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Now is the time for fewer good workers

Jobs are the side effect of economic activity, not the goal


For businesses, the goal of economic activity is profit, even for so-called “not-for-profit” entities whose status only means that they benefit from a favorable tax treatment which increases their net income. Rules and regulations govern how such entities distribute that income but the owners, the workforce, suppliers, and service providers all get paid just as they would in a for-profit environment.

And all successful businesses seek to reduce the workforce to the minimum effective requirement. To do otherwise would be illogical. Most widgets made by the fewest workers. Every new hire must return revenue in excess of his or her cost. The formula varies of course, but businesses don’t add workers unless it will add to their profit. A workforce is an investment and as such it must produce a return that exceeds other options.

For communities, the goal of economic activity is public safety and quality of life. Citizens pool their resources and hire, elect, or appoint a “management” team to make the best use of those resources in furtherance of those goals. And, like successful businesses, successful communities seek to achieve their goals at the most practical expense. Cities and towns do not exist to create jobs any more than businesses do. A city’s workforce is an investment and the payoff is calculated by objective metrics such as the crime rate, property values, population stability, and cultural sustainability.

Complexity for both businesses and communities is created by confusing, conflicting, or contradictory visions of the goals, and ideas about how to achieve them. Reconciling and organizing the disparate influences in either setting is the task of leadership. The failure of either enterprise – business or community – is particularly a failure of leadership.

The City of Lakeland is facing a significant wave of retirements in the very short term that will provide challenges to its effectiveness and quality of service, as well as an opportunity to fine tune its productivity. Almost all enterprises are "over staffed" as a matter of preparation for change, and almost all can benefit from improved processes that make them more productive. Fewer workers can get the job done and new workers will cost less than the ones who are leaving for retirement.

The city's leadership - the commissioners and the management team - should rise to the challenge and take this opportunity to move some of the expense for personnel into projects and programs with a broad reach and lasting impact.

Now is the time.

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