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