and designing such works knows nature can always win. The proper phrasing would be to try to flood proof the town

2. Another example is “I promise”. This phrase crops up in a lot of dramatic writing and thus is making its way in to common usage. It is again improper use of a word.

a. A promise (an assurance that one will do something or that something will happen) is a very powerful undertaking. It should not be used when implying “I will do my best”.

b. You can promise to do your best, but the outright naked promise is most often beyond reach.

A common occurrence is “you’re going to be just fine, I promise”. This is usually heard where there is an accident and from a person who isn’t either informed enough, trained well enough or even part of the team administering assistance to make that judgement.

These are the only two that come to mind as I write this. When I come across/recollect others, there will be a future posts.

The Plaidneck

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