Q&A: Linchpin: Will they miss you?

Our series this week revolves around the book that has resonated more than any book I have ever published… Linchpin.

My innate optimism is amplified every time I hear of someone who received this book from a friend or colleague and trusted the process enough to actually read it. We're at a fork in the road as a culture and an economy, and the choice to race to the bottom frightens me.

Do we want to work with people that are better, or merely cheaper?

The question for this week's riff is, for the first time, rhetorical. Will they miss you?

That's what the book is about. In a post-industrial age, when jobs get commoditized as fast as possible, the only good ones left are the ones that must be done by a person, not a machine, must be done by someone figuring things out, must be done by an individual willing to put herself on the line.

In the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review, a neo-Taylorist academic waxes rhapsodic about new wearable monitors being used at Tesco warehouses:

At a distribution center in Ireland, Tesco workers move among 87 aisles of three-story shelves. Many wear armbands that track the goods they’re gathering, freeing up time they would otherwise spend marking clipboards. A band also allots tasks to the wearer, forecasts his completion time, and quantifies his precise movements among the facility’s 9.6 miles of shelving and 111 loading bays. A 2.8-inch display provides analytical feedback, verifying the correct fulfillment of an order, for instance, or nudging a worker whose order is short.

… The efficiency gains it hoped for have been realized: From 2007 to 2012, the number of full-time employees needed to run a 40,000-square-foot store dropped by 18%. That pleases managers and shareholders—but not all workers, some of whom have complained about the surveillance and charged that the system measures only speed, not quality of work.

In this case, of course, the speed of work is the quality of the work. And another no-win job is created, because if someone leaves, another person fills that slot, instantly, and the departed worker is only missed if he often brought in pie for his co-workers at lunch.

In order to create real value going forward, we're going to have to ask harder questions, challenge the status quo and do work that can't possibly be measured or dictated by an armband.

We have to become the linchpin in the system, not a cog.