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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Book Review - Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea

What if I told you most knowledge we take for granted about business has been built upon a shaky foundation? That is, knowledge inherited from the industrial era. We are simply used to having careers, enjoying a pension after it, going to work from nine to five, taking weekends off and so on. We separate work and fun. We make sure to respect the authority and assume the superiors are always right. They are superiors after all. Sounds familiar?

It doesn't have to be this way, though. There are already countless companies out there that have acknowledged the traditional way of doing things isn't necessarily the best way. Thinking in terms of short term profit doesn't lead to good long term results. Treating employees as replaceable resources, building the pyramid and pleasing shareholders isn't enough in the dynamic world we are living in. The times are changing and only those most able to adapt will survive in today's business climate.

Pyramid by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ (CC BY)
Chuck Blakeman's "Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea", or just WEAABI, discusses just these issues and provides a more humane alternative known as Participation Age. It is built upon the concept of significance. After all we are here to make significance, not work. The book is a natural successor to Chuck's first book, "Making Money Is Killing Your Business" (MMIKYB). You could say it is a more philosophical take on the topic. MMIKYB operates on a more concrete level and helps you understand how to get a better grasp on your business. WEAABI provides philosophical backing for that journey.

So why are employees a bad idea then? It seems to me the problem lies in subordination. You are expected to look up to someone else for instruction. This stems from the basic assumptions of the industrial age. Taylorism expects that people are lazy by definition. Hence they will need to be managed. As it happens this one particular assumption is particularly destructive. If you expect the worst out of people, that's what you are going to get. As Chuck calls it, this is "management by the lowest denominator".

What if we could do something different and expect the best out of the people? Maybe there aren't there to sabotage your business after all? Chuck resolves this problem by turning employees into stakeholders. For this to happen just calling the pot a kettle won't do. The whole company culture and command structure has to change as well. In addition people have to be rewarded for their efforts. Therefore profit sharing is essential.

Salarymen rising to the top by Alex E. Proimos (CC BY-NC)
If you are used to working in a standard company, I know most of this will sound heretical. But I think Chuck is onto something here. Work doesn't have to be "work". Work can provide us a way to significance and allow us to contribute in a meaningful manner. That is what Participation Age is all about.

In case you want to blow up your assumptions about the way business should work, you should read the book, preferably both. But in case you are happy to live inside the bubble, nobody blames you for that. Reading these kind of books can be dangerous and give you all sorts of weird new ideas after all.

To get an idea of what sort of heretical material there is, you should check out the sample chapter that explains why managers are a bad idea. If you are a manager, prepare for a mental breakdown. Others, carry on. Chuck has also covered lots of the material over at his blog too so that's another resource you might want to visit.