CC:No Exit( Homo homini lupus)

Why do managers outsource their workforce?
Do you really want to know?
It’s because they are afraid..

If you read the literature and studies you get another answer: you get a given one and one that is being denied. The answer that is being denied is: to reduce cost.
Reducing costs is not the aim. It is to achieve flexibility.That is the given answer.
What is flexibility?
It is the ability to reduce or increase the workforce when there is a need. And it is needed to deal with costs and ultimately: to reduce costs.. It is the public secret.
In the end the given answer lead to the denied one. It is all about the money.
But that is just one part of the tale.
Here is the other.
Companies are run by managers. Managers operate in uncertain situations. They have to make decisions that can have serious repercussions for them and others. The bigger the company and the higher the manager, the bigger the stakes.The bigger the stakes.. the harder the fall.
Managers have to deal with uncertainty, just like you and me.. And like you and me they do not like uncertainty. Like you and me they want to live in the comfort zone where we feel safe.
To deal with this uncertainty and live in the comfort zone they want to gain control of the world around them and to gain control they parametrize. The world of the manager is a world of numbers and figures called Key Performance Indicators(KPI) and they are presented in spreadsheets.
This fear goes double for the IT manager.
The world of information technology is in a constant flux. New things pop up, old things are left behind. Companies that were on top, crash to their doom, new companies pop into existence.And sometimes a company rises up from the depth because a driven capable man takes the helm and surrounds himself with capable people.. Apple is an example.
If you think your IT workforce has a hard time keeping up.. this goes double for the IT managers. Most have no clue what their workforce are on about or what IT stuff means. Big data, tiered storage strata, cloud provisioning, Saas, Paas It is to them mostly gibberish. What does it means when addressing costs? How can we do the same for less money? It is the internal secret knowledge of a group of magicians.
That is not bad.. it’s the way things work. Managers rely on key people to provide them with knowledge: their staff or those managers that report to them. And it is for the next manager in line to take this knowledge and do something with it. And often this is just presenting it to the next manager in line.
As a higher manager confided: we(high management) just present the cake, (even) higher management cuts it.
The higher the manager is up the ladder, the more global his decisions are, the less he or she knows about the details. But details matter in the IT world. If you do not know what IT does or can do, you have a hard time to make the right decisions. You need to keep up with the technology to do that..
But managers do not have the time nor do they want to know about the details.
So how to deal with this?
Have outsiders take care of the things you do not understand.
And now the manager is back in his comfort zone: contracts, service levels, performance indicators and spreadsheets. That is the world he understands. The world he does not fear: hard figures and legalities.
And there is another reason. Like any human they have a hard time dealing with other humans. The others.
The manager lives in his world and the higher up he is, the less he knows about his people.
Few managers that have like one or two managers between them and the workforce talk to their people on a regular basis. Especially in large companies. Managers live usually separated from the normal the emperor of Japan was shielded from his own people. A golden cage.
It is the hierarchy that separates management from the workforce. Not intentionally or consciously.
If you want to see a nice example of how this works.. go and watch the movie the Sun by Alexander Sokurov(
Once I worked for a company in which a group of employers presented their own vision on a certain key decision. The managers were generally surprised that their employers were actually capable in doing that. It was chilling to notice how they were so caught up in their own world that they couldn’t conceive the idea that people who were not managers could actually present a coherent idea.
It’s not that these people think they are superior.. or even thing the workforce are stupid..It’s because they are socialized in that way of thinking.
So what do you think?
Is this nonsense.. do you think it’s valid?
Perhaps you like to comment or set me straight.
Well that is where comments are for.

Vending machines

The employees trickled into the room by the twos and threes depending on who shared an office with whom. A few went out again to form a short line in front of the vending machine in the hallway. But eventually they all gathered into the windows less meeting room with it’s yellowish walls at the appointed time. There were only two noticeable pieces of furniture in the room. A large table surrounded by chairs in the middle of the room and a whiteboard against one of the wall full of intelligible scribbles .

