This submission is copyright to Steve Jenkin, © 2010
Published May 2010.

Introduction | Keeping Promises | Back Office Paradox 
Non-Experts Judging Work/Performance | Another Example

Another Example

Steve added:

Another common outcome is when a group is continually being "downsized", you might call it: "Death by a thousand cuts" (read years of layoffs). A case in point is here in Australian Hospital Emergency Rooms. Somewhere around 20 to 30 years ago, politicians invented "efficiency dividends". That meant that every year budgets were reduced by 1 to 2%, that is, nothing that cuts too deep in any one year.

Being "professionals", the staff step up and do what needs to be done. In other words, they work for free to cover the cuts. These cuts are then pushed down on to the sharp-end of service delivery such as in the Emergency Rooms. The cuts almost never applied to the higher echelons, i.e. those who sign cheques and make decisions. The rationale every year is the same, there are so many of you, it can't be that hard to make a tiny saving.

After 20 or 30 years of "tiny cuts", the people remaining are being grossly overworked and the service is radically understaffed, with concomitant excessive queuing and massive complications (& deaths) from not receiving timely treatment. At some point, you get a cascade of failures and the effect of understaffing and long delays further increases the real workload and costs. To which management typically responds with "blame the victim". The remaining staff is judged incompetent because they can't handle the load and the usual responses are rolled out: sackings, consultant reports, re-organization and even prosecutions for "errors" and "adverse outcomes".

The natural responses by employees (e.g. work fewer hours, get sick or leave) exasperate matters further. It's a feedback loop caused by management measuring only inputs (dollars, numbers, hours) instead of looking for optimal solutions where the minimum cost of service may well need more staff. However, it is hard to attract new entrants to the field when the same Government caps training placement below replacement levels. In my logic classes, I was told that this effect was called: "The Law of the Excluded Middle", also known as "Slowly boil the frog".

To illustrate: If I have a hamburger bun covered in 1,000 poppy seeds, is it the same quality if I remove 5 or 10 seeds? Of course, does it really matter? But then I remove another 10 and another 10 and another and another. Not all at once, you understand, but slowly over a period of time. Eventually it adds up to a big number, but just when does it become a "qualitative difference"? When does the Good Bun become lousy? At 495 seeds or 500?

This reminded me of the "standard" loaves of bread at our local supermarkets. Each year, for the same price, they get a little bit smaller - until the bakery comes out with a "new and improved" loaf that is the same size as it was several years ago - but at a much higher price.

Steve ended by saying:

All the best from The Land-Down-Under, and I hope you can

  1. understand my ramblings and
  2. ferret out the useful content and bash it into shape.

You are welcome to reuse my words as you wish.

Cheers Steve

Which is exactly what I did.

Non-Experts Judging Work/Performance  Non-Experts Judging Work/Performance

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