Unite the Tribes Excerpts

Leadership skills for technology managers

Never Create A Foolproof System


Hiring fools is not a competitive advantage

It's the dream of many businesspeople to build a foolproof system. There's a financial motivation behind this as it implies that if your way of doing business is immune to mistakes, you can hire the absolute cheapest labor on the market to perform the work. There's only one problem with this line of reasoning. If you automate and constrain your processes to the point where even a fool can do the job, you will by definition have fools working for you. That's not exactly a competitive edge.

Trying to arrange your business so that you can hire minimum wage workers will train you to think of your staff as mindless cattle. While there are simple jobs that don't require complex skill sets or lofty wages, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. If you fill the room with nothing but weak links, you're mandating poor performance at best. At worst, you're setting yourself up for crisis after crisis. Livestock isn't terribly graceful under pressure.

Even if you hire minimal skill sets for low wages, it's worth mentioning that many who come to work in that capacity are far from stupid, so now you have two problems. You're not only doing your level best to weed out any truly talented people but when you fail and manage to get someone with a clue, they're not going to stick around very long. Bright people don't like being treated like a bunch of stupid cows. They'll find greener pastures, most likely in the nearby fields of your fiercest competitor.

There's just no substitute for a capable, motivated and inspired human being when it's time to get the job done. This is one of those times when long term thinking triumphs over its short term counterpart. On paper, it looks like you're saving a lot of money on payroll each year by building a foolproof system and hiring the cheapest labor you can find. Several years down the line, when your financials look like a bone that's been chewed on by far too many dogs, the wisdom of that decision will be questionable.

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