There they were joined by two managers. These were so called mid-level managers: men already too high up the ladder from them to speak to on a daily basis, but still low enough to be encountered in the corridors. Sometimes even greetings were exchanged during those awkward moments in the morning when an employee had a run in with one of those managers at one of the three vending machines in the building. Mid-level managers also used vending machines.

The men -there were only men-  had been informed by mail to attend the meeting on a short notice, the trigger being the removal of their direct superior, the news of which had arrived earlier on the day.   The highest manager took a seat at the table. Then the employees choose theirs.  Finally the other manager sat down at one end of the table and although he did not sit exactly opposite the other manager, he also did not sit next to him. There was a certain reserved distance between the two. The highest manager, a small man with hair as grey as his suit, was going to break the news, the other manager, a man with glasses and a pensive expression dressed in a buttoned shirt like the employees, was there because he was expected to attend, The hierarchy of the company positioned him in between the higher manager and the one that was leaving.

“Your manager will join us in a moment,” the highest one remarked, “In the mean time I bring you the news that he will step down from his current position.”

None of the men said a thing..

“At the moment we will have no replacement for his position. Instead we expect the foremen to take care of business. We will have individual talks during the week with some of your key people about the future of this department and its reorganization.”

The men accepted these words in silence as well, but they did look at each other, not entirely sure who of them were considered to be the mentioned key people, but also uneasy about their prospects if they were not  considered to be part of the group of key persons.

The highest manager, triggered by the uneasy stares,  tried to get a feel of the mood, but also avoided to look the men straight in the eye.   “Men, the company needs you all and we need you in the future as well. Some important projects are coming our way. Especially we will be needing you to work on the desktop replacement project. That will be some ten thousand desktops that need replacing, urgently. An important job which has been delayed far too often.”

At that moment there was a short interruption when the leaving manager arrived. He nodded to the men and sat down at the other end of the table. He didn’t say a thing, but folded his arms across his chest. It was a posture that was familiar to them all. employees and managers alike. It meant defiance, the kind that he had showed towards the other managers when it had been announced, earlier in the year, that the department was being considered for outsourcing to external interested parties.

One of the men asked the question that was foremost on their minds: “Does this have anything to do with the outsourcing project?”

There was another moment of silence before the highest manager braved himself to look the questioner straight in the eyes and deliver his answer, “No, this has nothing to do with it.”

“Then why does he leave? He has been our manager for twelve years!”

The manager looked away while he reacted with a lot of words. But those were simply meant to obscure the lack of a proper straightforward answer to the first question, which would have been very short and it would have sounded like: yes.  After the flood of words he stressed again the importance that the men would continue working as they had done before and mentioned their importance for the future of the company.

“Remember.. we need you.. for we got some important projects ahead of us.”

But who would believe a man that could not give a straight answer to a simple question everyone knew the answer to already?

Perfect Isolation

None of the employees gathered in the conference room had ever seen Lars Sunden in the flesh.  And even in this presentation, displayed on a huge screen, the head of the informational technology department remained a vague figure wearing a white shirt and a tie.  He was only visible in the corner of the huge screen otherwise dominated by a slide with  too many lines on it and filled with acronyms few of the people in the room understood. The only noticeable thing about him was that he was slender and that he spoke meticulous English, despite his foreign sounding name.

He was bringing them such important news that all the employees of the department had been requested to attend, even those who were hired hands. Probably around a thousand people had gathered in the same kind of rooms all around Europe.

The mood in this room bordered on the hostile, which was no wonder as the company had undergone a series of cost saving operations that piled an increasing workload on a dwindling workforce. Pulling people from their tasks for a meeting meant they could not do those tasks. It did not help that those people only expected bad news, given the companies economic plight.

The mood had not become better when the first thing that was addressed was the expression of a warm thanks from Lars to another high manager, one Geralt Liberty,  a man who had decided on early retirement a day before the presentation. It was already known that it could hardly be his age that made Liberty leave, as he was in his late fifties, but that it had probably more to do with his involvement with a certain cost saving project  that had made the company lose two million dollars instead of saving it as was promised. Despite this disaster Lars praised the retiring manager for his efforts in creating savings that appeared prominent on the slide but had yet to be realized.

