Monday, April 13, 2009

The Dangerous Delusion of Bob Evans and other Free Market thinkers

I don't make much of a habit of reading every piece of dead tree that gets sent to me on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis by the litany of publishers that want a piece of me because of my role in IT. I try to get through some of it looking for any gems of software that I might not have found my self, but much of the Industry Magazines get little more than a thumbing through. Bob Evans Article in Information Week on outsourcing is an excellent example of why I generally spend so little time on industry magazines. In my RSS feed reader, I would have made it through the first paragraph where he sets up a Straw man argument and simply skipped the rest with out a second thought. Since I read you in dead tree format, I had the opportunity (there wasn't much else to do on the bus that day) to finish the article and shake my head at the purposeful omission, or worse willful misdirection from the valid concerns of the anti-outsourcing crowd. To quote Bob, If American to yield even a single inch to the anti-outsourcing caterwaulers, then don't be surprised to see them go after these equally legitimate business tools next" [which he then goes on to list].

The trouble with the list is that Bob tries to subtly align the interests of workers that are frustrated by employers solely pursuing lowest cost labor regardless of the moral expense the corporation banks in letting workers with no workers rights perform dangerous or toxic tasks that they would have a hard time affording in the US. My personal irritation with outsourcing has nothing to do with blocking innovation, or denying that their are talented people abroad that live in countries with a lower cost of living are willing to work for less than I am. Nor do fault companies for seeking to lower cost, but rather I fault them for the same reason I am frustrated by the collective movement by companies away from mentoring, employee growth, even interest in cultivating talent regardless of where they are. Outsourcing an employee's work to a different company, particularly in a different company absolves them of any responsibility to develop good employees because they don't have any. It also is about companies that participate in outsourcing participating in the race to the bottom on workers protection, and allows them to skirt the rights that several generation of Americans worked quite hard to achieve. The lax environmental standards, coupled with frequently non-existent reporting requirements make it easy for companies to avoid PR blackeyes from the stressful conditions that many workers employed by outsourcing companies will face.

In the era gone by it wasn't unheard of, or even uncommon for an employee to join a company in a low paying job (the proverbial mail room if you will) and work their way up inside the company to become a manager. That group of people benefited from companies that offered jobs that weren't great, but through training and interest in employees those employees grew to be high value. I know that some of that argument is anecdotal, except I know someone where I currently work that is now a VP that started as an intern. My wife works with several people that are Managers in her company that started as bus drivers and now are managers and executives some in finance, and others in operations. In previous jobs I have seen it as well, this isn't anecdotal to me, I know people that are actually products of this type of interest in employee well being.

Finally, most outsourcing is done not for access to talent (as some CEO's like to trumpet), but with a strict eye towards cost. If it was to gain access to high talent in other parts of the world to augment the high talent you already employee it would be one thing, but the outsourcing I have seen (via refugees from WaMU, Boeing, and Microsoft outsourcing) was solely about cost. They never once mentioned productivity gains to the employees they where removing, they said that the Dev team that would be replacing them could work twice or thrice as long for less cost, so even if they where half as effective it would be cheaper. In Microsoft's case I fully believe that they use H1B visas as a form of Wage Terrorism, as I know 2 v- employees that where removed from their team after several H1B's had joined and been trained. They never where told that their performance was unsatisfactory, only that they didn't need as many employees in that team as where hired.

P.S. Grammar Nazi time: According to an English teacher I know caterwaulers could be used and people would get what you mean, but really the sentence should have been just restructured to used the real word caterwaul. You really would have had to try too hard either.

If US businesses yield even a single inch to the anti-outsourcing caterwauls, ....

See how easy that was? You don't make up words to get your point across, English has plenty of real words and rules to get the job done. Interesting that you have trouble with rules, as I see outsourcing a way to skirt those.

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