Friday, March 30, 2007

Subtraction by addition

Most people expect their earnings to grow, and not just at the rate of inflation. You're not really getting ahead if you still can't afford to buy a goddamn ice cream cone when you want one.

From a personal standpoint, earnings growth is probably an unalloyed good, although if you look at the schlocky crap that people like Donald Trump and Saddam Insane buy when they have a lot of money, it is hard to see how more money is always better.

On a grander scale, growth can cause a lot of problems, too, but those are largely ignored by politicians and the mainstream national media.

So, what's that got to do with subtraction by addition? Bear with me.

If you run a company that has investors and/or shareholders, you're usually expected to turn a profit, and show growth. If you're not going forward, you're going backward, right?

Well, maybe. It seems to me that there are two ways to make those earnings grow:
  • Make something new or better and sell it.
  • Cut costs.
In an ideal world, Choice A would predominate, but I don't know many people who live on that world. That leaves cost-cutting.

The easiest way to cut costs is to cut people. The leftovers then need to work harder, not smarter, or maybe do more with less, or whatever. If you're squeamish, though, you don't want to go around laying people off, especially if you don't have a good excuse.

Now your best bet might be subtraction by addition. Keep your workforce static, but add a few little jobs here and there and you'll get more revenue for the same outlay. You may even be able to encourage the workers to participate in this by making the added work fun, engaging or both.

Where's the harm? There might no be any, until one of your key players quits and you realize that all those little extras you tacked onto her job makes her a unique cog who can't be replaced. That old job description you have in your hand pales in comparison to what she actually *does* for you.

Besides that pitfall, I'd reckon that upper managers - who make the decisions about adding the work without adding to the staff - are generally ill suited as judges of whether they've added too much, because they generally have little idea of what each of their worker bees really does in a day. They're looking at the whole machine, not its parts.

Just an odd grumble, or maybe an econ thesis I'll never get to.

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