Next Lars started to reiterate the current situation. The market was bad, the economy was still weak and  the company barely made a profit. As such more cost reductions were in order. It was not mentioned by Lars, but the slide showed a figure of 25% EBITAD. This was a term few people could recall with ease but the number 25%  poked people to attention: that was a quarter of something. Was it a quarter of their budget? The people looked around with some worry.

Next on the agenda was an outlining of the IT policy which Lars drilled down to doing more with less.

“Poverty..” So Lars said, “leads to innovation..”

It was an expression that lost him  the marginal goodwill he had. People saw the specter of   hunger stricken Africa rise and instinctively knew that poverty did not lead to innovation: it lead to misery.

The next item on the agenda was a shift in the hierarchy at the top of the foodchain. Responsibilities were reshuffled and where certain directors had been responsible for this or that, they would be responsible for that and this after the change. Few names were familiar to the watchers and those who were familiar were nothing but names of people they only knew from slides shown in other presentations filled with too many lines and unknown words.

More slides were shown as Lars quickly went down the hierarchy. With the second slide names had been dropped for functions. And only with the fourth slide people in the room started to see something they did recognize. There were no names, but one person in the room, a manager that was considered high among them was connected to a function at the bottom of that slide. They were coming into view.

Lars got the fifth slide and hurried quickly through all the functions and when he came to the part that did involved the people in the room there were only two things on the slide. The first item was the disastrous cost savings project that some of them had been involved in and had been implemented in disregard of their advice. The second was the task of replacing the aging desktop computers, which had never been executed because the higher management had kept off spending money on new computers for years because it considered to outsource this particular activity. Despite an urgent call to innovate, most of the companies workforce were still working on decrepit computers that were so old that they stood a real danger of falling apart.

The only exception were the laptops of key people, which had been replaced by new models. It did not need to be mentioned that higher management and their staff belonged to the group of key people.

All their other responsibilities, including that of keeping the companies network infrastructure, mailing infrastructure and production systems running were not mentioned. These had fallen well below Lars horizon of interest.

The fore last item on the list was to express higher management commitment to make sure that everyone would be able to get the latest performance figures real time.

“We will soon be able to deliver reports to anyone at any time.” Lars said, who visibly beamed with the idea of being able to call up a performance report at the spur of the moment. A wet dream that completely failed to interest the bulk of his employees.

The last item on the agenda was the implementation of an educational system.

“We have to educated ourselves and our colleagues. We need more training on the job and appoint key people who will train they co-workers. We will provide an extensive pool of e-books and online courses so we will have an innovative cutting edge technical staff.” Lars mentioned with a enthusiasm that did not invoke the same response in the room as they knew very well that all education courses for which they had to pay had been cancelled to save costs. To them it looked like this higher manager was going pile more work on them by draining away even more people from the already understaffed departments to teach others…

“And we will see to it that education will be measured as a KPI.” He banged the desk enthusiastically.

KPI was something the people in the room had heard about. It mean key performance something and it was something that kept awake at night a certain kind of managers.. Nobody at their level did something with KPI’s. These workers had their technical reports and those told them what the systems were doing.. There were no acronyms for that: they talked about logging, errors, alerts and incidents. And they were used to report problems and  point to solutions.

Lars wrapped his presentation up with an call to everyone to let ‘them’ know if they had any questions or remarks. It did not matter what. Nobody in the room felt invited to speak their mind or ask questions. Instead he workers and their direct managers  filed out of the room to go to lunch. The whole presentation was barely mentioned during the meal and half forgotten by most after the lunch as urgent work was demanding their attention. The most important thing they got out of it was that whatever happened up there did not directly affect them as they did not exist in Lars slides.

Everyone also knew that in a few years time there would be another presentation organised by yet another head of the technical department in which other higher managers totally disconnected from their workforce would be telling them of yet another change in responsibilities, key indicators and focus of effort. It had been like that for a few years now.

Sometimes an employee  thought of telling a man like Lars Sunden that he was a bleeding idiot, but nobody did that for they knew that even if Lars would listen to them, he would not understand them.

The air is too thin up there.