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Marginal: Help Wanted?

At some point, workers are going to be needed in auto. Will you get the good ones?

Right now, the auto industry, from top to bottom, from side to side, is in a situation where, for the most part, it is all about shedding jobs and closing facilities.

Right now, the auto industry, from top to bottom, from side to side, is in a situation where, for the most part, it is all about shedding jobs and closing facilities. About sending work to low-cost countries, be that work making brakes or performing engineering services. A large part of this is predicated on the overall shift in demand, from large to small, from companies that once had extensive share of the market to something more modest. Every now and then there is a company that looks to add jobs and there are companies from another part of the world setting up an office or an engineering center or even a production operation in places like Michigan. Today, this is the exception, not the rule. But according to Center for Automotive Research (www.cargroup.org), it seems that going forward there is going to be a need, maybe not until 2011, but a need just the same, for the auto industry to add more than the occasional job. While this is something that probably doesn't have top of mind among too many people, I would argue that getting the right people is going to be a competitive advantage. Among companies that don't seem to be able to buy a competitive advantage (which leads them to have to offer all manner of financially absurd deals to move sheet metal), thinking about this now rather than later is essential, particularly as these companies have proven not to be able to see much further than the noses on their executives' faces.

One of the fundamental problems, of course, is that the auto industry doesn't seem to be all of that appealing a place to work. Whether one is a designer or an engineer, an analyst or a would-be executive, isn't it likely that Apple or Google or some nanotech firm would have more allure? There are generations of people for whom the smell of gasoline isn't as attractive as a cabernet. These people are more likely to be more engaged in putting together the right audio components or graphics cards for video games than they are to be enchanted by modifying cars. Want to know where the employees of the future are going to come from? Right there.

So companies need to start thinking about the ways and means to attract and maintain these workers (to say nothing of the people whom they already have on staff that they can ill afford to lose-it is almost getting like Wile E. Coyote sawing off the tree limb he's standing on, the way some companies are dealing with their staffs). What needs to be addressed is that these fresh people are going to need more of a reason to work for a company-any company, but particularly one in this industry-than just wages and benefits. Those are important but insufficient. One idea that is put forth in the boldly titled Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Calin Ressler and Jody Thompson (Portfolio; $23.95) is what the authors call a "ROWE"-Results Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, people are paid to do their jobs, period. If they don't, they get fired. Sounds ordinary, right? Well, here's the kicker: People in a ROWE control their own time. It is about work, not about showing up. It is about getting the job done, not kissing up. They state: "In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done." Show up at noon? No problem (unless, of course, you're working on an assembly line, so arguably there are some limits to the implementation of a ROWE). Skip staff meetings that aren't germane to your assignment? It's a better use of your time not to be there. Accomplishment matters. If you go to a doctor to get a cure, aren't you happier if she is able to cure you in an instant rather than going through all manner of extraneous tasks meant to seem like she's working? If you have a leaking pipe, would you prefer the plumber spend more or less time fixing it?

The authors ask: "If you are getting your job done, then why are you punished by having to fill your time?

"If you are adding value to the company, if you are performing, then who cares if it takes you forty hours or forty seconds to do it?

"If you are skating by, filling the hours, watching the clock, then what are you doing with your life?"

These are all questions that the next generation of workers are going to be asking themselves. And if your organization is based on the clock and face time, then the answers to those questions aren't going to be in your favor. 

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