Help make your job obsolete

The first time our Department Heads heard me say part of their job was to make their jobs obsolete you would have thought I asked them to terminate themselves from employment.

It’s kind of ironic, but what I was asking them to do is to continue to grow, add value in order for them still to be employed.

This is a classic example of evolution. What we are faced with now is that evolution is happening faster and faster. One of our council members spoke with me last night about this phenomenon. He read an article about manufacturing jobs are not going overseas like everyone has been told, we just don’t need as many employees to build what we use to due to technological advances. He is correct; we in the United States are still making the volume of things we use to, but with less people.

The same should be happening with governmental units also, and that is my point to our employees. We don’t want to be seen as doing things just to keep our jobs; we have to keep adding a value.

An example: We use to send someone walking through the city reading meters (actually several people). We graduated to a system that reduced the number of people we needed because they could read it from a slow moving vehicle. Now there is a web based system that we can read from the office. Therefore when that meter reader retires, why would we hire a new person to fill a position? Oh, we don’t.

At North Carolina State University they are using a system that retrieves books in the Library instead of using people. The 1.5 million books are not on shelves but they are kept in 18,000 metal bins that require 1/9th of the space.

These advancements are affecting all aspect of employment. We can all group together and complain about how unfair this process is (e.g. “social justice”) or we can understand it and figure out how we can remain relevant. This technology is becoming easier to use and more people are accepting the use in day to day functions. Another example is self checkout lanes at the store. I see one employee over seeing eight cash registers and people waiting in line to self check out of these stores.

So technology is making machines easier to use and people are getting more accustomed to using them. Most of the time people are phased out of their positions, but you throw a mismanaged economy (read people messing up human interactions attempting to make it good for everyone) in with a recession and now you have both private sector and government employers cutting positions.

We have been fortunate to have been reducing headcount by attrition and reinventing how and what we do on a daily basis. Other organizations are not so fortunate, the slower organizations change the deeper the cuts.

For the individual, this means learning many skill sets that make you valuable. For organizations, this could have you reevaluate job descriptions, processes, cross training and use of technology. Remember the old saying, “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”

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  • Peter Auger, Auburn Hills City Manager


    Peter Auger, Auburn Hills City Manager

    Thoughts on running a city, daily musings, and everything in between.