Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Outsource: to be or to do

Seth Godin recently wrote a couple of posts that triggered some tangential thinking on my part. The first post was “The need to be right” and while the main post is worthwhile reading his bracketed footnote held its own treasure.

“…if your job can be completely written up in a manual, it’s either not a great job or it’s going to be done by someone cheaper, sometime soon” (Godin).

The second post was “What you need to fight the manual” in response to a question one of his readers asked about how to avoid being outsourced. He offered what he characterized as a “starter list.” The first two items on the list were analysis and insight.

Most of the jobs I have held have been in the “manual” labor category. Basically start at the beginning with whatever, go down the line (or the list) and do prescribed actions to it, and spit it out the end; and then start over at the beginning. It’s the basic building blocks of the “up or out” corporate mentality. It also reinforces the premise that “those who know what, and those who know how, work for those who know why” (Ziglar).

Looking at my relationship with work from this perspective has been very revealing. I work a lot, and I can work very hard, but I have trouble seeing working for other people as a dream come true. Most of my paid jobs have mirrored my volunteer work, which has followed a pattern of taking a mundane task and cranking out multiple copies of it. There is the initial challenge of figuring out how to do the task quickly and cost-effectively but the interest-bearing challenge portion is short compared to the length of the task.

One thing I had not synthesized as a consequence of my style is that I have often planned my exit in the way I approached a given job or task. At the time I have (ostensibly) done this because it created boundaries that were nonexistent or so a sub could have a frame of reference from which to work. But the codified policies and procedures I set up also created a readily defined role and tasks the next person could step-in and reproduce.

Godin’s discussion is concentrated through the entrepreneur lens. And the message reads that “manual” labor is a career death-wish. However, not everybody has an entrepreneur mindset and some work best completing codified procedures day after day.

For me, and people like me, I like (even though initially it can be terrifying) to come into a situation in disarray. I am stimulated by the prospects of sorting out what is the mission, what tasks need to support it, what’s happening in the communication lines, what rules and procedures create a smooth and reduced-stress environment. Then I get to create; to carve it out, write it up, and test-run it for a bit; and then help find the right person to put in the driver’s seat and teach them to drive it. By this point I am ready to move on.

So in one sense I have manualized my work to someone else who will do it cheaper. Yes, they can do the established procedures more cheaply because they are not doing research and development, just the day-to-day tasks the R+D established. But really no organization can afford my R+D price tag for mundane but necessary tasks; and I don’t want to do them indefinitely anyway, at any price.

My strengths are analysis and insight. Reading these two posts of Godin’s has clarified that that’s what I bring to my approach to work. What I have to figure out is how to define myself as a consultant just to do the R+D instead of hiring as the slot-filler and recreating the job so I can leave it. Hmm, I will probably have to use my analysis and insight.

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Tim Draayer said...

Deb, I'm really excited for you! It sounds like you're beginning to find your way.

Let me know if I can help in some way!

AuthorMomWith Dogs said...

Wow. Great analysis and insight! I think you've hit the nail on the head -- about the general matter, and you're personal place in it.

Pieces of Me said...

This is one of the reasons why i go to yur blogs: you have such an eyeful insightful mind over matter.
I like that in a writer. Very introspective and few bloggers have it.

On that note, I really see a lot of my own generation "X" friends (as of my own time generation) follow in the apthways of non-profit organization since they feel they can stick with the job demands and make a career out of it, and even a prospect to building their own dreams.

I'm researching the subject as of oday - hopefully, i might have my humbs twiddling in a different direction, unbeknowst to me. We'll see.

Pieces of Me said...

sorry for the typos - my keyboard is acting up - or my tiredness!

Pieces of Me said...

I say: "go for the book writing." it sounds like you got it in you.